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Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Date: May 13, 2004
Byline: Stephanie L. Arnold

Worker gouges hole in historic inn

A contractor for a real estate developer that promised to keep the historic Black Horse Inn in Flourtown intact has mistakenly knocked a hole in the 260-year-old building.

The error raised the suspicions of preservationists and residents who fought plans to build a liquor store and a Walgreens Pharmacy on land around the tavern. They worry whether the damage compromises the inn's eligibility for national and state historic designation.

The damage occurred Friday when a worker battered the southeastern part of the inn's second floor, leaving a 7-by-12-foot hole.

Springfield Township Manager Donald Berger said the township learned of a problem when a building inspector noticed demolition equipment near the inn, about 200 to 250 feet from a liquor store scheduled to be torn down.

After visiting the site, Berger asked the workers to stop for the day.

Though Berger said he was unsure exactly what had happened, he said workers might have been following an earlier version of the contract calling for the Black Horse Inn to be demolished instead of preserved.

"I think the crew really thought they were doing the right thing," Berger said. "I don't think it was intentional."

At a public meeting this week, Joshua Petersohn, a partner in the Bryn Mawr firm that owns the land, and Jack Jeffers, president of the primary developer, said the damage was a mistake. Both men took full responsibility.

But the explanation did not put some residents at ease.

Ellen Manning, a founder of the Friends of the Historic Bethlehem Pike, a local preservation group, said she was worried that Moreland Development, the owner, and Mid-Atlantic Corp., the developer, were being careless.

"There is a question of whether we can trust what they are telling us, and that what they say is what's actually going to happen," Manning said.

State preservation experts said the building was unlikely to lose its eligibility.

Michel R. Lefevre, chief of preservation planning for the State Historical and Museum Commission, said that if the developers used the rubble to repair the inn, it could still be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Berger said commissioners intended to hold contractors responsible for the damage, which could cost $45,000 to $50,000 to fix. The board has hired a Philadelphia architectural firm, Kise, Straw & Kolodner, to assist the township with technical renovations and to ensure that the damage is repaired properly.

The Black Horse Inn has been in limbo for more than a decade. The Mendelson Children's Family Trust acquired the tract in the late 1990s and proposed developing it for a CVS pharmacy and jumbo liquor store.

But residents opposed the plan and filed suit. Under a court stipulation, Mendelson agreed to move the inn to the back of the tract and designate the township as the owner. That, too, met with community resistance.

Last year, Moreland Development bowed to public pressure and revised its initial plan to move the inn.