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Preservationists Fight To Save One Of Oldest Buildings In Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - In a city rich with history, a group of preservationists is in a race against the clock to save one of the oldest buildings in Philadelphia.

The Lower Dublin Academy, built around 1800, could go to sheriff's sale as early as September, if relief doesn't come soon.

With the blessing of the building's owner, a filmmaker and entrepreneur named Jason Sherman is leading this effort. He is a third generation Northeast Philadelphian, who is committed to educate the public about the rich, unknown history of Northeast Philadelphia. He says this school building is a key piece of that history.

"This building can't help itself," he said. "Thomas Holme isn't going to show up and say, 'Hey guys, here's some gold.' So I have to, I feel like I have to do it."

Thomas Holme, for which Holmesburg is named, was Pennsylvania's first surveyor general, appointed by William Penn. He left money in his will to "educate a child."

Trustees formed and built the Lower Dublin Academy to honor that request.

Ravaged by a fire in 2006, the roughly 220-year-old building still stands at the intersection of Willits and Academy Roads in Holmesburg. Sherman and others formed nonprofit The King's Highway Foundation to raise money to save the historic school building.

Sherman estimates they need at least $1.2 million to prevent the building from going to a sheriff's sale and completely rehab it to its former glory. He envisions a Northeast Philadelphia Museum of American History to show that the city's origins span far beyond Independence Mall.

"I know that this is probably one of the most impossible jobs that I'm ever going to face, is to turn this into a beautiful museum," he said. "But I know it's possible."

While he shoulders much of the burden, he's calling on others to help him before yet another piece of American history meets a wrecking ball.

"So when you tell me, 'Jason, Philadelphia is the most historic city in the country,' then why is this building like this? Shouldn't this building be fixed up and shown to the public, saying, this is the guy that made the map of Philadelphia, this is the guy who William Penn trusted to survey the land?" Sherman asked. "It's just shocking to me."

The building is on the city's historical register, but it can still be demolished if it's deemed a safety hazard beyond repair.

The King's Highway foundation has a YouCaring site up to raise money for the tax bill.

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