Lazaretto Lazaretto

See NPS letter to Norbert Poloncarz, Municipal Manager, Tinicum Township

Source: Press Release
Date: July 6, 2006
Byline: National Park Service

National Park Service to Document Endangered Lazaretto Property in Tinicum Twp.

For more information contact:
Phil Sheridan, 215-597-0865
Bill Bolger 215-597-1649

The National Park Service will field an architectural team this summer to document the endangered Lazaretto property in Essington, Tinicum Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) Program, based in Washington DC, has conducted research on the property over the past year and will now undertake the field documentation portion of the project. The HABS is one of the Park Service's oldest cultural resource programs, established in the 1930s for the purpose of creating a record of America's most important historic buildings, especially those that are facing imminent threats and demolition.

The Lazaretto, according to some experts, is one of the most important "unknown" historic sites in the nation. It is also severely threatened. It only came to public attention in the past six or seven years when it was sold by the sea-plane base operators who had owned and occupied the site for most of the 20th century. The property is a remarkable artifact of our nation's immigration history. Established in 1799 in response to outbreaks of communicable diseases, the Lazaretto's purpose was to screen passengers entering the port of Philadelphia. It served this purpose for nearly a century and saw hundreds of people treated in its facilities. Many of them died on the property and were buried there. Perhaps most remarkably, this is the only such facility that is known to survive from before 1892 when the facility at Ellis Island was constructed. The ports of Boston, New York, Baltimore, Charleston, New Orleans all built similar facilities at the same time and others were to follow, but none of the other early to mid-19th century facilities survive.

Current plans for the Lazaretto property call for building extensive new facilities and a two hundred car parking lot that will cover half of the ten acre site. The balance of the site which contains the historic hospital and three other out-buildings faces an uncertain future. Tinicum Township has agreed to have the HABS team document the resource as it exists and is contributing part of the funding for the project. The NPS does not endorse the current plans and treatment of the Lazaretto but seeks to record for future generations the valuable information that exists at the site. The NPS continues to advocate an approach to the resource that would be respectful of the historic resources and preserve them for the public good.