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Preston Park earns its place on National Register of Historic Places

| Sunday, April 21, 2013, 12:30 a.m.

Michael Gimigliano says he was overwhelmed the first time he saw the land that makes up Preston Park in Butler Township.

“The first time I saw it, I knew it was a National Register property. It is an English garden,” said Gimigliano, a retired archaeologist and preservationist who nominated the onetime site of Preston Laboratories to the National Register of Historic Places on behalf of the township.

The park, one of just 11 sites in Butler County on the National Register, was added to the list late last year. On May 1, a private reception will be held to honor Gimigliano and others who worked for the listing.

Preston Park was the home and workplace of Frank Preston, an English-American engineer, ecologist and conservationist who helped found the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and donated much of the land that now makes up Moraine State Park.

Preston was a leading expert in glass technology. Among his accomplishments was the development of a lens polishing machine for George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak. He invented a glass-melting furnace that allowed Corning Glass to create Corelle glassware.

At the end of Prohibition in 1933, beer was being produced again but there were problems with bottles exploding under pressure.

“Workers and the public were injured from defective bottles. The industry turned to Preston because he was well known and well respected through his consulting and publications,” said Gimigliano.

Preston bought the Butler Township property in 1926. It includes six buildings. Among them are Preston's house, a machine shop, an instrument building and a lab.

Preston retired in 1962 and sold his company, now known American Glass Research, which is still based in Butler. The company operates labs in Germany and near Toledo, Ohio.

Born in Leicester, England in 1896, Preston created an English garden in Western Pennsylvania.

“It's a combination of unique planting. Not all are native to America. How he got some of these plants to grow in this area I do not know,” said Ed Kirkwood, Butler Township's manager.

The property has seven Pennsylvania trophy trees — each is the largest of its species in the state. For decades, few people in Butler Township knew what was inside the fenced-off 87 acres that now make up Preston Park.

The entire property has a fenced or wooded perimeter and is not visible from outside.

“It's a hidden jewel that we were not aware of. No one really knew, or paid attention to what was there, because you could not see it,” said Dave Zarnick, a Butler Township commissioner and one of the park's board members.

Preston died in 1989 at age 92. His wife, Jane Preston, who willed the property to the township, died in 2008 at age 96. It was not until 2011 that the public saw the property during an open house.

“There were about 600 people who showed up. They were mostly astounded by it,” Zarnick said.

For years, Zarnick said children from the neighborhood imagined all kinds of goings on at property. “You know how kids' imaginations would run with this large of a property that you can't see into,” he said.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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