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St. Clair history awards honor local reenactors, city and highway boosters

October 12, 2018

A champion of regional highway history, a group of frontier militia reenactors and an organization that has applied a creative twist to historic building preservation will see their efforts celebrated this month by the Westmoreland County Historical Society.

The society will present its annual Arthur St. Clair Historic Preservation Awards at an Oct. 17 dinner at Rizzo’s Banquet Hall in Crabtree.

Named for the Revolutionary War general and Continental Congress president who was a prominent early figure in the county, the awards recognize a “significant and sustainable contribution to the preservation of our historic places, documents, records or stories,” according to a society press release.

This year’s honorees are: Olga Herbert, founding executive director of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor; the Independent Battalion Westmoreland County Pennsylvania, alternatively known as Proctor’s Militia; and the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program design team, which has partnered with owners to rejuvenate buildings in that city’s downtown district.

The number of award recipients varies from year to year. This year’s trio was chosen from about 10 nominations.

“Some received multiple nominations,” said Lisa Hays, executive director of the historical society. “They’re outstanding, and they’re all different. It’s interesting how many ways there are to preserve history.”

The Latrobe Community Revitalization Program is being singled out for a project that restored the original appearance of the landmark 1873 Lattanzio building at Depot and Jefferson streets. Originally housing a hardware store, the building was altered in the 1970s with a facade that eliminated large first-floor windows and chipped away the decorative surface of the foundation stone.

Reconstructing the windows wasn’t possible, so project planners came up with a creative alternative. Large aluminum panels that feature murals evoking the building’s past were positioned on its exterior.

Working from period photos, LCRP design consultant Steven Patricia created images for two Depot Street panels that depict a streetcar and neighboring stores as they would have been reflected in the building’s windows circa 1900.

A Jefferson Street panel shows two workers hanging a poster that advertises big band and early rock artists who played at the building’s once-popular Danceland venue.

“Steve is an artist and an historic interpreter,” said LCRP Executive Director Jarod Trunzo. “It was the best combination to have for a project like this.”

Hand-carved concrete was used to recreate the missing foundation stone.

With input from the Latrobe Area Historical Society and building owner Harry Lattanzio, “It was a great team effort,” Trunzo said of the project. “The way everybody responded, it was completely overwhelming. It showed there was an ethic for preservation of this town,” leading the way for a series of other downtown facade restorations.

Herbert, who has guided the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor for 22 years, works from a base at the Lincoln Highway Experience, a transportation-themed museum in Unity that just gained a new wing featuring a restored roadside diner and tourist cabin.

She said many may not realize that she oversees programs that stretch along a 200-mile section of the Lincoln Highway, a corridor that extends across Westmoreland and five other counties. That includes distributing state funds among nonprofits and municipalities in the region for tourism-related efforts.

“The most personally fulfilling for me was the Roadside Giants of the Lincoln Highway project that I did with high school students,” the former teacher said. Students at career and technology centers along the corridor fabricated oversized roadside curiosities, including a 25-foot-tall replica gas pump that commands a spot at Routes 30 and 259 in Ligonier Township.

Herbert is contemplating her next project: Formatting the corridor’s popular Lincoln Highway Driving Guide for use with mobile devices.

Organized in 2007, the modern I.B.W.C.P. reenactment and living history group has brought back to life an historic militia unit of the same name that was active during and after the Revolutionary War. Members of that original unit took part in major engagements at Princeton and Trenton, N.J., as well as Westmoreland County skirmishes with Native Americans.

Modern group membership has grown from 13 to more than 30. Taking part in reenactment events ranging from New York to western Virginia, “We cover a lot of the same territory our unit was in historically,” said Scott Henry, captain and ranking company commander.

I.B.W.C.P. partners with the county historical society in planning and staging an annual frontier court reenactment at Historic Hanna’s Town, a reconstruction of the first county seat. The group recently has expanded its living history activities to include portrayals of sewing and cooking by camp followers and midwifery, along with 18th century brewing techniques, leather working and artillery demonstrations.

Receiving the Arthur St. Clair Award is gratifying, “to be recognized and to know that what we’ve done in the last several years is a good thing, that we are contributing to history and the preservation of it,” Henry said.

The dinner, which is open to the public, costs $85 per person, with proceeds benefiting the county historical society’s educational programs. Reservations are due by Friday ; call 724-532-1935, ext. 215.

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