Policy roundtable explores link between historical preservation and economic development

Increased tourism can lead to increased revenue for PA communities

ELKINS PARK, May 9— The House Majority Policy Committee convened a roundtable discussion in Montgomery County Tuesday morning to explore how historical preservation can increase tourism and drive economic development. 

“Making investments in our state’s rich history can pay off huge dividends for our communities down the line. While economic development is important, it’s not the only issue,” said Rep. Napoleon Nelson (D-Montgomery), who hosted Tuesday’s event. “The legacy of this region is tied to the African American community, and it’s paramount to highlight that connection to not only understand the problems we’ve overcome but also shine a light on the issues that continue to plague us today. I was excited to welcome my colleagues to my district today to meet with historical preservation professionals and discuss ways we can maximize our efforts across Pennsylvania.” 

The roundtable discussion was held at the LaMott Community Center in Elkins Park with the Citizens for the Restoration of Historic LaMottLaMott Citizens United and Cheltenham Township officials. Testifiers noted the importance of the nearby Camp William Penn site, which served as the largest of the 18 training camps for African American soldiers during the Civil War. It hosted more than 10,000 of the roughly 180,000 African American soldiers who served in the Union during the Civil War. Recruits first arrived at the camp in 1863 and the camp closed in 1865.    

“What sometimes get lost in the larger discussion, is places like the community center where we held this hearing act as hubs – not just for activities but in the identity of an entire community,” said Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El (D-Lancaster). “The history of abolitionist activists, Camp William Penn and the U.S. colored troops here tell a story, not only in our own liberation but indeed the advancement of the entire United States.” 

Historic preservation experts say what they need more than anything is funding. 

“We need financial support to ensure we can continue to highlight historical landmarks in our area and keep visitors coming to see them,” said Joyce Werkman, President of Citizens for the Restoration of Historic La Mott. “We need an appropriately designed, dedicated museum to feature the history of our community, and a statue at the gate of Camp William Penn. These soldiers deserve to be recognized.” 

Following the roundtable discussion, members toured the Camp William Penn site and saw where local preservation societies want to put the aforementioned statue, as well as a museum that will educate visitors about the importance of the site. 

“Touring Camp William Penn was an eye-opening experience. It played such an important role to the Union during the Civil War, and it served as one of the birthplaces for our African American troops,” said Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-Chester), Vice Chair of the House Majority Policy Committee. “By funding and highlighting important sites like this, we can honor our history while boosting tourism efforts in our communities.” 

Information about this hearing and other House Majority Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy.