News Release

Findings confirm Dr. Rush land ownership, clear way for structure restoration

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (December 4, 2009) – The historic house at the Knights of Pythias Greenwood Cemetery in Juniata-Northwood was built between 1830 and 1850, according to new studies released jointly by the consultants to the cemetery owner and the Philadelphia Historical Commission (PHC).

Going forward, that assessment of the “period of significance” of the stucco clad stone house will guide preservation architects and conservation specialists in its restoration. While the top priority is ensuring the structural integrity, and then exterior work, ultimately, the interior will be renovated to the same historically significant 19th Century period. As a result of the research, the restored two-story structure will, for instance, feature an open front porch, replacing the current porch enclosed in the mid to late 20th century.

“We are pleased with this comprehensive report, accept the detailed findings, and can now move on with the work necessary to protect and preserve this historic structure that is such an important part of the Dr. Benjamin Rush property and the community at large,” says Michelle Mardenborough, president of the non-profit cemetery corporation. The site is a registered Philadelphia Historic Landmark located at 930 Adams Avenue bordered by Ramona and Castor Avenues. “We commend the work of the entire team of experts involved in this project and are grateful to the Philadelphia Historical Commission for its support,” she said. The findings, she added, clearly support prior research that Dr. Rush owned the property for several years in the late 1700s. The cemetery corporation plans on honoring his remarkable legacy in future endeavors.

The findings confirm the historic nature of the property and are consistent with previous findings that indicate Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, owned the property. Rush, however, could not have occupied what has often been called the Benjamin Rush House since he died in 1813. Future research on the site could determine whether there were other residences on the property. The Philadelphia Historical Commission, PHC, concurs with the findings of the Milner + Carr LLC report and the period of significance in the EwingCole report.

The architectural analysis, a requirement before registered historic landmarks can be restored, was conducted by the accomplished preservation professionals at EwingCole. The conclusions were confirmed independently by Milner + Carr – a highly respected Philadelphia historical conservation firm that investigated the building at the request of the PHC.

Both analyses concluded that the design, technologies and materials used to construct the building – including nails not used until the 1820s, wood screws characteristic of the 1830s and wooden lath and joists cut with a type of circular saw not used until the 1830s – are all indicative of a building constructed between 1830 and 1850. That physical evidence, combined with a dendrochronology laboratory analysis of the building’s timbers by Columbia University, provides a likely date of 1834 for the timbers. Dendrochonology is the process of identifying the felling date of wood by comparing the growth ring thickness patterns with a regional sample of the same species. The Columbia analysis was underwritten with a grant from the PHC.

“Now the necessary work on the residence – the focal point of the historic renovation – can begin,” says Joanne Clare, Chief Director of Friends of Greenwood Cemetery, Inc. and a cemetery board member who has relatives buried in the cemetery. “This is so exciting for all the volunteers who realize we’re that much closer to the day when a revitalized Greenwood will again serve the community as a fully functioning cemetery and historic education and cultural landmark.”

Significant progress continues to be made regarding the overall cemetery revitalization effort. To date, more than one-half of an estimated 3,000 burials have been relocated from an overgrown and neglected section of the cemetery to an accessible section of the cemetery. The relocations will allow for the expansion of the adjacent Cancer Treatment Centers of America facility, a major supporter of the cemetery revitalization project. CTCA plans on ultimately constructing new clinical facilities, guest quarters for relatives of patients and additional parking.