Secrets of Behrend - The Behrend Beacon

Secrets of Behrend

Posted on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 7:17 PM

Author: Bridget Jenkins (staff writer)

     Despite Penn State Behrend’s rich history, many are unaware of a very important historical building that stands on campus.

     On the outside, the building reveals only a glimmer of its true age. Once inside, the house groans with every step. The floorboards are cracked and missing, but the old red brick holds steady, with archaic wallpaper fluttering in the draft.

     This mysterious brick building that sits poised in front of the Junker parking lot is actually one of the oldest buildings in Harborcreek. This building, known now as the “Federal Building,”  was believed to have been built by Thomas Bonnell in 1838.

     The land was first purchased by Thomas Rees, Harborcreek’s first land owner. It was a part of the Miller Farm. Later, the Katherine and Larry Smith family donated it to Penn State Behrend.

     Two rooms branch off the main door, separated by the antique staircase with the original decorative trim, although the railing is missing and the floor upstairs is hardly there.

     Although filled in, the remains of four fireplaces are still visible – one in each of the four rooms. An old porcelain light fixture sits frozen in time, clinging to an aged beam in the ceiling.

     Dilapidated boards and broken glass are strewn about the floor. To the left is the basement door that creaks open and scrapes across the dusty floor. The basement has its original dirt floor and crumbling stonewalls. This is where slaves once huddled in the night on their way to Canada to freedom.

     Aside from the sheer antiquity of the building, it held a much higher purpose in history. The Federal Building was also a stagecoach stopover and a slave “safe house” in the Underground Railroad. Joyce Klinger Ross, granddaughter to later landowners Rose and Ed Miller, wrote about remembering her grandfather cave in the tunnel that went from the old fireplace to outside, which she believes to be the path that the slaves took in and out of at night.

     As for the building today, it has seen some renovations, including repointed brick, new windows and a tin roof. It still sits empty, but there are some plans in the works.

     “We are exploring the opportunity for athletic use, but aren’t sure yet because of the shape of the building and its age,” said Randall Geering, director of business and operations.

     The building may one day be used as locker rooms or perhaps guest apartments for traveling faculty, but no amount of renovations will change the absolute significance of this building’s history.