Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

A new face to study what's old

Penelope Hartshorne Batcheler in Sweden, about 1954. She moved there after graduating college.
Penelope Hartshorne Batcheler in Sweden, about 1954. She moved there after graduating college.
Penelope Hartshorne Batcheler in Sweden, about 1954. She moved there after graduating college. Gallery: A new face to study what's old
Philadelphia preserves its history well when dedicated people get involved. Independence Hall today looks much as it did to the delegates of the 1787 Constitutional Convention. This timelessness is the result of myriad efforts, such as those of Penelope Hartshorne Batcheler.

Batcheler (1928-2007) was born in New Jersey. A childhood trip to the 1939 New York's World Fair impressed upon her the beauty and power of architectural design. After studying at Bennington College in Vermont, Batcheler moved to Chicago to study under the modern architecture master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Upon graduating in 1953, Batcheler moved to Sweden, where she worked with her relative Gerda Boëthius at the Zorn Museum in Mora, studied Swedish architecture, and worked for the Nordiska Museet in Stockholm. In her travels, she studied the stave churches of Norway and the brick churches of Scandinavia, her fascination with historic buildings growing.

After returning to the United States in 1954, she lived with her aunt and uncle, Robert Chandler Sahlin and Nancy Roe Sahlin, in Chester County. In the 1960s, the National Park Service hired Batcheler as a preservation architect - the only woman working on the restoration of Independence Hall.

Around that time, she moved to Society Hill and became involved in the restoration of historic homes there. She met fellow architect George Batcheler, her future husband, during a restoration project in Elfreth's Alley. Penny Batcheler's preservation and restoration projects included Assembly Hall, Congress Hall, and Old City Hall, as well as Franklin Court, the City Tavern, the Edgar Allen Poe House, and Old Swedes Church.

Batcheler retired from the National Park Service in 1993 as chief architect, but continued to contribute to restoration projects as a consultant and volunteer. She was also active in various cultural projects, including an oral history of Society Hill and an assistance program for the neighborhood's elderly residents.

In 1991, Batcheler earned the Preservationist of the Year Award from the Pennsylvania Museum and Historical Commission, in addition to being honored by the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia in 2000. She died in 2007 in Philadelphia.

HSP's collection includes records from Penny Batcheler that document both her professional and personal lives, with correspondence, travel photographs, genealogical research materials, papers relating to numerous restoration projects, and property records.

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