The grassroots fight for a better plan for the historic Corson homestead at Butler and Germantown Pikes in the Village of Plymouth Meeting has been costly, but a group of generous supporters will match every donation, dollar-for-dollar, up to $3,500, to help defray legal bills.
Preservation Pennsylvania, a statewide advocacy group, is serving as the fiscal sponsor for the Friends of Abolition Hall, making all gifts tax deductible. Checks can be written to Preservation PA, and sent to 257 North Street, Harrisburg, PA, 17101. Just include a note in the memo section, such as “Abolition Hall.” Online donations can be made via Preservation PA’s website at www.preservationpa.org. From the menu bar, select “Programs,” then “Donate to Abolition Hall.” That will take you to the Donation button for this project.
The builder K. Hovnanian is seeking approval from Whitemarsh Township to subdivide the homestead and construct 67 townhouses on the fields that had been continuously cultivated since the mid 1700s. The project cannot proceed through land development without this initial conditional use approval. As historian and author David Contosta has written, “The fate of this extraordinary property lies with the governing board of Whitemarsh Township. The Friends of Abolition Hall and the scores of residents who support their efforts are determined to use every legal means to save a precious piece of our nation’s life and future promise.”
The Corson homestead was a busy stop on the Underground Railroad, and it was George Corson who built Abolition Hall by adding a second story to what had been a carriage shed attached to the stone barn. Corson, his wife Martha Maulsby Corson, and his wife’s parents were ardently opposed to slavery, and opened their home to fugitives escaping this abomination. Even as a child, Corson’s son Elwood was enlisted in the struggle, and it was he who conveyed the fugitive Jane Johnson to the next safe house after she risked capture by testifying at City Hall. In the 1880s, Corson’s daughter Helen married the Irish-born artist Thomas Hovenden. They converted Abolition Hall to an art studio, and it was here that he painted “The Last Moments of John Brown,” which is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Helen was an artist, as well, and Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum showcases the work of this extraordinary couple.
Residents established the Friends of Abolition Hall to press for a better plan for this National Historic Register-listed property. The Friends are not opposed to development, rather they want to see a reduction in the number of townhouses, the preservation of approximately two acres of open space immediately adjacent to the historic structures for use as a welcome park, a conditions assessment of those structures along with a responsible marketing plan and the designation of adequate parking, and an independent investigation of the full extent of a documented wetland in the fields.
The Friends maintain a Facebook page available at PlymouthMeetingAbolitionHall, and encourage you to “Like” that page. For background on the historic property, you can watch a short documentary created pro bono by local filmmaker Patrick Dolan of PFW Media. Go to www.abolitionhall.com to watch the video, which was filmed almost entirely at the Woodmere Museum.
The next hearing on K. Hovnanian’s Conditional Use Application will take place on Thursday, September 13, 7 p.m., at the Whitemarsh Township Building, 616 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill. The hearing is open to the public. Ample parking is available