Lazaretto Lazaretto
Source: Press Release
Date: July 10, 2006
Byline: Mike Messina

Tinicum Township Saving Lazaretto

This statement was read at a public meeting. This transcript was provided to ushistory.org by township secretary Jean McCoy

The preservation and restoration of the historic Lazaretto Building is of significant importance to the Tinicum Township Board of Commissioners. The Lazaretto building was erected on the shores of the Delaware River toward the end of the 18th century as a quarantine station to avoid the spread of diseases into the Port of Philadelphia and was operational for approximately 100 years. For most of the 20th century this property has been owned privately and was most recently used as a seaplane base and marina. During the years of private ownership, the historic Lazaretto was allowed to deteriorate to the point that plans were drawn for its demolition to make way for commercial development. To avoid the loss of what is considered an important piece of our nation's history, the Tinicum Township Board of Commissioners together with our residents and state legislators were able to spare the Lazaretto from demolition.

In a classic case of "no good deed goes unpunished" some in the preservation community have now begun a campaign to demonize Tinicum Township for their heroic efforts. Now that funds have been raised and plans to preserve the building are in place there are those, many of whom are from outside our community, who have decided that the entire parcel should be left untouched even though funds raised for our Firehouse was the only means by which this building would be saved from destruction.

I think it is appropriate at this time that some of the more outlandish falsehoods put forth in this campaign to prevent the construction of Tinicum Township's Firehouse be put to rest. Allow me to suggest to you some of the misleading information that is being disseminated throughout the community.

  1. Implying that grant monies utilized to preserve the Lazaretto are being misappropriated to finance the construction of the Firehouse. This could not be further from the truth. Community-wide efforts to raise money purely for the preservation of the Lazaretto were unsuccessful and demolition was imminent before the Tinicum Township Board of Commissioners came to the rescue. It was only by developing the creative solution of using monies raised for the Firehouse as matching funds was the grant for the moth-balling and preservation of the building made possible. Utilizing these matching funds permitted Tinicum Township to acquire the entire 10 acre parcel for not only the preservation of Lazaretto but for the construction of a centrally located Firehouse. This is clearly in the best interest and welfare of residents of Tinicum Township while at the same time preserving the historical significance of the Lazaretto. Where were those who now oppose the construction of the Firehouse and preservation of the Lazaretto when private developers had proposed its demolition?
  2. That the construction will disturb the burial site of immigrants who died while at the Lazaretto. The truth is that the graves of many immigrants buried on the site were removed over 40 years ago [NOTE: in pencil it says — around 1900.] Tinicum Township has been extremely through [sic] in assuring that no graves remained on the property where construction is proposed. A part of the approval process for the construction, a thorough search of the property using state-of-the-art sound penetrating radar was performed. The results of that study were that no grave sites were uncovered in the path of any new construction.
  3. That use of the front portion of the property vacant for decades risk releasing "pathogens" leading to the spread of disease. While no evidence has been put forth for this theory, the preservationist would have us restore the main building and the grounds next to the site allowing tourist and children to visit this historic landmark.
  4. That using the front parcel for the Firehouse will somehow irreversibly damage the Lazaretto Building and forever destroy it. This is simply not true. If those opposed to Tinicum's plan would take a close look, they would know that the proposed Firehouse will be built on the front half of the property with much of the ground being utilized for parking which will not only serve the Firehouse but ultimately those visiting the historical Lazaretto building.

The Township's desire to save the Lazaretto has already significantly delayed the proposed Firehouse construction. It is no longer fair to ask our community and particularly, our volunteer firemen to further delay the implementation of this very important community project while a very few voice their opposition without putting forth any viable, cost efficient alternative plan. It is obvious that the funding for the historical preservation of the Lazaretto was not forthcoming between 2001 and 2005, so there is little to suggest that necessary funds will suddenly appear. The Board of the Commissioners of Tinicum Township are committed both to the construction of a sorely needed firehouse and the historical preservation of the Lazaretto.

Accordingly, we call on those who have participated in these public attacks to stop immediately. It is neither constructive or [sic] beneficial to the community to continue spreading misinformation which unfairly characterizes our community, our volunteer fire fighters, and elected officers as people intent on forever destroying a national landmark. The Board of Commissioners will always entertain constructive solutions that will appropriately balance both the preservation of the Lazaretto while at the same time maintaining the safety and welfare of our residents. False information and threats will not deter the Board of Commissioners from their public mandate of building its Firehouse and Evacuation Center.