Owner neglect hurts preservation efforts
TO THE EDITORS:
As reported by Lancaster Newspapers, March 23, Manheim Township lost one of its remaining historic resources. Following prolonged owner neglect, fire destroyed the former Esbenshade-Gammache mansion near the intersection of Route 30 and New Holland Pike -- just months before new Grandview residents would have had "front row seats" to view the heavily vandalized mansion from their shiny new homes.
In 1951, my Pleasure Road property was carved from a corner of the former Gammache farm. From my rear windows, I witnessed the slow decline of this neglected Victorian edifice during the past 12 years.
At first, I was fascinated as nature regained control of the property. Later, I was horrified as vandals repeatedly gained easy access to damage the historic structures. We'll likely never know if these vandals truly caused the fire (as accused by others) because there is an apparent lack of investigation interest, and because any remaining evidence was quickly destroyed as construction crews leveled smoldering building remains last Saturday morning.
What we do know is that the Gammache family generously bequeathed the mansion and another historic farm structure to the Catholic diocese in 1997. In the years following Mr. Gammache's death, the new owner did little to secure these structures. The diocese's only apparent interest was to "cash in" on the 57 acres of donated real estate.
As it claims to be focused on sustainability issues (see a November article by Lancaster Newspapers), Lancaster Catholic High School squandered an educational opportunity to demonstrate true sustainability through adaptive reuse of its donated historic buildings.
I also fault Manheim Township officials for permitting demolition of local historic resources through blatant owner neglect. The results of such neglect are visible throughout the township in places such as Neffsville and the Fruitville Pike corridor. Township commissioners need to hear from those concerned with the fate of our few remaining community landmarks. With continued citizen apathy, we can only expect more events such as those witnessed in recent months at the Esbenshade-Gammache property: A large barn was demolished, an unsecured mansion burned to the ground and a circa 1730 house remains in a very precarious state following severe vandalism.
John D. Hershey