abolition hall

Historic preservation marker for Abolition Hall.

WHITEMARSH -- The Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors has approved an agreement of sale for the township and the Whitemarsh Art Center to purchase the property that is home to historic Abolition Hall.

The action is intended to protect the 10.45-acre property off Butler Pike from development and preserves Abolition Hall, Hovenden House and the Main House, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Marple Lane House. The Whitemarsh Art Center will move to the property with other uses of the homestead to be determined.

“This is such an important moment for our community and the entire Philadelphia region,” said Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Laura Boyle-Nester. “Abolition Hall, the Hovenden House and the Main House are a significant piece of our history and we could not be more excited to protect them for future generations.”

A former Underground Railroad station, Abolition Hall was built in 1856 by George Corson. Abolitionists, including Frederick Douglas, Harriet Beecher Stowe and William Lloyd Garrison spoke there.

The township and the Art Center will pay $3.95 million for the property with a portion coming from the township’s Open Space Earned Income Tax funds and a portion coming from a donation by an anonymous private donor to the Art Center. 

“Without the generosity of this private donor, the preservation of the property would not be possible,” Boyle-Nester said. “We cannot thank the donor enough.”

Located on Cedar Grove Road, the Whitemarsh Art Center was founded in 1964. It offers day and evening programming for children and adults with a goal of enriching the community by fostering inspiration, appreciation and engagement in the arts. The center had been searching for a new home.

“The donor and the township have created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to preserve history and extend educational opportunities for the community,” said Whitemarsh Art Center Board of Directors President Dan Zuena.

The agreement of sale is the first step in the preservation and future use of the property, where a developer had proposed 67 townhouses. Boyle-Nester and Zuena said there will be a conversation with the community about plans for the land. The agreement of sale gives the township and art center a 45-day inspection period.

“Our primary goal is preserving the property and that would not be possible without the acquisition,” Boyle-Nester said. “Once the sale is complete, we will look toward the future.”

The owners of the property had sought proposals after a developer dropped plans for the 67 townhouses. The township had expressed interest in the property but was limited in what it could pay because of the appraisal price. The private donor approached the township and art center with the offer to provide financial assistance.

“Hovenden House, the Barn and Abolition Hall are such remarkable properties in our community, and I was thrilled to hear the news of this sales agreement that means the township will be able to preserve the open space and historic buildings,” said state Rep. Mary Jo Daley. “The rich history here in our backyard is absolutely worth preserving. I offer my congratulations and gratitude to all who participated in this lengthy process.”

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