|Johnston Friends Rusty Sillivan and Dana Grubb|
Archibald Johnston is Bethlehem's first Mayor and a former President of the Bethlehem Steel Company. In 1923, he built a three-story mansion on a ridge above Monocacy Creek. His grounds included manmade waterfalls, tennis courts and even the Santee Grist Mill. He called it “Camel’s Hump,” but it's now known as Housenick Park. Johnston's granddaughter, Janet Housenick, donated the mansion and 55 acres to the Township in her Will. She also bequeathed $2 million to maintain the property. Previously, she had donated 36 acres along the creek to Northampton County. Another contiguous tract, currently owned by Central Moravian Church, is reportedly under agreement of sale to a local developer. But the land is in a zoned conservation area.
After several years of intense discussion, Commissioners endorsed a detailed Master Plan for the park in 2011, laying out a course of restoration over a 10-year period. Since that time, the mansion has been weatherized, but Commissioners have been focused on the grounds.
Friends of Johnson, which is focused on restoring the mansion, were initially rebuffed by Commissioners in February. Commissioner Marty Zawarski felt that he was being "rushed", while colleague Mike Hudak worried that Commissioner would lose control over what is ultimately their responsibility.
But since that initial frosty reception, Commissioner President Paul Weiss met with Friends' Directors Dana Grubb and Rusty Sillivan. The Friends are now being treated like friends. Grubb, a freelancer with The Bethlehem Press and former Grants Administrator in Bethlehem, told Commissioners that "one of the strongest attractions a community has is its history," and described Housenick Park as a "little piece of heaven on earth."
"It's your property," Grubb assured Commissioners. "You've got to decide how we can help you. We think we can raise money."
Sillivan told Commissioners he'd like to "stabilize' the mansion, which has a leaking roof and waterlogged walls.
Commissioners and Friends agreed to meet informally at the grounds to see what could be done. Solicitor Leo DeVito advised this would be no Sunshine Act violation because members would just be gathering data, not taking any formal action.
Barry Roth, who chairs the Recreation Board, complained that his body was "being left out of the loop again." But President Weiss assured him, "We're not trying to exclude anyone."
Although a master Plan was approved nearly two years ago, this project has a lot of cooks. In addition to the Commissioners, Recreation Board and Johnston Friends, Northampton County Executive John Stoffa was at the meeting, signalling the County's interest. Housenick Park advocate Victoria Bastidas, a recent appointee of the County's Open Space Advisory Board, also attended the meeting. Housenick Trustee Tim Brady was there as well. But they have yet to decide on what meal they'd like to prepare.