May 3, 2022

The Conservation Fund Purchases Historic Underground Railroad Site in Pennsylvania

YORK COUNTY, Pa. — Today, The Conservation Fund, in collaboration with Preservation Pennsylvania and the Susquehanna National Heritage Area (SNHA), announced its purchase of the historic Mifflin House property in York County, Pennsylvania. The Mifflin House served as an essential stopover point along the Underground Railroad and was a Civil War battle site just four days before the Battle of Gettysburg. Today’s purchase is a key step in ensuring the land and its history are secured for future generations.

Built in 1800, the Mifflin House was used as a safe location for freedom seekers as they prepared to cross the nearby Susquehanna River on their journey north via the Underground Railroad. Jonathan Mifflin, a Quaker farmer and Revolutionary War veteran, and his wife Suzanna, worked with Robert Loney, a formerly enslaved Virginian, to ferry people across the wide and dangerous river. Although it’s impossible to know exactly how many passed through the Mifflin House on their way to freedom, it’s estimated that over 100,000 people escaped slavery using the Underground Railroad between 1810-1850.

Kathleen Anderson, a descendant of the Loney family, said: “Some of us are just learning about our Black history, so we can’t afford for places like this to disappear. My kids and grandkids are beginning to take an interest in this place, so I want them to be able to visit it one day and see its story.”

“Among Pennsylvania’s greatest assets is our natural environment and public, open spaces,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “Preserving this open space in York County and protecting the Mifflin House property to continue to tell the story of the Underground Railroad, are key factors that make this a compelling investment on behalf of our commonwealth.”

For decades, the 87.5-acre Mifflin House property had been in private hands and faced various development risks, including potential demolition for new warehouses. In 2017, Preservation Pennsylvania designated Mifflin House as one of the state’s most at-risk historic sites and worked with the owner, local community groups and Hellam Township to delay any potential construction that could harm the site. In 2019, Preservation Pennsylvania then began working with The Conservation Fund and the SNHA to find a solution to protect the land and its historic buildings in perpetuity.

On Friday, The Conservation Fund stepped in to purchase the land, allowing more time for the partners to secure all pledged and committed funds. Once that is complete, the site will ultimately be transferred to SNHA for permanent protection and adaptive use as the Susquehanna Discovery Center and heritage park, a new gateway visitor destination for public access, education, and interpretation.

“Land is inherently tied to our history, and that is why conservation plays a pivotal role in ensuring we can share the stories of the people who bravely took action in times of turmoil,” said Kyle Shenk, The Conservation Fund’s Northeast Regional Director. “Our purchase of the Mifflin House property is a huge step, but we’re not done yet. As temporary owners, we will continue to work with the York County community and our many local partners to raise capital and get this space and its important history protected forever.”

SNHA President Mark N. Platts said: “Conserving and re-purposing the Mifflin House site as a visitor education center and heritage park will welcome travelers to our two-county National Heritage Area and showcase the significant role this region and its people played in America’s enduring Quest for Freedom.”

“When we placed Mifflin House on the Pennsylvania At-Risk list, we knew that the efforts to save it would be difficult,” said Mindy Gulden Crawford, Preservation Pennsylvania’s Executive Director. “Now, what seemed impossible is headed towards a great outcome and a wonderful new use for this beautiful historic property with its link to the Underground Railroad.”

Early private funding commitments have been made by the Powder Mill Foundation, J. William Warehime Foundation, and Arthur J. & Lee R. Glatfelter Foundation. Public funding has also been awarded by the Pennsylvania Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program through the York County Economic Alliance (YCEA) and Redevelopment Authority of the County of York, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), and the York County Open Space and Land Preservation Program.

“DCNR is proud to support this important initiative to preserve undeveloped land as well as the important history attached to the Mifflin House,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said. “We look forward to seeing the plan for this property come to fruition for the opportunities it will provide the public to learn and engage with history in a natural setting.”

The Hellam Township Board of Supervisors said: “We would like to thank all the stakeholders for donating their resources in saving this historic property. We believe the Mifflin House is a treasure that will benefit future generations while drawing visitors from across the country and provide a positive financial impact for Hellam Township and surrounding communities.”

“Saving the historic Mifflin Farmstead as a place to welcome visitors and learn about York County’s rich, nationally important heritage exemplifies the civic engagement of our founders, Louis J. Appell, Jr. and his wife, Josephine D. Appell,” said Michael H. Hady III, President and CEO of the Powder Mill Foundation. “This project will help our community grow and prosper, and we’re proud to be part of it.”

“We are incredibly excited to partner on this project,” said Kevin Schreiber, President & CEO, YCEA. “Not only does it protect, and preserve a key artifact of the Underground Railroad, it wraps that historic structure with open greenspace close to the Susquehanna River. Access to open space and natural amenities are key contributors to York County’s economic competitiveness to attract and retain a talented workforce. This project will absolutely have a substantial positive economic return on investment and will only help further strengthen our outdoor economy here in YoCo.”

York County President Commissioner Doug Hoke said: We are excited to support the acquisition of the open space surrounding the Mifflin House farmstead through funding from the York County Open Space and Land Preservation Program. The protection of this property aligns with the goals of the County’s Comprehensive Plan, provides recreational and educational opportunities to both residents and visitors, and helps to meet the annual benchmark of protecting 2,500 acres of open space within York County.”

Kinsley Properties, the land developer, and the Blessing family, the landowner, halted development upon the preservation group’s request to allow time to structure funding for a purchase of the property. Kinsley Properties donated a significant portion of the land value to the project to establish a reduced overall purchase price that matched The Conservation Fund’s capabilities. On behalf of Kinsley Properties, Tim Kinsley said: “The Kinsley family has always been guided by the extensive land preservation completed throughout the life of their late founder, Robert A. Kinsley. We are grateful to all of the involved preservation groups who identified the historical significance of the land and to The Conservation Fund for providing the expertise and resources for its preservation.”

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 8.5 million acres of land, including more than 145,000 acres of beloved land in Pennsylvania such as the Gettysburg National Historic Park.

Josh Lynsen | 703-908-5809 |