The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

July 29, 2013

Model maker re-creates Cresson Sanatorium chapel

— While a number of area history buffs spent time organizing a reunion to honor Cresson Sanatorium’s 100th anniversary this year, Cresson resident Fred Connacher was hard at work honoring the sanatorium in his own way.

“The San,” as it was known, served as a rehabilitation center for tuberculosis sufferers until 1964, when the advent of anti-tuberculosis drugs eliminated the need for the facility.

Shortly after the sanatorium closed, the facility reopened to serve as a center for developmentally disabled patients. After it closed again, it took on a new role as State Correctional Institution-Cresson, a medium-security, all-male correctional facility. The prison closed earlier this year.

To honor the facility’s significance, a number of local historians worked to organize a reunion in honor of the 100th anniversary of the sanatorium’s formal opening in 1913.

The reunion will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Cresson American Legion at 222 Ashcroft Ave.

Connacher’s contribution, a scale model of Grace Chapel, will be on display.

Connacher, 90, said he has become known for completing detailed scale models of historical buildings. He completed a scale replica of the entire Cresson Sanatorium in 2011.

“It included all the buildings that were on the grounds in around the ’60s,” he said, adding that the finished product was about 3 feet wide by 6 feet long.

“Around the beginning of (this) year, my daughter (Theresa) approached me,” Connacher said. “She’d been talking with some people, and they said I should build a model of the chapel.”

Connacher said his original model was built to depict a time before Grace Chapel was added to the sanatorium grounds, so it was not included in his first project.

Though Connacher enjoys crafting his models, he said that being unfamiliar with the chapel initially made him reluctant to accept the project.

“I didn’t know the architect, and I only had some photos,” he said.

Connacher said that more information was needed before he could complete the project, so he petitioned the prison to allow him onto the grounds to look at the structure.

“They agreed to let my son-in-law and myself come in and visit the prison,” he said. “So, I got enough to make some good drawings.”

After making the drawings, Connacher said he decided to accept the project.

“I decided to make the model a 1:48 scale,” he said, adding that every part of the finished model, down to the shingles, fits that scale.

The finished project is about 18 inches wide by 22 inches long, he said.

Connacher said his Grace Chapel model will be on display during the reunion, and he plans to attend.

“I’m very thankful for the American Legion for letting me display the model,” he said.

Connacher said he may want to relocate the chapel model to Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, where his other sanatorium model is on display in the nursing department on the third floor.

He said it’s rewarding to be able to participate in and contribute to the reunion in his hometown.

“I am pleased that it’s happening,” Connacher said.

“It has been an interesting project, and I enjoyed doing it.

“It’s something I do for free for the community.”

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