PITTSBURGH — A Pennsylvania homeowner wants to sell, but she says she can’t because a group wants to the 19th-century structure as a historical landmark.
If this happens, the homeowner said the city would be honoring a slave owner. Samuel Ewalt was the first person to run for Allegheny County sheriff from 1792-1795, and the Historic Review Commission recommended his former home for historical designation.
Ewalt also served in the legislature and donated land for the University of Pittsburgh, but Beth Rupert -- who owns the home now -- claims the commission didn’t tell the whole story. She says documents from Pitt show he was a slave owner.
“After slavery was abolished here in Pennsylvania, he continued to have slaves, and it’s terrible that we’re going to honor a man and keep his house up for a man that was for slavery,” Rupert said.
Rupert said the house, built around 1840, has been neglected for years and needs a lot of work. She had planned to sell it to a developer to build townhomes, but the historic designation would prevent that.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was unaware of the Ewalt controversy but said all information should be included and evaluated in the nomination process.
“It’s not whether or not a person was a slave owner -- Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner,” Peduto said. “We know this and we know it’s part of the tragic history of our country. However, it needs to be placed in the context of the total history either of the property or the individual.”
City Councilman Ricky Burgess has raised questions about the historical designation process in the past and said he plans to introduce legislation requiring the city to pay up for designations.
The City Planning Commission is expected to vote on the nomination for the Ewalt House next month. City council must give final approval.
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