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Town Hall renovations under way in Charles Town

January 03, 1998

Town Hall renovations under way in Charles Town

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Charles Town Mayor Randy Hilton did not know what to expect when he stuck his head through a trap door in a ceiling at Charles Washington Hall.

"This is wonderful," Hilton said as he looked around at the dust covered walls and floors.

The sight of the thick wood trim and wainscot wood ceiling inspired Hilton to imagine how grand the meeting room must have appeared.

The former town hall of Charles Town is once again the town center as the Charles Town offices have been temporarily moved into the second floor while the current town hall undergoes renovations.

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Workers updating the wiring at the temporary offices on the second floor above Shu Chen's Chinese restaurant rediscovered a forgotten past at the Washington Hall.

The brick building, constructed about 1805, was the town's market house, said local historian Bill Theriault.

The building was severely damaged during the Civil War, Theriault said.

After the war, town leaders decided to make the second floor a grand hall, for use as a community center, theater, Sunday school meeting room and lecture hall, he said.

In 1875, the hall was the scene of an early civil rights effort, Theriault said. Local newspaper accounts described how a black man attempted to take a seat he had reserved in the section reserved for whites.

A local police officer made the man leave the seat, Theriault said.

Theriault said the stage, orchestra pit and balcony area would have taken up a considerable amount of the floor space in the hall.

About the early 1900s, the building was renovated again, with the grand hall divided into offices and store rooms, Theriault said.

A false ceiling also was added, making the ceiling height about 10 feet.

Dropping the ceiling created, in effect, a third floor in the building, though the only entrance to the area was the trap door in the second floor hallway.

On Friday, while town workers set up their cubicles down the hall to handle Charles Town business, Police Chief Mike Aldridge and Sgt. R.J. James set up a step ladder and Hilton climbed up to see the forgotten area of the building.

Hilton said that he would like to look into the possibility of having the building restored to the way it was.

Hilton said the town would have to obtain state and federal grants to pay for any possible restoration work.

But as the town attempts to sell itself as a tourist destination, a restored hall would be a unique attraction, Hilton said.

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