Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Joseph Priestley House Update

This blog continues comments and activities concerning the closing of Joseph Priestley House on August 14 and the various attempts to reopen it.  For continuity it is recommended that you start with the earliest post first. Please click on the label "Joseph Priestley House" at the left.

I have received three more correspondences on this topic:

The first was included in the "Postings from Priestley House" Newsletter of the Friends of Joseph Priestley House, Number 44, Summer 2009, which states:

"New Responsibilities Ahead for Friends
The friends Board is discussing a Management Agreement with PHMC [Pennsylvania Historical and Museums Commission] that could result in increased responsibilities for the Friends.
Ownership & Maintenance. PHMC will retain ownership of the site and cover major maintenance, exterior painting, electric, gas, water, sewer, and lawn care and snow removal.  The Friends would be responsible for the interior painting.
Insurance.  Friends will be responsible for liability insurance for anything conducted at the House (which we now have) as well as negligence insurance regarding the structures and contents (which we don't now have).  We may be responsible for the insurance for collections currently on loan from other sites.
Custodial Care. Friends would be responsible for custodial care of the facility -- that includes general housekeeping, light bulbs, toilet cleaning, etc.  A curatorial assistant would be available to respond to the injury or damage to artifacts.
Security.  Friends would be responsible to provide periodic security visits to [the]site and entrance for emergency responders and lock up after they leave.
Programming.  Friends are responsible for all events at the site including tours.  Special events at the site may include alcohol such as wedding receptions."

I have also received an email from: 
Amanda Shafer
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Commonwealth Keystone Building
400 North Street, Plaza Level | Harrisburg, PA 17120-0053
Phone: 717.525.5368

"In the past years, the PHMC operated the Joseph Priestly House for about $140-160 thousand per year on a Wednesday through Sunday schedule. However, the cost to run the site in the future depends on many factors such as when the site is open, the number of programs held, maintenance and ticket/membership pricing.  While the Joseph Priestley house is temporarily closed, the PHMC is seeking other management options in order to keep the site protected and available to the public. Thank you for your interest in our sites. I have also forwarded your comments to the Executive staff."

The third correspondence is a letter from Congressman Dean Heller (R- Nevada)

"As you know , the National Park System owns and administers all of the current 86 National Historic Sites. Congressional legislation authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to designate an area of historical significance that is worthy of remembrance as a National Historic Site.  Current National Historical Sites include the home of Abraham Lincoln, the Vanderbilt Mansion, and the home and woodland property of John Muir.

I understand your admiration for Joseph Priestley's accomplishments. A famed philosopher, historian, and educator, he is most noted for his scientific achievements including the discovery of oxygen and nitrogen.  Throughout his lifetime, Joseph Priestley published more than 150 works on topics ranging from religion to electricity. You can be sure that I will keep your thoughts in mind should any legislation related to this topic come before the House of Representatives."

While I am not privy to the details of either the negotiations between the Friends and PHMC nor the line item costs for running Priestley House, the portion that Friends would be contributing would, I assume be less than the cost that PHMC would still be undertaking.

Surely, the U S Park Service would consider these costs to be a pittance compared to what they spend at their 86 other locations. They spent $9 Million this week alone to acquire the land they need to make the United Flight 93 National Historic Site Memorial in PA.  In spite of all the good intentions of all those involved, I still maintain that the National Historic Site alternative would be the best long term solution for the Joseph Priestley House.

Please contact the Secretary of the Interior and other government officials to express your opinion on this matter. Below is a copy of the body of my letter to Secretary Salazar:

Mr. Ken Salazar,

U.S. Secretary of the Interior

1849 C Street, NW

Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Salazar:

On August 14, 2009, the State of Pennsylvania closed the Joseph Priestley House & Museum due to funding problems within the state.  The State owns the property and has a budget of about $150,000 a year to keep the site open.

While the Priestley House is recognized on the National Register of Historical Places, it is considered, by some, to be a true National Treasure.  The closing of the Priestley House is an immeasurable loss for our National Heritage. Please consider converting the Priestley House into a National Historic Site as part of the National Park Service so that it may be properly preserved and opened to the public once again.


Dr. Sliderule

You may also want to contact:

Barbara Franco
Executive Director Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission
 State Museum Building
 300 North Street
 Harrisburg, PA 17120.

Make sure you read my previous blogs on this subject. Click on Joseph Priestley House on the labels to the left.

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