Preservation Pennsylvania has announced the 2024 Pennsylvania At Risk in an effort to bring statewide attention to threatened historic properties, serve as a tool for local action toward a positive outcome, and encourage funding and legislation in support of preservation activities.

This year, three properties, each threatened with demolition, offer the potential to be transformed into something new with a benefit to the community.

2024 Pennsylvania At Risk

D. C. Herbst House
(Allegheny County)
Threat: Demolition

Old Montgomery County Prison, also known as Airy Street Prison 
(Montgomery County)
Threat: Demolition

Warden’s House, Western State Penitentiary
also known as State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh (SCI-P)

(Allegheny County)
Threat: Demolition

Preservation Pennsylvania partners with local advocates, promotes the calls to action for each property, and provides additional services and support such as letters of support for Keystone Grant and other funding applications or connecting partners with helpful site-specific expertise

As the only statewide nonprofit dedicated to helping people protect and preserve the places they love, Pennsylvania At Risk has been part of our mission since 1992. (Browse the list on our Pennsylvania At Risk page to see such favorites as the Shoe House, the Yorktowne Hotel, and, still at risk, the Leap the Dips roller coaster.]

A periwinkle twilight sky is the background for the courtyard view of this old prison. Each window is lit, and the skyline is punctuated with small cupolas.
View of the rehabbed Old Salem Jail, 50 St. Peter Street, Salem, Massachusetts

With two prisons listed on At Risk this year, our Pennsylvania At Risk newsletter features a portfolio of examples of prison building reuse that include an arts center, hotel, apartments, offices, museums, and a movie studio. (For more information on prison reuse, see The Sentencing Project study “Repurposing Correctional Facilities to Strengthen Communities” available here. The report notes that while prison reuse planning is an emerging practice, the “key to successful prison closure efforts has been the reuse of former correctional facilities for purposes beneficial to communities.”

Our Pennsylvania At Risk newsletter includes updates about previously listed At Risk properties, information about this year’s three sites, and a brief guide to how you can make a difference.

Download the PDF

[The Pennsylvania At Risk newsletter will be mailed/emailed to members and recent donors.]

Media: Scroll to the bottom for the press release and photo access.


A once elegant Victorian home is beginning to give off haunted house vibes
D. C. Herbst House, 231 Broad Street, Sewickley. This mansion’s location in a National Register District can’t save it from potential demolition. Preservationists and community advocates encourage adaptive reuse; will the owner negotiate? Herbst House c. 1990, Photo by William J. Penberthy in Historic Houses of the Sewickley Valley (Stephen Neal Dennis, Edgeworth, PA, Edgeworth Preservation, 1996), p. 48, plate 35. Image courtesy of the Sewickley Valley Historical Society.

D. C. Herbst House
231 Broad Street, Sewickley
Threat: Demolition

This black and white photo from the late 19th century was taken by a neighbor of the Herbst family from across the street.
Herbst House in the mid-1890s: Photo likely taken by the across-the-street neighbor, Frank Gifford Tallman, with his personal camera. Gift of Jonathan West to the Sewickley Valley Historical Society. Used with permission of the Sewickley Valley Historical Society.

Construction of the David Calhoun Herbst mansion was completed sometime between 1876 and 1886. In 1913, the building was sold and opened as St. James Parish’s first school. It later served as a convent, but has been vacant since the 1990s.

Located in the primary gateway to Sewickley Village, the west side of Broad Street features schools, parking lots and churches, while the east side retains its historic character with the Old Sewickley Post Office, Sewickley Public Library, and old residential buildings that span a variety of styles from Greek Revival to Queen Ann. The building is located in the largest of the Borough’s historic districts and has been featured for years in brochures and walking tours.

The Herbst house is situated on the Saint James campus, which includes the church, parish house and administrative offices, rectory, and the elementary school and gymnasium. The campus hosts the very popular Sewickley Farmers Market. The parish considers the market their “Mission to the Community” and wants to expand it.

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh filed for a demolition permit in July 2022. While the Sewickley Borough Council and Historic Review Commission voted to uphold the historic district ordinances, the Diocese appealed their decision. In December 2023, the appellate court remanded the case back to the Borough and Diocese with the aim of mediation towards an agreed resolution.

The site is in excellent condition overall with manicured lawns, neat gardens, mature trees and parking for the parish and school. Since the demolition permit was filed, a temporary construction fence was placed around the Herbst House. Maintenance of the exterior building envelope ceased 10 years ago and the building has been vacant for more than 30 years. The structure is engulfed in vines and the sidewalks and driveway are in poor condition.

Supporters in favor of preserving the building would like to see it sold as a private residence or restored by a public/private/nonprofit partnership as a community asset. The Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (PHLF) estimates a cost of $3.7 million to fully restore the Herbst House, while a partial restoration, consisting of the facade and first floor, would be $2.5 million. PHLF has already earmarked some funding for the possible project.


Standing in front of imposing prison walls, the light-colored stone house was the former home of the prison warden
The Warden’s House stands next to the Ohio River along a popular recreational pedestrian/bike trail. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Christopher, Abandoned America)

Warden’s House, Western State Penitentiary, also known as State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh (SCI-P)
3001 Beaver Avenue, Pittsburgh
[40°28’13.7″N 80°02’32.6″W]
Threat: Demolition

The prison walls on the left tower over the 4.5 story Warden's House on the right.
This side view of the Warden’s House shows how the prison walls tower over it.

