Blueprints discovered in Shamokin bank vault may prove vital in creek restoration funding
SHAMOKIN - Blueprints of the stone channel of Shamokin Creek deemed critical towards piecing together its history were discovered inside an unlocked bank vault in the city's downtown.
The documents weren't lost - more a case of out of sight, out of mind.
Shamokin Housing Authority exists where Pennsylvania National Bank once did. Not long after the authority moved into the building in 1990, city officials sought storage space for hundreds of dated blueprints and maps.
They've remained there catalogued and safely stored since June 1991. A log sheet of visitors shows the first time any of the records were checked out was in 1993 and the last time in 2007, with little activity in between.
"That stuff isn't looked at from one year to the next," said Ron Miller, authority director, during a visit to the vault last week.
What the vault holds are 298 records of projects both historical and mundane - from detailed plans for the "99 steps" and other stone staircases in the city to construction of many city streets; railroad surveys to sidewalk improvements to additions onto buildings both publicly and privately owned.
It also holds what seems the entirety of design plans for the construction of the stone channel of Shamokin Creek.
That information will prove crucial in its rehabilitation - with flood repairs slated for the city's outskirts combined with historic restoration in its downtown area - and attempts to secure $1 million more dollars for the project.
"Oh, my God, yes, they're useful," said Tom Grbenick, director of SEDA-COG, whom along with area historian Tom Deans, is documenting the history of the channel.
The creek channel was significantly damaged by flooding in September 2011. Nearly $1.8 million in federal dollars has been awarded for a repair project, but further surveying found additional damages and a need for an additional $1 million.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is considering the city's request.
Putting together the history of the channel is critical because the restoration plans must be reviewed by Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; the city's downtown has been identified as a potential nationally registered historic district.
The channel is a project of the Works Progress Administration that began in 1935. Grbenick and Deans, having poured through local and online archives on the city, learned some of the principals involved in the project and few specific details.
The blueprints provide much more, and not only from a historical perspective. Details on the elevations, cross-sections and hidden conditions - what was planned for the walls' rears and footers below ground - will be of great use to present day engineers.
"They help us understand the evolution of the project in terms of where things started and when they started," Grbenick said Tuesday afternoon after having looked over the blueprints with Deans and Dave Clouser, of Advantage Engineers, Mechanicsburg, whose firm is working with the city engineer, Mike Brinkash.
"That was a treasure trove; the mother lode. We may never had found them," he said.
The documents were brought to the attention of city officials earlier this month after city council held a meeting inside the authority building. After the meeting, Miller was showing the vault to guests and subsequently revealed its contents.
Councilman R. Craig Rhoades said at the time that he believed the documents could have been found inside the vault, but that no one at City Hall heeded his suggestion.
"I think we have pretty much all of the information truly essential for current purposes," Grbenick said.
Both he and Deans expect to continue their work into the new year and hope to wrap the historic documentation by the end of January. From there, it goes to the city, to FEMA and to the museum commission.
"We're really hoping all the rigor we're using to find info will help expedite approval of this project," he said.
Grbenick said the stone and the skill used to install it not just in the creek but also in staircases are something the city and its residents should be proud of.
"The one thing we've discovered through all this ... Shamokin really has a solid history of quality stone masonry work," he said. "Speaking as an outsider, I think it a really distinguishing trait."