Hampton's Depreciation Lands Museum seeking upgrade

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The 18th century is a place anyone can visit at Hampton's Depreciation Lands Museum.

Every Sunday through October, volunteers wearing period costumes re-enact life as early Pennsylvania settlers as they invite the public to take a trip back in time.

However, when it comes to serving food during programs and group events, the museum has been living in the past -- and not in a good way.

Depreciation Lands Museum Association president Dan Connolly said the museum is in the process of renovating a section of its old church, formerly known as the Annex, to provide a commercial-grade kitchen and spacious meeting room.

"We get a contribution every year from the township for the programs we conduct, and the township does maintenance on the building, but there has been little capital outlay," he said, noting that most of the programs have a food service involved. The Annex's out-dated residential kitchen was inadequate.

"We started a 'Tavern Night,' which was successful, but when you have a venue like that, you have to have food service," Mr. Connolly said. "The Annex building was in dire need of repairs and renovation to even qualify to serve food."

He spoke with the Hampton Township Community Organization and it contributed $5,000. The museum group had some money set aside, so it was decided to renovate the building.

Now known as "The Tavern," the space will feature a commercial-grade kitchen and stone fireplace.

"We want it to have an 18th-century look, which will make it more marketable for us to rent to groups and special events," Mr. Connolly said. "We also plan to expand programs where food service in an 18th century setting is required."

Currently under way, the renovation will cost approximately $50,000, Mr. Connolly said, and donations are needed.

Longtime museum board member Ed Tutino is doing the bulk of the construction work, along with Kent Maier, a retired Allegheny County police officer. Other museum members are contributing their services to the renovation, but some projects to be contracted out. The museum is also seeking donations of commercial kitchen equipment.

"So far, the stainless steel hood over the stoves, with power fans and a built-in fire suppression system was donated," said Mr. Connolly, adding that his group has given the Hampton Community Association a list of possible equipment the museum will need.

To raise funds, local historical artist John Buxton has donated a painting of young George Washington as he surveyed Pittsburgh's Point as a potential item to be raffled. Tickets are $5 or five for $20.

The painting is on view at the museum, along with a new mercantile store. Program director Robbie Seibert, 61, of West Deer has been soliciting items from local craftsmen to sell in the museum's store on consignment.

"This has led to an expansion of our mercantile," she said, noting that the store has been moved from its former corner of the barn to a spacious area of its own in the rear of the museum complex. The corner it used to occupy now features a men's workshop for traditional crafts.

Board secretary Sarah Carroll, 37, of Hampton works on 18th-century-inspired sewing projects while she tends the mercantile during the museum's regular hours, from 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays. "You come here, and you slow down," Ms. Carroll said. "The pace here is different."

Beth Polen, 34, of West View and her daughter, Emma, 9, are among approximately 40 volunteers who dress in period attire. They also assist in the museum's programs, including week-long summer camps for elementary and middle school students.

Volunteer Karen Parsons noted that dozens of the museum's 150 members put in at least 20 hours of work there each week, but it's a labor of love.

"It's a very worthwhile endeavor to share history and make it come alive for people by creating the illusion that you've taken a step back in time," Mrs. Parsons said.

"Our goal is to get the tavern wrapped up and completed by early spring next year," Mr. Connolly said.

The museum's camp program for children ages 8-11 begin Monday and ages 11-14 will start camp on Aug. 6. To register: 412-486-0563 or www.depreciationlandsmuseum.org. Other events include an old-fashioned ice cream social Sunday and a Talley Cavey Tavern Night on Sept. 13.

Since it was established as a township park in 1973, the museum has been educating visitors about the day-to-day activities of European settlers in the Depreciation Lands -- 720,000 acres in Western Pennsylvania set aside in 1783 to compensate local Revolutionary War soldiers for their services. The name is derived from the fact that the dollar significantly depreciated during the war.


Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com


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