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Future of Archibald Johnston estate up in the air

By Bo Koltnow, Reporter, BKoltnow@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 17 2013 06:00:00 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 18 2013 05:55:50 PM CST

It is a hidden gem or a white elephant from the past?

BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. -

It is a hidden gem or a white elephant from the past?

It's a question Bethlehem Township is asking about Bethlehem's first Mayor's estate.

Down a quiet tree lined drive, just off Route 191 in Bethlehem Township, sits the once grand estate of Archibald Johnston. The first Mayor of Bethlehem.

Johnston, who was also the one time head of Bethlehem Steel built the 20,000 square foot home, he called Camel Hump Farm in 1923.

Stephen Barron is part of the Friends of Archibald Johnston Estate, a group of 40 recently formed to restore the home and its 80 surrounding acres.

Barron says restoring the home will cost around $1.2 million. The group wants to turn the property into an Environmental and Education Center. It's an idea Johnston himself stressed during his lifetime.

The property along with a $2 million trust was given to the township in 2005 by Janet Johnston Housenick, Archibald's granddaughter, with the specific intent to use it as open space.

Despite the plans there are some who don't think it's worth it to keep the estate but Township Commissioner Tom Nolan said a master plan was drafted in 2011, which included keeping the home without the use tax dollars.

"I think it's a hidden jewel not for the township but the community and surrounding areas.  It's something we should bank on in the future," Nolan said. 

Barron is confident the funds can be raised and the home restored.

On this Presidents day their plan to save this home of steel is being presented to the township.