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Source: Springfield Sun
Date: May 28, 2008
Byline: Katie Worral

Flourtown resident receives preservation award

The Springfield Township Historical Society will present its annual Marie Kitto Award to Don Mitchell, outgoing president of the Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike, May 29 at the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield.

The evening, scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m., will also feature a talk on early 20th century Fort Washington artists by Lewis and Trudy Keen of the Fort Washington Historical Society. The public is invited to attend the program.

The award is given to a person who has made significant contributions to Springfield Township that exemplify the historical society's tenets of research, preservation and education. Mitchell is being honored for his work for the Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike, the Black Horse Inn restoration project and for historic preservation.

"I became involved with the Friends because the Black Horse Inn was threatened," Mitchell said, referring to the 19th-century inn on Bethlehem Pike, Flourtown, which is currently undergoing renovations. "The loss of the Black Horse Inn would be an open door to any and all loss of historic property along Bethlehem Pike. We needed to save the Black Horse Inn to build awareness that we have historic properties that need to be preserved."

Mitchell said he views himself as a cog in an effort by many people to save the Black Horse Inn, and the effort to save the inn would not be where it is without the Springfield Township Historical Society.

The historical society's work on the restoration project includes collecting tax-deductible contributions. It is also represented on the Black Horse Inn Advisory Committee formed by the township to provide quality control and on the Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike.

Mitchell, who turns over the leadership of the Friends to Dan Johnson this month, handles public relations for the effort, which have included posting a virtual tour of the renovations of the inn online (savetheblackhorse.org) and keeping newspapers abreast of construction.

Since the Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike and the Springfield Township commissioners signed an agreement in 2005 to restore the inn, the project has received three state grants and a federal grant and reached its $100,000 goal in a community appeal this past February.

"The fundraising has been wildly successful given that it is being done by volunteers," Mitchell said. "It shows the passion of the community to save the building, but we are realistic at this stage that we have to have a professional fundraiser."

Ed Swenson, the fundraiser hired by the Black Horse Inn Advisory Committee, is studying the feasibility of raising $1.5 million toward restoration of the inn.

Supporters of the restoration project are working on plans for celebration in early October to draw attention to the inn and to Bethlehem Pike as a thoroughfare in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Friends of Historic Bethlehem Pike is working to raise awareness of historic preservation. The group gives its annual Acorn Award to thank people who have preserved property within the historic fabric of the Bethlehem Pike corridor, to draw attention to people who improve property with historic preservation in mind and to make a community a better place in which to live, Mitchell said.

"I would like to see the Bethlehem Pike corridor be more of a place where people in the community could walk and enjoy themselves," Mitchell said. "It is hard to walk to the ice cream store and it should be safe; Bethlehem Pike is more of a highway than a community."

Mitchell, 43, was born in Oil City and grew up in Meadville, south of Erie, and earned a degree in English, with a minor in art, from Allegheny College. He is a self-employed filmmaker, editing and directing films for medical institutions and doing some commercial work. He came to the Philadelphia area because of its strong film production industry. He and his wife, LeeAnn, have lived in Flourtown for 10 years and have two children, Lilia, age 5, and Julian, age 2.

The First Presbyterian Church in Springfield is located at Bethlehem Pike and East Mill Road, Flourtown. For information, call 215-233-4600.

Katie Worrall is the secretary of the Township Historical Society.