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Johnston Estate Park Plans to be Discussed Tonight

Acreage and mansion off of Santee Mill Road was onetime home of Bethlehem's first mayor.

The Bethlehem Township estate of the first mayor of the City of Bethlehem is being converted into a public park and township leaders are looking for public input on the project tonight.

The master plan for Housenick Park has been unveiled and a meeting will be held tonight at 7 p.m. in the township building to discuss the park’s future.

This will be the first of two public meetings where the $40,000 plan and options for park improvements will be discussed, said township Commissioner Thomas Nolan.

The project is six years in the making. The land, which lies between Santee Mill Road and Christian Spring Road, was left to the township in 2005 by Janet Johnston Housenick, with a stipulation that it be used only for passive recreation.

Housenick was the daughter of Archibald Johnston who was the city’s first mayor and the onetime president of Bethlehem Steel.

The plan, paid for with part of a $2 million trust fund, also left by Housenick for the park's creation and maintenance, outlines possibilities for public and vehicular access.

Nolan said the future of the Archibald Johnston Mansion, which occupies a central section of the park, will also be discussed.

“I'm in favor of restoring the mansion,” he said. “So far, we have not had to use any public funding.”

The building is structurally sound, Nolan said.

“It's not disastrous,” he said, though he noted the building sustained water damage from a leaky roof. “But we acted quickly...so it's preserved.”

“It's beautiful inside. I consider it a rare jewel,” he added of the 1920s structure. “If you want to restore it to it's original grandeur, we'll have to get some craftsmen.”

While the park is not officially open, some locals have already been enjoying the site. Nolan said signs posting the park rules and regulations are to be installed soon, and the township plans an official opening later this year.

“We do want to make sure it's safe (before the opening),” he said, adding, “We're very lucky to have gotten this.”

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