Germantown: Historical Sites Feel Budget Cuts

Descriptions all over the Cliveden Property in Germantown describe the historical importance in the town.

Descriptions all over the Cliveden Property in Germantown describe the historical importance in the town.
Signs all over the Cliveden Property in Germantown describe the historical importance in the town.

Germantown is one of the best-preserved historical areas in the greater Philadelphia area. Home to 14 different historical sites, as well as one of the landmarks of Revolutionary War battles, walking around the area is taking a walk through American history.

So when Gov. Ed Rendell proposed his 2009-2010 budget, which deleted museum assistance funding and effectively eliminated the Pennsylvania History and Museum Grant Program, it was a slam to historians and preservationists throughout the entire area.

David Young, the director of the historic Cliveden House in Germantown, is disgusted by the cuts. “I love Germantown. I’ve lived here for many years and worked at various historical landmarks,” he said. “I want to keep living here because I love the area and its rich historical content. The idea that the government isn’t willing to put money into keeping history alive is appalling.”

Cliveden isn’t even feeling the cuts as badly as some other historical sites. From this specific grant slash, it’s only seeing about a 10 percent fund cut. It’s enough to hurt, but it’s not going to send them completely into the ground. However, the Johnson House, one of the last remaining Underground Railroad stations still open to the public, is predicted to be losing at least 30 percent of its funding, Young said. Representatives for the Johnson House declined to comment.

The process began in February, when Governor Rendell presented his budget proposal. The allocation for the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s Grants for the Arts, Preserving Diverse Cultures and Project Stream was proposed at an 8 percent cut for fiscal year 2009-2010. This was designed to bring the funding level from $15.2 million to $14 million. Original estimates projected Pennsylvania’s revenue gap to be $2.3 billion for the current fiscal year, but over the past three months, that anticipated shortfall has grown by more than $700 million.

Both the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives are looking for things to cut so that they can close the widening revenue gap. Many programs have been targeted for elimination, and that list now includes all funding support for arts and culture.

The bill, introduced May 4 of this year, eliminates all arts and culture grants in the state through the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). The budget reductions run throughout all state agencies, but it will be mostly affecting historical organizations, landmarks and museums. The Johnson House is only operating tours three days a week and is without an executive director. The Cliveden House, which was the site of the historic Battle of Germantown during the Revolutionary War, has cut off all tours until mid-June due to construction and is anticipating cutting down on the days it opens.

Joanne Mishel, a teacher and librarian in New Jersey who grew up in the Germantown area, still looks forward to trips where she brings her students to see her hometown. When discussing the money cuts, she frowned in disgust. “The government is completely willing to put money into cleaning the area and fixing things up, but then they don’t want to bother preserving history? It’s ridiculous.”

Roughly 150 to 160 museums and county historical societies get funding from the commission, varying in increments of $5,000 to $33,000. Officials around the state said the threat of losing that money is pushing some museums toward closing, although none has actually shut its doors.

The strongest community response thus far has been organized by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, which are running an online Save Arts and Cultural Funding in Pennsylvania program. Online petitions are signed all over the Web site, as well as suggestions from the PCA advocating presenting opinions about budget cuts at community meetings or in online message boards, or getting constituents to sign up for advocacy alerts.

Some people speculate that Rendell’s plan is just supporting his goals of glitzing-up and giving more money to greater tourist sites, such as the National Constitution Center, is hurtful to people like Young who just want to keep local historical sites running.

Historical sites all over Germantown advertise and share stories of happenings at other sites.
Historical sites all over Germantown advertise and share stories of happenings at other sites.

“History is my life,” Young said proudly. He divides his time between running the Cliveden House and teaching in the American Studies department at Temple University, where many of his classes actually concentrate on visiting the many historical sites in Germantown and other areas in greater Philadelphia. “I love both working in such an important site and being able to share it with others and teach people about history. The idea that historical sites and living history are losing their importance, well that’s just depressing,”

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