Lazaretto Lazaretto
Source: Delaware County Times
Date: October 4, 2005
Byline: Editorial

Editorial: Lazaretto property is part of the solution

Just in time to celebrate historic landmarks of the Delaware at last month's Riverfront Ramble, the Lazaretto property was acquired by the township of Tinicum for $3.1 million. It was an important acquisition because the 10-acre site in the Essington section of Tinicum is the longest-standing structure of its kind in Delaware County and, possibly, the entire United States. Opened in 1800, the Lazaretto, named for the biblical Lazarus who was raised from the dead, was built as a quarantine station for sailors, immigrants and cargo to prevent deadly diseases from being spread to the mainland. The hope was to keep such societal scourges as yellow fever at bay. Lazaretto represented one of the earliest enforcements of an American public health code.

The three-story Georgian structure subsequently went on to become an Army Signal Corps training ground, yacht club, flight school, marina and seaplane base, before falling vacant.

Four of the acres will be used for a new home for both Essington and Lester fire companies which can no longer accommodate new equipment at their current locations. They will be built for almost $7 million with the help of state grant money.

Representatives of the National Park Service and other historical organizations are now helping determine the fate of the brick building which was fashioned after historic Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.

Township officials are hoping for a grant from the Delaware County Planning Department for a feasibility study and development plan of the property.

They deserve much praise for their vigilance in preserving the historic site which had been listed among the top ten threatened sites by Preservation Pennsylvania, particularly township commissioner Thomas Giancristoforo, who led the charge to "Save the Lazaretto."

In 2000, after the property was purchased by Island Marine Partners L.L.C., the Lazaretto's days appeared numbered as plans were proposed for everything from a hotel complex to an 889-car airport parking lot on the property.

It would have been an easy enhancement of the township's tax base for township officials to sacrifice the 200-year-old structure to a wrecking ball and approve the new development.

They were exercising not only a sense of historic appreciation in purchasing the Lazaretto, but a sense of vision.

As are other communities bordering the Delaware that have suffered from the exodus of industry, Tinicum is attempting to revive its riverfront.

As noted by Delaware County Senior Preservation Planner Kathleen Wandersee in 2001, the Lazaretto may need some cosmetic help, but is structurally sound.

"It's just an amazing place," she noted.

With almost 30 rooms, each with a fireplace, the Lazaretto could still bring tax revenue to the township through conversion to an inn, restaurant, townhouses or a combination of uses. There could also still be room for a museum to attract tourists.

It will be costly to accurately restore the Lazaretto, but just as township officials found state money to help build the new firehouse, they are planning to seek out federal funds for the facelift of their newfound historic landmark.

While it may take time, the Lazaretto could well become a lucrative showplace for Tinicum and a shining star in the ongoing renaissance of Delaware County's riverfront.