In late January, Pennsylvania’s preservation community gathered [virtually] to present the 2021 Preservation Pennsylvania Honor Awards and celebrate the extraordinary efforts of two individuals: Sydelle Zove, convener of the Friends of Abolition Hall in Montgomery County and Jeff Marshall, whose 40 year career has protected and preserved acres of open space and irreplaceable old buildings.
If you weren’t able to join us, watch the recorded event below.
Henry A. Jordan Award: Sydelle Zove
The Henry A. Jordan Award is presented each year to recognize remarkable preservation work taking place at the local level. The 2021 award is sponsored by Mrs. Henry A. Jordan.
Sydelle Zove has spent years working in the nonprofit sector, primarily for organizations with social justice missions—affordable housing, community development, food access, and workers’ rights. She has always been active in civic matters, serving as chairperson of her neighborhood association when she lived in Germantown, and more recently, on the board of directors of her local public library in Whitemarsh Township. As you learned in the video, she has spent the last six years leading a passionate group of people in a grassroots campaign to find a better outcome and design for a proposed townhouse development that would threaten the Plymouth Meeting Historic District, Pennsylvania’s first National Register Historic District and more importantly Abolition Hall and several other buildings that were a well-documented stop on the Underground Railroad.
In 2020, when the builder withdrew its land development application, and again nine months later, when Whitemarsh Township announced it would purchase the property, Sydelle and the community celebrated the news. She will remain vigilant and continue her work to raise awareness about a county transportation planning study that revived a recommendation to realign the historic crossroads and potentially threaten the site again. We celebrate her tenacity and grace under pressure.
Zove accepted the award on behalf of the wide coalition of supporters who leafleted neighborhoods to spread the word, attended meetings to demonstrate public support for preservation, wrote letters, and donated money for expert testimony and legal defense. She urged us to see the important connection between past and present in her acceptance speech.
Remarks by Sydelle Zove
While we are celebrating this grassroots preservation success, we cannot lose sight of the extraordinary people whose feet touch this hallowed land. It’s not the architecture that is exemplary. Rather, it is the bold deeds of the Maulsby and Corson families in response to immoral laws and to the bravery and determination of enslaved African Americans who fled north in search of freedom.
We have much to learn and to teach, and that must be the primary role of the Corson homestead. Now more than ever, as hard won voting rights are threatened, good people need to take a stand, just as Maulsby and Corson families did in fighting the abomination of slavery. We need to participate here in Pennsylvania and nationally, where voter suppression initiatives are well underway.
I’ll leave you with this thought: while I am honored and humbled to receive the Henry A Jordan award, the work is far from over. I hope each of us can take inspiration from these heroes and honor their legacy by also being brave and bold. Many, many thanks to everyone who helped us over the course of six years, and I might add that today, January 26, is indeed the sixth anniversary of the developers’ first public appearance before the residents of White Marsh township and the Planning Commission in 2016.
F. Otto Haas Award: Jeffrey Marshall
Each year, the F. Otto Haas Award is presented to recognize contributions and consistent achievement above the standards of the profession. The 2021 Award is sponsored by A. Roy Smith.
During Jeff Marshall’s tenure with the Heritage Conservancy, over 15,000 acres in Bucks, Montgomery and Northampton Counties have been preserved. He has dedicated the past 40 years to promote the values of land conservation and historic preservation. Upon his recent retirement (the last ten serving as President), the Heritage Conservancy established the Marshall Historic Preservation Fund to continue this important work.
Jeff is the author of six books on historic architecture, local history and historic preservation and is the co-founder of the Historic Barn & Farm Foundation of Pennsylvania, a non-profit organization that provides resources for the preservation and protection of historic barns. In his retirement, he will continue researching and writing about Pennsylvania’s rural history.
In addition to his professional work, Jeff also lives the lifestyle that he promotes by continuing work on his farm in Bucks County. Jeff also served on the board of directors of Preservation Pennsylvania so it feels like we are honoring one of our own. Congratulations Jeff on an impressive career and receiving the F. Otto Haas Award.
Remarks by Jeff Marshall
I think historic preservation of historic structures is more than an appreciation of architecture or even our heritage. Historic preservation to me is a way we connect people to the places that have an impact — the places that they cherish. When done successfully activating people to make a difference is really what we’re all about.
I have two short stories I’d like to relate that really reflect on what I think is important about the work we do.
One is that I was proud to celebrate farmland preservation with a gentleman who had lived on a centennial farm, been in his family for however many generations and he said, after receiving his plaque for preserving the farm . . .”except for the day I got married and the birth of my children, today is the most important day of my life. I can say thank you to my ancestors and do something for my descendants.” It was a chilling moment for me to realize that what we do is so important to so many people and we just don’t often hear that kind of response.
Secondly, is something that I heard when doing a project that we were told was impossible – time and time again. One gentleman said “if you pull this off, no one will know who you are, but in 200 years you’ll be heroes.” And that’s the type of thing that keeps many of us preservationists going during the hard times.
And I am proud that many of the images you saw on the video stand today and will stand for future generations because of the preservation movement, because people got involved and people wanted to make the difference. So that’s what makes our community special. And you saw a great variety of buildings and structures and open spaces, all of which form the tapestry of what makes Bucks County, Southeast Pennsylvania, and all Pennsylvania so special.
So it is really important that we pass the torch. Sydelle used the term, “get people’s heads and hearts behind what we do.” That’s critically important to try to pass on the advice, the lessons learned over the years. And when you get old people start to ask you for advice. A couple of things I have always tried to say are: when you get involved in a project, always try to find a solution. Don’t be completely dogmatic.
I think imperfect victories are much more important most of the time than noble defeats, especially dealing with historic structures. You get one bite of the apple. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Sometimes compromise in protecting the resource, even if it’s not totally the way you want to do it, is better than not preserving at all. And to do that, as Sydelle noted, you have to create an atmosphere so that finding a solution doesn’t have to be completely adversarial all the time. Even when you start at opposite ends of a position, creating an atmosphere where people trust you, trust your word, trust that you have everyone’s interest in heart – although they know what your perspective really is – really is critical in making things successful.
And finally, I always tell people to bring both passion and professionalism to every project. There’s nothing wrong with showing people you care. And so, with that, again, I want to thank everybody who was involved in this award. I was surprised and flattered. by it. And I’m honored and humbled by it. And I am proud to join the 32 true giants of the field who have gotten this word in the previous years.
Our congratulations to Sydelle and Jeff!
To read more about the awards program and past recipients of each of these honor awards, please visit the Awards page.
We invite you to donate or become a member to keep the work going!