New life for the Old Jail
Dale Freudenberger of the Lehigh and Delaware National Heritage Corridor surveys the outside of the "old jail" in Lansford, purchased by the Lansford Alive community improvement organization.
In 1877, the newly-incorporated Borough of Lansford decided it needed a jail, commonly called a lock-up, and a place for the town's council to meet.
Community leaders picked a spot at the corner of East Patterson and Walnut streets, hired a contractor and built a simple, two-story stone structure. The building housed three jail cells on the first floor and council chambers on the second.
Eventually, the borough sold the building and moved its council chambers. The old stone lock-up morphed into a laundry, a candy store, and law offices before being left vacant, its windows and door boarded, in the late 1960s.
Decades later, in 2009, Lansford Alive, a community improvement group known for promoting town spirit and encouraging commerce, used $13,000 of a $20,000 state Department of Community and Economic Development Legislative Initiative grant, secured by former state Rep./House Speaker Keith McCall, to buy the building, known as the "old jail," from Joseph and Dawn Orsulak.
"The whole idea is simply to acquire and preserve this," said Dale Freudenberger, who works with all three groups. "It's such a great old piece of history."
He said Lansford Alive "knew there wouldn't be enough funding to do total restoration of the building. But we felt it would help us to dress it up, secure it and make sure that it was safe, that no water could come in."
This week, contractors are expected to replace the roof with faux-slate shingles, restoring the appearance of the original slate roof.
"The roof cornice and soffit around the roof line is going to be repaired, and covered to preserve it," Freudenberger said.
The interior was in better condition than Lansford Alive anticipated, he said.
New wiring, lights and electric heat has been installed, and soon, volunteers with Lansford Alive, the borough's Historical Society and the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor will begin sprucing up the interior, scraping off old wallpaper, repairing crumbling plaster and painting walls and ceilings.
The volunteers have installed a temporary aluminum front door, which they hope to replace with a custom-made solid wood plank door that will replicate the original. They also replaced the deteriorated iron fence on the building's east side with a similar one donated by St. Michael's School on Abbott Street when a building was razed to create a parking lot behind the school.
The building is in remarkably good shape, considering that it has remained vacant for about 40 years. The roof doesn't leak, so there's no water damage to the two-foot-thick walls. The floorboards and stairs are solid. The windows had been boarded, deterring damage from vandals. Eventually, the group wants to replace or repair the windows.
Lansford Alive president Mark Sverchek believes the project will enhance the town.
"We purchased the jail to save it from potential demolition. Our plans are to eventually make it either a tourist attraction or possibly a welcome center for the Borough of Lansford, since we have a lot of things going on now. It would be a great location, since it's right on Route 209, Patterson Street, coming into town from the east end," he said.
The Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor has helped with grant writing and administering the renovations. Lansford Historical Society is also assisting Lansford Alive with the project, Freudenberger said.
"The building is part of the proposed Lansford National Historic District, which is expected to be finalized and official in the summer of 2012," he said.