The Graystone Museum Society of Coatesville was incorporated in 1984 and began planning a room in the then City Hall, Graystone Mansion, as a museum area. Shortly after its formation, the Society’s attention was diverted to Terracina, its first real estate acquisition, the 1850 home of Dr. Charles and Isabella Huston — parents of A. F. Huston — and later the home of Stewart Huston. Working with the City, and with the Huston Estate, the Society agreed to fill the need for a non-profit group to take on the management and general restoration of Terracina in late 1985.
With financial support coming primarily from the Huston Foundation, the Society began the stewardship care and restoration of the house. With the establishment of The Stewart Huston Charitable Trust in 1990, the Society received major grants which allowed for many important restoration projects: roofing, heating, wiring, plumbing, air conditioning, etc., as well as restoration of the interiors to period appearances. The current plans for Terracina are to develop a house museum dedicated to the Huston family of Coatesville and their other related family branches.
The City decided to erect a new municipal office building and police station and moved out of Graystone mansion in 1992. Designed by noted Philadelphia architects Cope & Stewardson and recognized as the most architecturally significant house ever built in Coatesville, Graystone was much too important for the heritage of the city and region to risk its loss. With the support of the then management of Lukens Steel Company, the City agreed to transfer the property to the Graystone Society in 1995. With funds from the Lukens Foundation, the Society was able to do a major clean-up of the buildings and grounds, as well as initiate an architectural and engineering study of the buildings by Dagit-Saylor Architects from Philadelphia. The Society currently uses the mansion for social events, meetings, concerts, and of course, tours.
In 1988 the National Trust for Historic Preservation through their Comprehensive Historic Assistance Program for Historic House Museums compiled a report for Terracina. This report concluded that the Graystone Society needed to expand its mission beyond just preserving Terracina to reflect a broader purpose: the iron and steel industry and its role in the development of the community. After acquiring Graystone Mansion, the Graystone Society commissioned Dagit-Saylor to conduct a feasibility study for the restoration needs of the House.
In 1994, the National Park Service of the United States Department of the Interior bestowed its highest designation on the buildings of the Lukens Historic District — Brandywine Mansion, Terracina, Graystone, and the Lukens Executive Office Building — naming it a National Historic Landmark.
While the Lukens Foundation continued to grant the Graystone Society the funds needed to operate Graystone Mansion, they also began pursuing the concept of a broader vision in a steel museum. After touring other national industrial manufacturing sites with museum components, Lukens recommended Dagit-Saylor to conduct a feasibility study for a steel museum complex, which was completed in 1996. However, shortly after the completion of this study, Lukens, Inc. was sold to Bethlehem Steel Company in 1998. The third and most prominent building in the Historic District came under local control when The Stewart Huston Charitable Trust bought the Lukens Main Office in 2000 from Bethlehem, allowing the Graystone Society to conduct tours of this important structure. At this time, Gateway Park was developed, securing the Historic District’s northern end. Finally, in 2006, the Stewart Huston Charitable Trust acquired Brandywine Mansion, the home of Rebecca Lukens and immediately transferred it to the Graystone Society securing ownership of all the structures in the Lukens national Historic District.
In 2001, the steel museum plan of 1996 was revisited and, after much discussion, led by nationally recognized museum planner Harold Skramstad, a more sustainable vision was created for the site in 2003/2004. Further, an interpretive plan was completed by McKelvey Museum Services, bringing an educational focus to the museum. Building upon these efforts, the Society is working with The Stewart Huston Charitable Trust and the Huston Foundation, as well as the City, to create the National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum — a major endeavor which would utilize former mill buildings and a circa 1890’s rolling mill adjacent to the house and office properties.
The Graystone Society has been adding depth to its programming for the last number of years including displays of Lukens’s products and the equipment used to produce them. In 2002 and 2004 scientific test lab equipment from the G.O. Carlson Company was added to our collection. We began preserving the history of safety at the mill in 2002 by acquiring a 1965 International Travelall ambulance. In 2005 we located and acquired a 1947 Dodge fire truck followed by a 1964 GMC fire truck in 2008. Also in 2008 we built and dedicated a storage facility to house the safety equipment and the G.O. Carlson collection. In 2004 we located a narrow gauge railroad engine of the type previously used at Lukens and developed an outdoor display for it along with ingots and scrap pans indicative of its use in the plant. In 2007 we installed the informational signage for our exterior walking tour. Also in 2007 we acquired and returned to Coatesville a 1980’s era Sonar Sphere, a 15’ diameter 27 ton steel dome that was manufactured by Lukens Steel for the US Navy and used in the sonar listening systems of nuclear submarines.
In April of 2010 we successfully acquired and returned to Coatesville 500 tons of steel, including ten Tridents, or Trees, used in the bases of the World Trade Center Towers #1 & #2 which were melted, rolled and flame cut here at Lukens. Planning is currently underway for the display of the steel as a central part of the National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum.
In 2016 the museum was proud to announce the acquisition of two historic mill buildings, as a gift from ArcelorMittal. The two buildings, known as the 120” rolling mill and the motor house, will expand the museum area and will be key factors in the revitalization of Coatesville, by renovating former steel production buildings as part of the museum centered on the story and science of iron and steel manufacturing. The combined space of over four acres in both buildings will add immense exhibit and programmatic space to the museum. The new space will focus on visitor displays, large-scale exhibits and artifacts of iron and steel processes, products and people.
National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum has enormous potential to provide educational, tourism, and economic stimulation for the urban revitalization efforts of the Coatesville community.