Five years ago, when Pennsylvania and the rest of the nation plunged into a deep recession, spending was slashed. In the panic, pretty much anything not nailed down by law or contract was jettisoned to keep the ship afloat. Allocations to schools, libraries, arts programs and museums were the first to go over the rail.
Here in Washington, the David Bradford House, which was purchased and restored by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and opened as a museum in the 1960s, lost its annual support of $8,000. That figure was not nearly enough to maintain the house and grounds, but it certainly helped.
The state was interested in divesting itself of some of its museums and was talking with the Bradford House’s board of directors for more than a year about turning over ownership of the house to the local organization. That would make sense. It would also transfer control of the house, its contents and operation from the state to the organization that actually pays the bills.
Some in state government probably would like to see the house sold not for a dollar but to the highest bidder. As it stands now, whoever purchases the house will have to maintain it as a historic site under strict covenants, and the Bradford House board will probably have little competition. If those restrictions were removed, however, our museum would most likely be lost. Picture, if you will, a tattoo parlor or pizza shop in its place.
When the Bradford House lost its state funding, it did not slide into disrepair. In fact, quite the opposite occurred. Under the leadership of its president, Tripp Kline, the board began to raise funds aggressively and acquire grants from private foundations. This resulted in a major restoration of the house’s exterior, the construction of a log kitchen in the garden behind the house, and a substantial increase in both the number of visitors and the number of volunteers who keep the museum running.
Completed in 1788, the David Bradford House is the oldest structure in Washington and one of the oldest in all of Western Pennsylvania. Its first owner was a central figure in a pivotal moment in U.S. history: the Whiskey Rebellion, the first test of our infant federal government. The house is the centerpiece of a rich local history that must be preserved. It is our treasure.
Over the centuries it was used for many purposes – a funeral parlor, furniture store, a grocery. It came close to being demolished, and Christmas trees were once sold out of its parlor. We cannot allow that to happen again.
The David Bradford House Historical Association has proved to be a responsible and resourceful caretaker of the museum. It deserves title to the property. It also deserves the enthusiastic support of the public to maintain the house and preserve it for generations to come.