Sellers Hall ~ News & Updates
Architectural Archeology report:
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FRIENDS OF SELLERS HALL
On May 1, 2013, the Heritage Commission of Delaware County presented Friends of Sellers Hall an award at its 35th Annual Preservation Awards ceremony. FOSH received the Special Project Award for its efforts to save Sellers Hall. Noting the fact Sellers Hall is the oldest English colonial structure in Upper Darby plus the contributions of the Sellers family in the areas of industry, science and social activities, the Heritage Commission recognized FOSH for not only saving Sellers Hall from imminent demolition, but for its continuing efforts to stabilize and restore the historic house.
Last fall, the Friends of Sellers Hall took a major step in preserving Sellers Hall by making improvements to the first floor library. We installed new lighting and an HVAC system in order to make the room useable year round for meetings. Building on this momentum, FOSH arranged for Hanson General Contracting, Inc., to prepare a plan and estimate to replace the roof of Sellers Hall. Hanson specializes in fine building and historical preservation. As stated in an earlier status report, replacing the roof entails making sound the roof structure: rafters, collar-ties, shingle lath, rafter plates, eave framing. Next, some dormers need to be reduced in size or eliminated to restore the roof appearance to its original configuration. Cornices must be repaired and restored, and at least two chimneys must be designed and rebuilt. Finally, appropriate roofing material needs to be selected and installed. This project will be enormously expensive, but the alternative – demolition of the building – will cost even more in terms of the history and culture lost.
Ellen Cronin and her Friends and Supporters committee are actively seeking funds. One of her main projects is securing recognition of Sellers Hall on the National Register of Historic Places. This is a complex and difficult task, but success can lead to avenues of funding that are critical to the restoration effort. If you would like to help in any way, please contact Bill McDevitt at email@example.com or send your tax deductible contribution to Friends of Sellers Hall, 9 Pilgrim Lane, Drexel Hill, PA 19026.
The board of directors of Friends of Sellers Hall met for its annual meeting on June 16, 2012. The meeting was held at Sellers Hall in the ground floor room which St. Alice’s once used as a library. The board was advised that one of its original members, Sheryl Simmons, had passed away. Sheryl was an adjunct professor at Drexel University who had researched the Underground Railroad and the Sellers family, especially those members who owned tracts of land in West Philadelphia along Lancaster Avenue.
Chairman Tim Sellers is heading the campaign to have Sellers Hall included on the National Register of Historic Places. The criteria are quite stringent, and modifications and improvements to the building over the past 300 plus years have affected its certification based on architecture. Nevertheless, the importance and contribution of the Sellers Family to the region, especially to the development of science and technology, makes it a good candidate for inclusion.
On another front, members of FOSH met with historical architect, John Milner, and historical contractor, John Hanson, to formulate an initial plan for the restoration of Sellers Hall. Work should begin shortly on establishing useable space on the ground floor. Replacement of the roof, an important step, will await the receipt of sufficient funds. If you would like to help, contact Bill McDevitt at 610/259-0071 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or make a contribution to FOSH c/o Barbara Marinelli, Treasurer, 9 Pilgrim Lane, Drexel Hill, PA 19026.
The efforts to convert Sellers Hall into a vibrant historical treasure continue apace. In May, the students in John Milner’s Architectural Archaeology class of the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, School of Design, at the University of Pennsylvania, released an exhaustive and definitive study on Sellers Hall. Using archival records and painstaking dissection, the students created a detailed report on the evolution of Sellers Hall from its original completion in 1684. The house revealed not only early American building techniques, but also exposed the evolution of building styles in the Philadelphia region. If you would like to read the report, you can access it at https://johnmilnerarchitects.sharefile.com/?cmd=d&id=f43453b0efa446f4.
Jill Hall at the Delaware County Planning Commission is working on having Sellers Hall listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Jill forwarded appropriate documents, along with the 2011 Milner Report, to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. PHMC’s Bureau of Historic Preservation is reviewing the material, and it will advise whether Sellers Hall meets the criteria for nomination. If it so concludes, then Friends of Sellers Hall (FOSH) will proceed with formally nominating the property to the National Register using the National Park Service registration form. Completed nominations are submitted to the Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Board. If the Board agrees that Sellers Hall meets the criteria for evaluation, it is sent to the National Park Service for final approval and listing.
FOSH is on the verge of launching a major fund raising campaign. Work must be done soon to stabilize the structure. If you would like to help in any way, please contact Bill McDevitt at 610/259-0071, or email@example.com, or make a contribution to FOSH c/o Barbara Marinelli, Treasurer, 9 Pilgrim Lane, Drexel Hill, PA 19026.
After 18 months of negotiations, Friends of Sellers Hall (FOSH) and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia agreed to a long-term lease for Sellers Hall, which sits on the grounds of Saint Alice’s parish in Upper Darby. Under the terms of the lease, FOSH will be able to use and possess the property for up to 70 years for a nominal rent. The lease allows FOSH to embark on a plan to preserve and restore the 1682 ancestral home of the Sellers Family, which also served as a way station of the fabled underground railroad.
