Historical polling place serving voters again at new site in Derry Township


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It was a homecoming for a small contingency of Westmoreland County voters who after more than a decade returned to the Simpson Voting House in Derry Township to cast their ballots in Tuesday's primary election.

"We call this home," said 89-year-old Annabelle Askew, who has served on the precinct's board of elections for the past 13 years carrying on a family tradition that her father began in 1924.

Mrs. Askew's father, Edwin Holsopple, was a poll worker at the site from 1924 to 1941. His oldest daughter, Mary Holsopple Sheffler, followed in his footsteps from 1941 to 1980. Mrs. Askew, the youngest of Mr. Holsopple's 10 children, started working the elections in 2000.

And while Mrs. Askew is planning to step down from the post her family has held for a total of 69 years, the family involvement will continue. Mrs. Askew's daughter, Carol Dinco, a librarian in the Derry Middle School, is slated to fill her mother's spot.

The one-room Simpson Voting House was built in 1891 on Route 22 in Derry Township. It hosted elections for area voters until it fell into disrepair and was closed in 2003. The district's 500 voters had been redirected to the New Alexandra Fireman's Club for the past decade.

"They tried to do away with it, but we fought," said Mrs. Askew, who was among those who gathered in a pre-election ceremony last Thursday to celebrate the reopening of the house at its new location on Route 22.

While Mrs. Askew has a long history with the Simpson house, she is not the only one. Dorothy Rosborough, June Vicola and Mary Margaret Downing also have worked the elections at the site for many years.

Soon after the building's closure, Evelyn Baker-Ruffing of the Derry Area Historical Society spearheaded efforts to save the building that appears in the 1876 Westmoreland County atlas. In 1900, the house was sold to the Westmoreland County Commissioners for $25.

Efforts were complicated by a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation project to widen Route 22 in 2008 requiring the historic building to be moved on a flatbed truck about a mile east down the highway to its new location.

Westmoreland County contributed $15,000 for the acquisition and preparation of the new site and moving the building. In 2007, the county commissioners purchased the current parcel for $1. The structure was moved to the site in 2010.

The remaining restoration and unforeseen costs, including the removal of a honeybee infestation, were provided for by local donors and volunteers, Mrs. Baker-Ruffing said.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania's Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, whose agency oversees elections, has named the Simpson Voting House as the state's third "Keystone of Democracy." The other sites are located in Somerset and Wayne counties.

The Keystone of Democracy program, created by Mrs. Aichele last year, recognizes polling places in use for at least 50 consecutive years, honors poll workers and reminds citizens of the importance of voting in every election.

"The importance of this structure to the people of Derry Township, who worked for a decade to restore it to usable condition, shows how much a part of local history and this community the Simpson Voting House is," Mrs. Aichele said last week.

She was joined by Westmore-land County Commissioner Ted Kopas, state Rep. Joseph Petrarca, D-Washington Township, and state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, for the ceremony.

Also on hand was Edward Lamolinara, 78, a history buff who has lived in the township since 1941 and said he wanted to be there because such local sites are a big part of his life.

Although historically the polling place is only used during elections, Mrs. Baker-Ruffing says she hopes it gets more use.

"I want to bring in children, maybe as part of a class field trip," she said. "It should be used more than just twice a year."

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Linda Metz, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com. Intern Jessica Tully contributed to this article; jtully@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1601.


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