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Black Horse Inn

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Source: Springfield Sun
Date: June 11, 2004
Byline: Joe Barron

Architects report on inn's prospects

Termites and water have destroyed the floor, the front porch must be rebuilt and the roof is a goner, but after two centuries, give or take a few decades, the Black Horse Inn remains structurally sound.

These were the findings of Kise, Straw and Kolodner, the architectural firm engaged by the township to oversee the restoration of the Black Horse. Representatives of the firm discussed their initial inspections of the building with the Springfield Board of Commissioners Monday.

"Some of the building is in great shape, and some of the building is in really scary shape," Kate Cowing, Kise's project manager, told the commissioners.

The group's assessment of the building's condition is about 90 percent complete, she said.

Cowing also gave the commissioners a brief lesson on the history of the Black Horse, contradicting or calling into question some long-held assumptions about the chronology of its construction.

Her research indicated the oldest section of the building is the first floor immediately behind the familiar portion that faces Bethlehem Pike, she said.

In the past, the township administration believed this section was less historic than the front of the building and had provided for its demolition under a previous development proposal.

It was nearly destroyed in May when a work crew, using outdated plans, wrecked part of the floor above before a township official intervened.

Philip Scott, an architect with Kise, told the board he regards all sections of the Black Horse as historical.

"At this point, we're not willing to say there is a part of the building we'd recommend the demolition of," he said.

The exact timeline of construction remains vague, according to Cowing. The oldest documented reference to a building on the site dates from 1780, she said, but she could not confirm any section of the present structure existed then.

What is certain is the Black Horse was built in at least five distinct stages and assumed its present form by 1900, according to Cowing.

"The footprint of the building was exactly as it is now sometime before the 20th century," she said.

The future of the Black Horse appeared as unsettled as its past Monday, as commissioners and conservators discussed possible uses for the building once it is restored.

The legal agreement between the township and Moreland Development, which is building a Walgreens pharmacy and a liquor store behind the inn, stipulates the Black Horse may not be used for any purpose that could ever conceivably compete with a drug store, according to township Solicitor James Garrity.

Acceptable uses would include a real estate or a professional office, Garrity said.

Cowing and Scott said they have received telephone inquiries about the Black Horse from the public and from possible tenants. One call came from a travel agent who was ready to move in and wanted to know when the building would be ready, Scott said.

"We feel we can make a good bit of the building usable and leaseable," he said.

Before restoring the interior, the township plans to stabilize the structure and renovate the outside. According to Scott, the initial phase of the project would entail patching and painting the exterior stucco; rebuilding the roof, the front porch and the interior ground floor; and replacing the windows and doors.

The tasks could be completed by the end of the year, Scott said.

James Straw, a principal of Kise, Straw and Kolodner, told the board for all its challenges, the Black Horse was as exciting a project as the restoration of Philadelphia's Memorial Hall, which his firm is also directing.

"Our juices are flowing on this one," Straw said. "This is a gem."