Frank Evina’s historic family homestead is on a flood buyout list, but he has decided to keep the property.
“I am not physically and psychologically in a position to close up this house,” said Evina, 66. “I don’t want to give it up. It’s our ancestral home.”
The bungalow at 106 Italy St. in the township’s Mocanaqua section is part of the Italy Street Historic District, which has been deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office, according to Luzerne County flood buyout documents.
Evina, who is retired from the Library of Congress, had painstakingly researched the neighborhood’s history to draw public attention to its significance.
While most other mining operations around the turn of the century built monotonous rows of nondescript company homes for workers and their families, the West End Coal Co. brought in architect Grosvenor Atterbury to try something different.
Atterbury’s layout for 50 single-family homes, known as “The Settlement,” featured cul-de-sacs, a park, vacant lots for open space and access to the Susquehanna River, Evina said.
The structures had indoor plumbing and furnaces, chain-link fences and arbors over the gates, extensive landscaping and porches to encourage socializing.
The result was a “little storybook village” instead of a typical patch town, Evina said.
Around 18 of the coal company homes have been demolished since record Susquehanna flooding hit the village in September 2011, and approximately 20 more are on a pending buyout list, according to Evina, county officials and records.
Evina said he discussed the buyout option with his 91-year-old mother, Henrietta, who resides in an assisted living facility, and they reached the decision to keep the structure.
His maternal grandparents, Apolonia and John Zandarski, a miner, bought the structure in 1931 from West End Coal, which had been renting out the homes since 1917. The Zandarskis raised nine children in the house, including Henrietta, who later inherited the property.
Evina returned to the area to be close to his mother. He bought a property in Berwick but plans to keep the Italy Street residence for family members to enjoy for fishing and relaxation.
A religious man, Evina said the decision to reject a buyout was cemented this summer.
The century-old lilac bush and his grandmother’s rose bushes and other plantings were “blooming like crazy,” said Evina, who regularly delights his mother with the bouquets.
“I’ve never seen it so beautiful,” he said.
Evina does not fault neighbors accepting buyouts to avoid rising flood insurance and anxiety about the next flood.
Hundreds of houses and buildings have been demolished in flood-prone Luzerne County municipalities since the record flood, officials have said.
Municipalities must agree to own and maintain buyout parcels and keep them undeveloped.
As part of the buyout in Evina’s neighborhood, the county and township have agreed to address the loss of historic structures by working with the Shickshinny Historical Society to compile and post an online report about the neighborhood’s significance, including statements from past residents, county documents say. Evina said extensive paperwork would have been required to get the site placed on the national registry.
Evina is bracing himself for the “missing teeth” effect as more homes are demolished, saying he will do his best to keep the history and memories of past inhabitants alive.
”This neighborhood really is unique, but it’s never going to be what it was,” Evina said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.