Pennsylvania has a long history of innovation in penal systems, dating back to the days of William Penn. Nineteenth century humanitarians had many ideas about prison rehabilitation and these were put into practice in the 1800s with the construction in Pennsylvania of two penitentiaries designed to rehabilitate prisoners with a focus on inmate employment. In 1829 the Eastern State Penitentiary was built outside Philadelphia and between 1878 and 1893, the Western State Penitentiary was built in Allegheny County.

Today, the Eastern State Penitentiary is a National Historic Landmark and an internationally-recognized cultural site that receives more than 250,000 visitors a year. It serves as a place to see where Al Capone served time and to learn about and reflect on the American prison system then and now.

The Western State Penitentiary, closed in 2017, is targeted for demolition. The 22-acre site includes the historic Warden’s Residence outside and, behind the 25-foot high and three foot thick walls, an auditorium, power plant, industrial shop buildings, dining hall, a library/chapel, a health services building, an administration building and inmate housing.  (Click here for the PA State Historic Preservation Office Historic Survey Resource Form.) The property has hosted six major film productions, including “The Mayor of Kingstown.” The Pennsylvania Department of General Services (PA-DGS) intends to sell the site and has prepared a feasibility analysis exploring various options.

Potential for Reuse

Local advocates seek to preserve the Warden’s house, built in 1885. The 4.5 story late Victorian building is located along the Ohio River and next to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, a 33-mile path used by pedestrians, cyclists and non-vehicular commuters. The land use feasibility study from PA-DGS suggests a 5.2 acre waterfront park that could incorporate the Warden’s House, ripe for adaptive reuse that could benefit trail users and the nearby Marshall-Shadeland community.



the old jail looks like a castle on a hill
Old Montgomery County Prison. Photo Credit: Carol M. Highsmith. (2019) The old Montgomery County Prison, built in Norristown, Pennsylvania, closed in 1987. 2019-05-02. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Old Montgomery County Prison, also known as the Airy Street Prison
35 East Airy Street, Norristown
Threat: Demolition

The Old Montgomery County Prison (built in 1851) was designed by architect Napoleon LeBrun, whose portfolio of work includes the nearby Montgomery County Courthouse (built in 1854) as well as the Academy of Music (1857) in Philadelphia.

The prison building is noted as “a masterpiece” in the National Register of Historic Places documentation for the Central Norristown Historic District. The gothic revival Warden’s House in the front has the appearance of a castle to anyone who passes its corner location on the same block as the County Courthouse. (According to reporting by Hidden City Philadelphia, Megan Alt, the County’s communications director, stated that the County is “investing over $90 million to architecturally restore the historic Montgomery County Court House” also designed by LeBrun.)

The prison building closed in 1986 and has been vacant and deteriorating. In July 2023, Montgomery County Commissioners approved a demolition contract and sought a permit from Norristown’s municipal government. Thankfully, due to an outpouring of citizen support for the iconic building’s preservation, the Commissioners have withdrawn the demolition permit application and expressed the intention to issue a Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI) this summer. The firm of Colliers Engineering & Design Inc. is preparing a building condition assessment that will give prospective developers an understanding of conditions.

Historic preservation is a tool for managing change, saving the places that give a community character and preventing heart-breaking losses that make a town feel like anywhere else. Local advocates and groups supporting preservation of the building think it holds great potential, citing its prominence in Norristown’s skyline,and the building’s historic and architectural significance as an irreplaceable feature of the historic district. Imagine the possibility it offers for redevelopment and economic revitalization in the heart of the county seat.

Take Action

Do YOU have ideas for how the Norristown building could be reused?

Montgomery County offers a webpage with additional information about the proposed redevelopment of the site. Open until July 25 is a link to the Airy Street Prison Redevelopment Community Input Survey: “Along with the County’s ongoing effort to gain as much knowledge and feedback on the project site’s current conditions to best inform the prospective developers, we are conducting engagement efforts with the public to better understand the community desires, perceived issues, and the current economic and cultural drivers to the neighborhood of the site. This survey will help to provide a better understanding of public interest and opinion in the redevelopment project for both the County and to prospective developers.”

Take the Survey!

An aerial view of Norristown shows the old jail's proximity to the County Courthouse on the same block
An overview of downtown Norristown. The red marker shows the location of the Airy Street jail, in proximity to the County Courthouse. How many sites for parking or already empty for development can you spot?

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For the Media

Download the press release.  Download the newsletter.


Herbst House, Photo Credit: William J. Penberthy in Historic Houses of the Sewickley Valley (Stephen Neal Dennis, Edgeworth, PA, Edgeworth Preservation, 1996), p. 48, plate 35. Image courtesy of the Sewickley Valley Historical Society.

Western State Penitentiary, Photo Credit: Matthew Christopher, Abandoned America

Old Montgomery County Prison/Airy Street Jail, Photo Credit: Carol M. Highsmith. (2019) The old Montgomery County Prison, built in Norristown, Pennsylvania, closed in 1987. 2019-05-02. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,