This spring semester also boasts that return of John Milner and his architectural history students from the University of Pennsylvania. Last year, Mr. Milner and his students unmasked much of the original structure of the home. This year, the students are focusing on the exterior of the house, discerning how it evolved over the centuries from a small shelter during the 17th century to the grand mansion that it is today. The class will make a formal presentation with a detailed written report at the end of the semester.
With the signing of the lease, preservation efforts for Sellers Hall go into high gear. Much money, many volunteers and other resources will be necessary to restore this valuable historic property to its original condition. If you would like to help in any way, please contact Bill McDevitt at 610/259-0071, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Update - March 2010:
The effort to save and preserve Sellers Hall continued unabated during the winter months. In the spirit of Martin Luther King Day, members of the Friends of Sellers Hall (FOSH) spent the weekend of January 16-18 cleaning up the neglected interior of the property. More than 90 5-gallon buckets of dirt and debris, much of it from a ceiling on the third floor that had been pulled down, were removed from the house and deposited in a dumpster that St. Alice’s parish provided. Many thanks to Bev Rorer, Ann Livingston and Bill McDevitt for their hard work in cleaning up the interior.
On January 20, John Milner and his class of historical architecture students from the University of Pennsylvania descended on Sellers Hall to begin their semester-long study of the building. The class will dissect select areas of the building and pour over the government and family records of the house to reconstruct its architectural evolution over the three hundred years of its existence. When the final report is finished – a report that will be the equivalent of an historic structures report – FOSH will have a document that it can use as a guide for planning optimal use and also as a basis for securing public and private funds to restore the building.
In the legal arena, some members of the FOSH board are actively negotiating with the parish and Archdiocese to secure a long-term lease that will lay the foundation for FOSH’s possession of Sellers Hall for its renovation and restoration. Lead by Regina Robson, Esq., a graduate of St. Alice’s elementary school, FOSH and the parish/Archdiocese have exchanged proposals that will grant FOSH a long-term lease. Negotiations have been very cooperative and positive, and all parties seem committed to a relationship that will result in the restoration of Sellers Hall in a way that will not only preserve its history, but also contribute to the community.
The Board of Directors of the Friends of Sellers Hall held its second meeting on November 1, 2010. Tim Sellers, chairman of the board, presided. It was reported that FOSH had submitted a proposed lease for Sellers Hall to the Archdiocese and Saint Alice’s parish. The lease envisions a long-term relationship under which FOSH would preserve and restore the building and make appropriate use of it, while also affording the parish access for some of its functions. The attorney for the Archdiocese was supportive of the draft agreement, and FOSH is awaiting his formal response.
It was also reported that the re-tarping and ventilation of the building was completed, thanks to the generosity of a parishioner who donated the cost. Sellers Hall is now dry, and further deterioration from water has been largely eliminated. Attention is now directed to ridding the building of squirrels and securing it from further critter intrusion. This work is expected to be completed by the end of January.
John Milner selected Sellers Hall to serve as the subject of his historical architecture class during the Spring 2010 semester. Students from the University of Pennsylvania enrolled in the course Special Problems: Architectural Archeology, HSPV 741-011, will analyze and study the building, unveiling its history and, hopefully, some of its secrets. The class will meet at the site every Wednesday afternoon starting on January 20.
FOSH also received the very desirable exemption from income tax under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code from the IRS. Armed with this special status, FOSH’s fund raising committee launched a solicitation for memberships and donations at the end of the year. Next on their agenda will be to pursue grants from public and private sources to begin in earnest the restoration of this important historical structure.
The year 2009 was an important one in the history of Sellers Hall. When the year began, it looked very likely that Sellers Hall would only be an image on photographs or a memory in people’s minds by the time of the winter solstice. Instead, the building has been secured, the deterioration halted, and the mechanism put in place to bring this jewel of 17th Century America back to its original splendor.
Following a meeting of persons interested in preserving Sellers Hall with representatives of St. Alice's Parish and the Archdiocese, a nonprofit corporation was formed under the name "Friends of Sellers Hall" (FOSH) for the purpose. The Board of Trustees, several of whom have ties to Upper Darby Historical Society, met for the first time at Collen Brook Farm on June 24, 2009. At the meeting Tim Sellers was elected Chair of the Board of Trustees and Bill McDevitt was chosen as President.
The organization got busy in laying the groundwork for the preservation. A plan was devised to stabilize the roof and ventilate the building. Estimates for the work are being received, and it is hoped that this work will be done shortly. A long-term lease with the parish and archdiocese is being drafted. Representatives from the legal committee of FOSH and St. Alice's met on July 30th to discuss the outline of the lease. John Milner, historic architect, has expressed interest in using Sellers Hall in the spring 2010 semester to produce the equivalent of an historic structure's report. Meanwhile, a solicitation campaign for funds has been prepared and sources for grants are being identified.
In sum, the foundation is in place to transfer the responsibility of preserving and restoring Sellers Hall to FOSH. With help from the community and cooperation from the parish, it is fully expected that Sellers Hall will be preserved and turned into a valuable historical and cultural center for the community. ~ Sept '09
Friends of Sellers Hall