Lazaretto Lazaretto

Task Force: Position Paper

Who we are:

The Lazaretto Task Force is a group of local citizens, experts in historic preservation and historians interested in the history and historic site potential of the Lazaretto, the 1799 immigration quarantine hospital in Essington, Pennsylvania. We are an unincorporated organization and the positions of the group do not necessarily represent the official positions of the individuals and their affiliated organizations.

Objectives:

To raise awareness, build constituency, protect and preserve the Lazaretto property as a cultural and historical site of the highest value. Our aim is to help make the site and its stories broadly accessible for engagement, education and heritage tourism.

Importance:

The Lazaretto is a rare and extraordinary national treasure, a site of the highest possible significance for all Americans. It is distinguished historically, architecturally, politically, and culturally and offers opportunities for telling three centuries of stories about arrival and settlement in the New World. There are five periods of settlement and use at the site that we know of.

  • Native American settlement: Tinicum Island is situated between the Delaware estuary and one of the great tidal marshes (now the Heinz Wildlife Refuge) making it an ideal habitat for native peoples for the past ten thousand years.
  • Swedish settlement: the Lazaretto property lies within the area identified as the capital of the New Sweden settlement of 1643. The main residence and fortification of this settlement has never been located and archeological remains may be on the Lazaretto property. Referring to this site, Tinicum Township proudly proclaims that it is the "first permanent (European) settlement in Pennsylvania."
  • The Philadelphia Quarantine Hospital, known as the Lazaretto: the most evident phase of the site's history features the 1799 main building that contained administrative offices and hospital wards. Four other buildings survive from this period as well as possible archeological resources of additional hospital structures, gardens and burials.
  • The Orchard Club: The property was used at the turn of the 20th century as a sports fishing and hunt club.
  • The Philadelphia Seaplane Base: In the early 20th century the property became one of the earliest and most noted seaplane bases in the nation. Early aviation structures pertaining to this important history survive on the property today.

Position:

The Lazaretto is one of the most valuable historic properties in the nation. It is in a state of transition and facing an undetermined future. Much is unknown at this time and further research is required to determine archeological potential regarding pre-historic and 17th century settlement. It is clearly a key monument in the history of immigration to the United States. It is the only surviving historic resource of its kind in the nation built before the end of the 1800s. It is the predecessor of such established historic sites as Ellis Island in New York Harbor (1892), Angel Island in San Francisco Harbor (1910), and the Canadian facility at Grosse Isle in the Saint Laurence River in Quebec (1842). We believe that the Lazaretto has unparalleled potential to serve both as an interpreted historic site and as a memorial for those who died in their quest to become American citizens.

Development of such a site requires the involvement of many people, both locally and nationally. We are concerned that hasty decisions regarding this site will irreparably damage its integrity, severely limit its potential as a distinguished site of learning and commemoration.

Immediate Issue Alert:

The Lazaretto property, a site of national and international historic significance, is one of the most threatened historic resources in the country today. It is in immediate danger of having half the property compromised as the result of permanent construction that is highly incompatible with the historic character and values of the site. Current plans call for the construction of a massive complex of buildings and parking that will occupy five acres and cover the site of the immigrant burial ground. This is undesirable for many reasons; it will:

  • Severely and adversely impact the appearance and setting of the historic building and property.
  • Disturb and desecrate "sacred ground" where scores of immigrants seeking a new life in America were buried.
  • Preempt future archeological investigation that could yield important information about native settlement and 17th century Swedish settlement as well as information about the Lazaretto itself.

It is our goal to see that this does not happen. We support Tinicum Township's need for a new firehouse complex, but believe that it can be located elsewhere. Building this type of facility at the Lazaretto will permanently impair an irreplaceable historic site.


Information on other immigration centers, quarantine hospitals, burial grounds and immigrant memorials can be found at the following web sites.