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Middletown Historical Restoration Commission marks 50th, plans event Oct. 19 to celebrate

By Dan Miller

Posted 10/9/19

Perhaps you’ve visited a quaint little town where you stop in the tourist center, pick up a walking tour brochure, and spend a few delightful hours taking in the town’s rich local …

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Middletown Historical Restoration Commission marks 50th, plans event Oct. 19 to celebrate


Perhaps you’ve visited a quaint little town where you stop in the tourist center, pick up a walking tour brochure, and spend a few delightful hours taking in the town’s rich local history.

When you’re done, or perhaps along the way, you stop in a restaurant for a meal, or spend your money in some other local attraction that catches your eye.

If other towns can do that, why not Middletown?

It can and it should, say members of the borough’s Historical Restoration Commission, who are on a mission to get Middletown to be doing much more to capitalize on its rich history as the oldest town in Dauphin County.

The commission has multiple projects in mind, all aimed at taking this prized asset of the borough and turning it into increased value for the town, including financial value.

These include that walking tour described above, creating a federal historic district where eligible owners could get a 20 percent federal tax break for improving their property, and advocating changes in local law to better preserve the history in Middletown upon which all this potential is based.

The commission also has a history of its own of which to be proud.

The commission turns 50 years old in 2019. The commission is inviting the public to help celebrate that milestone with an event the commission is holding at The Event Place at 11 S. Union St. in Middletown from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19.

Event Place owner Brenda Klocko is letting the commission use the space for the event at no charge, Commission President Joanna Cain told the Press & Journal.

The Oct. 19 event is an opportunity for borough residents to learn more about the commission, what it is doing, and what it hopes to do in the future, Cain and Commission Secretary Robert Hauser said in a recent interview with the Press & Journal.

Copies of the walking tour brochures that the commission plans to make available for the public will be at the event.

People can also pick up applications to apply to the commission for a large pewter plaque that can be awarded to owners of properties in Middletown that are of historical significance.

To be eligible, a building must be at least 75 years old. The commission has other criteria for the award which will also be available for residents at the event.

The commission works closely with the Middletown Area Historical Society, a nonprofit organization.

The commission is an entity of borough government that focuses on the historic nature and attributes of the town, whereas the society gathers historical artifacts to be preserved and displayed in the society’s museum on East Main Street, Cain and Hauser said.

Commission members are appointed to fixed terms by borough council. The commission also receives funding from the borough through an appropriation in each year’s general fund budget. The commission was budgeted $9,500 for 2019, Hauser said.

The commission actively pursues grants to stretch that allocation of tax dollars from the borough as much as possible.

Just about everything the commission plans to do will cost money, such as placing wayside markers to serve as stops along the walking tours.

The hope is that these investments will pay off in the future, by increasing property values in the borough and attracting investors to the town to start new businesses or expand existing ones.

For example, the proposed historic district would provide federal tax breaks of up to 20 percent for owners of an “income-producing property.”

That includes owners of an existing apartment building in the district who choose to renovate or rehabilitate the property. It could also apply to someone with a property in the district who wants to turn part of the property, such as the first floor, into a business, Cain said.

The 20 percent tax break would not apply to property owners in the district who just want to renovate a property that is not income-producing, such as their residence.

However, Cain and Hauser believe all properties would potentially benefit, by owners being able to market their properties as being in a federal historic district.

The federal historic district contemplated by the commission would not be the same as historic districts in Carlisle and in Harrisburg, for example, where property owners need to obtain approval from the government to make certain changes to the exterior of buildings they own in the district.

The proposed historic district would protect property owners from the government being able to tear down a property — although owners would be free to tear it down themselves if they wanted to, or to sell it to someone else who would tear the property down, Cain and Hauser said.

As currently envisioned, the federal historic district in Middletown would run from Ann and South Union streets north up Union about a block north of the square with Main Street, Cain said.

The district would also extend east and west from Union for about a block as well.

The current location of the proposed historic district is based upon a survey and study that was completed for the borough about 30 years ago. Nothing was ever done to follow it up, said Cain.

“One of our priority goals is to find someone who can take this survey and update it,” which could lead to the district boundaries being expanded, Cain said.

This needs to be done by a professional architectural historian, as commission members are all volunteers, she added.

One change that could be made much sooner that could provide more protection for historical properties in Middletown would be for borough council to adopt at least some parts of the downtown overlay that was drawn up for the borough by consultants in 2015, Cain said.

The overlay includes a historic district whose boundaries largely mirror what was recommended in the previous survey that was done for the borough, she added.

Council can pick and choose which recommendations of the zoning overlay it wants to adopt, Cain said.

The commission hopes council will approve recommendations that will prevent the loss of any more historic structures in the borough.