11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Isaac Manchester Farm

Year Listed: 2011
Location: Avella, Pennsylvania
Threat: Mining

Significance

For more than two centuries, a sprawling, 400-acre farm in Washington County, Pa. has been home to eight generations of the Manchester family. With its stately brick Georgian manor house and eight historic outbuildings, the farm is a remarkable, two-century time capsule, with objects and archival material preserved. In 1797, Isaac Manchester, his wife Phebe and the first five of their 12 children moved from Newport, R.I. to western Pennsylvania to establish a homestead. Built of bricks fired on the farm and timber harvested from its wooded acres, the home’s elegant exterior was matched only by its interior, which reflected the style and skills of a fine Philadelphia cabinetmaker.

The family has meticulously preserved items from daily life, including 19th-century sewing patterns, looms and clothing, as well as letters and notes that reference everything from major historic events to day-to-day farm business. Tools, such as the mold in which the bricks for the house were made, the axes with which the lumber was hewn and the planes that produced the fine architectural details, all survive on the property.

In 1917, three Manchester sisters—Alice, Cora and Franceina—sold the mineral rights to most of the farm, excluding only the three acres where their family home and outbuildings stood. Because that sale took place decades before longwall mining—a method of underground extraction that causes the land to drop between four to six feet at the surface—existed, the Manchester sisters could not have imagined the potential damage that would threaten their farm nearly a century later. While the mineral rights under the historic buildings are still in the family’s hands, a coal company plans to mine within close proximity to the protected property, which also jeopardizes the farm’s water supply. The proposal also includes infrastructure additions such as ventilation shafts and access roads, which threaten the farm’s historic setting. There are alternative techniques such as the traditional room and pillar mining, which would provide better protection still for the farm, while allowing mining to occur.