WILKES-BARRE — Area residents with a love for history gathered at Rodano’s on Saturday to raise money for the restoration of the Butler House, the city’s oldest residence, which was saved from the wrecking ball last year.
The house was originally owned by Col. Zebulon Butler, a Revolutionary War soldier who commanded forces during the Battle of Wyoming in 1778.
The event was sponsored by the Shawnee Fort chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, bringing out about 60 for a look back in time and into the future.
Funds raised at the event will go toward the Wilkes-Barre Preservation Society’s transformation of the historic property into a museum.
Tony Brooks, director of the preservation society, detailed the creation of the society shortly after he moved back to the city about 15 years ago.
At first, Brooks told attendees, it was just him giving tours of Wilkes-Barre.
In short order, the organization became a nonprofit, enabling it to engage in such projects as the restoration of historic properties.
Brooks said the restoration of the Butler House on South River Street began simply with a phone call from a local librarian informing him that the property was going to be razed.
Brooks’ response was to pick up the phone and call a representative of DAR, whose membership immediately stood guard outside the property to spare it from destruction.
Brooks soon learned the owner was taking advantage of the opportunity to tear down the place for a reduced rate since other nearby properties were also being razed.
On a Friday, Brooks asked the owner how much he wanted for the property.
The price was $10,000.
“I told him he would have the money by Monday,” Brooks recalled. “I didn’t have $10,000 to buy the property.”
But 16 “friends and neighbors” put together more than $10,000 to save the historic site.
Four months ago, the preservation society closed on the property and now is moving forward to restore it.
Brooks said the organization had a goal of $50,000 for the project, and some $46,000 has already been raised.
“I’m believing that we’ll meet that goal tonight,” he said.
Kathleen Smith, representing the Shawnee Fort DAR, said the project dovetailed with one of the fundamental tenets of her group: preservation of historic properties.
“It’s important to come together as a community to raise money for a project that will benefit future generations,” said Smith. “The Shawnee Fort chapter of the DAR is invested in this project for the long haul.”
Several attendees had recently participated in a walking tour led by Brooks which took them through the house.
Sharon Stevens grew up near the site and regularly played with friends who lived there.
“I guess my last time in the house had been about 1958,” she said.
Stevens recalled how the house had been moved from another area of Wilkes-Barre because the family didn’t want to see it destroyed.
“It is white with green shutters, like many houses of the day,” she said.
Marilyn Dussinger, from the Wyoming Valley DAR, said she was impressed with the house and its history.
“I’m looking forward to seeing it restored,” she said.
Brooks envisions the residence being restored period-appropriate to 1820.
George Brown, president of the South Wilkes-Barre Residents’ Association, said he appreciates the hard work and determination that is going into the effort.
“I look forward to it being a historic presence in the city,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing.”