Lazaretto Lazaretto
Source: Preservation News
Date: August 24, 2006
Byline: unsigned

Tinicum Township Votes to Erect Firehouse Complex on Historic Lazaretto Property

On Monday evening, August 21st, the commissioners of Tinicum Township (Delaware County, PA) voted unanimously to approve a development plan for the construction of a new firehouse complex which would consume one half of the ten-acre historic Lazaretto property. They also voted to proceed with construction of the firehouse complex by agreeing to award contracts totaling approximately $7 million.

The Philadelphia Lazaretto quarantine station was built in 1799 in reaction devastation from a yellow fever epidemic in the 1790s and temporarily drove the national government (Philadelphia was then the nation's capital) out of the city. The 10-acre Lazaretto, built with a hospital, offices, residences, and other ancillary structures on the banks of the Delaware River in Tinicum Township, processed ships, cargo and passengers sailing for the port of Philadelphia for nearly a century. Most of the original buildings survive, including the main hospital and administration building which is sited near the center of the 10-acre property.

Historical view of the Lazaretto

The Lazaretto is the last remaining facility of its type to survive in this country. (Other quarantine stations at Boston, New York, Baltimore, Charleston, and New Orleans have all been demolished.)

The Preservation Alliance, along with numerous other regional preservationists and historians and local citizens, have worked with the township over the last six years to preserve and protect the site.

The township was granted a $2 million matching grant from the state of Pennsylvania to acquire and preserve the site. But it also secured a $3.5 million state matching grant to construct a new fire station, and decided to put the station on the Lazaretto property which the township bought from private developers who threatened to demolish the buildings.

The Preservation Alliance and the ad hoc Lazaretto Task Force are trying to convince the township to build the firehouse complex (which includes a large evacuation center/banqueting facility and attendant 190+ parking spaces) at another site, including one that is currently owned by the township and for which the firehouse plans were originally designed.

In addition to the Alliance and Task Force, others have objected to placing the fire station at the Lazaretto, including the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Delaware County Planning Commission which, in its August 17th review (to view the full report, click here) to the township said:

The proposed plan is not the highest and best use for the property with this level of national significance. The tremendous scale and sprawl of the proposed firehouse overtly dwarfs the main building of the Lazaretto. The enormity of the proposed parking lot encroaches drastically onto the remaining portion of the site, nearly abutting the kitchen house or "existing historic garage" and detaching the barn or "existing historic carriage house" from the main building and Lazaretto complex with which it historically had a direct relationship, disrupting the historical context. The continuous expanse of the proposed firehouse frontage on 2nd Street would cancel the historic viewshed from the street. As an historic site on the National Register of Historic Places and a strong candidate for National Historic Landmark status, this site should not be compromised or diminished by a firehouse of this magnitude or the intrusion of such a large paved parking lot.

The Alliance has made the following public statement: "At this time, the Preservation Alliance is evaluating all available courses of action to protect and preserve the Lazaretto site. We cannot stress enough how historically significant the Lazaretto property is. Accordingly Ð and consistent with our mission to advocate for the public's interests to protect and preserve the region's historic and cultural resources Ð the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia is committed to ensuring that the historical, cultural, and archeological importance of this site is preserved for future generations."

For more on this story, go to www.ushistory.org/laz.