Lehigh Valley

Group hopes to restore historic Archibald Johnston mansion in Bethlehem Twp.

Group hopes to preserve land, restore historic mansion

BETHLEHEM TWP., Pa. - Preserving the past to serve the future is the plan for a tract of land in Bethlehem Twp., Northampton Co.

"This will give you an idea of the lay of the land," Vicki Bastidas said of an old farmhouse.

Bastidas said the lay of the just-acquired farm off Santee Mill Road is fertile ground for community and environmental education.

"Our hope with the Friends of Johnston is this becomes a preschool and nature center," she said.

The Friends of Johnston is a non-profit committed to the preservation, restoration and adaptive public reuse of the Archibald Johnston estate.

"The whole idea of this is education," she said.

The property borders 45 acres just approved for preservation.  It's all part of a nearly 200-acre preserved tract that once belonged to Bethlehem's first mayor and environmentalist, Archibald Johnston.

"We will have goats for kids to be responsible for something," Bastidas explained.

The farm will not only be used for a nature-based preschool, but it will also grow food for local food banks, educate at-risk youth, and be an outlet for returning veterans.

"What we hope to do in this barn is to redo the upstairs and redo as a community center," she explained.

The group's big plan is to restore the Archibald mansion. There are some issues with the township on how to do that, but one thing both know is it will cost a lot of money.

Bastidas said it will cost $2.5 million. She and the township want to start with the roof, an estimated $200,000 job.

"I don't know where the money is going to come from," said Bethlehem Township Commissioner Paul Weiss, adding that the township doesn't want to dip into the properties $2 million trust to care for the home.

So, Bastidas is using a capital campaign to raise funds. Her hopes are the entire area will become an environmental preserve, with the mansion ready to open by  2018, the 100th anniversary of Johnston becoming mayor.

"It's important because not only saving a piece of history and heritage. We are also bringing our community together and that is what we need right now," she said.

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