Tinicum Township, a very small community near Philadelphia was able to save the oldest surviving quarantine station in the Western Hemisphere. The community is now transforming the 18th -century structure into township offices, writes Kristen De Groot for The Philadelphia Tribune.
Tinicum Township wants to renovate the Lazaretto Quarantine Station as part of a broader plan to increase tourism in the community. The ultimate goal is to connect the Lazaretto station to other historic sites on the waterfront, offering a destination spot for tourists and locals. This gives historians the ability to tell stories of immigration and public health in the early days of America.
What is a quarantine station?
In the United States, quarantine stations are the first line of defense against the introduction and spread of infectious disease. Quarantine stations are still in use today and are located at 20 ports of entry and land border crossings where international travelers arrive, according to the Center for Disease Control.
The Lazaretto Quarantine Station was built in 1799 by the city’s board of health during the yellow fever epidemic and protected the Port of Philadelphia against threats of disease for nearly a century.
“It’s part of American history that we never learn about,” said David Barnes, a University of Pennsylvania professor who is writing a history of the building. “It gives us entry to a lost world, and into the hidden story of how our country came to be and grow, how it accommodated immigrants and dealt with disasters.”
Tinicum Township is a tiny one, home to 4,000 people. The township is bordered by the Philadelphia International Airport and the Delaware River. It was the first European settlement in Pennsylvania, founded in 1643 by the Swedes.
70% of the airport sits within the township’s boundaries. It’s a place where an index finger pointing to the sky is the locals’ universal sign for “let’s wait for the plane to pass over and then we can continue our conversation,” writes De Groot.
In the early 2000’s the township saved the historic Lazaretto facility from being transformed into airport parking lots.
“We sat down as a board of commissioners and said, ‘Where do we start with the revitalization of our township?’ And we all agreed, ‘Let’s start with the Lazaretto and move forward from there,’” said Tinicum Township Manager David Scheiber.
Lazaretto closed as a hospital in the late 1800’s and later served as a seaplane base at the onset of World War I, seaplanes can still be seen landing there today.
“It draws everybody that comes to town to the waterfront and shows what we have to offer,” said Herbert MacCombie, Tinicum’s building official who has worked on the project since the early 2000s.
The new township offices are scheduled to open in September.
To read the complete story go to phillytrib.com