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Historic Rouss Hall a renovator's dream

February 05, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

Historic Rouss Hall a renovator's dream

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - For the past eight years, the Rouss Fire Hall has been empty, except for the occasional birds that entered through broken windows and flew around the large open meeting rooms and stairway.

The 1870s-era building, which once housed a Masonic lodge and a volunteer fire company, became an eyesore across the street from the grand Jefferson County Courthouse.

After years of neglect, the empty fire hall has become a center of attention in this town.

One group, headed by Charles Town Council member Nina Vogel, would like to restore the building and turn it into a community center, a local museum and a visitor's center for the planned George Washington Heritage Trail.

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The other plan is being pushed by attorney Peter Chakmakian, who would like to renovate the fire hall into offices for his law firm while renovating the first floor for use as a community center.

Chakmakian would pay for the renovation work and lease the building from the City of Charles Town, which owns the property, he said.

Tourists would be able to stop at the visitor's center to get directions to the homes that once belonged to members of George Washington's family, including his brother, Charles Washington, who founded Charles Town, Vogel said.

They also could be directed to a local cemetery where Washington family members are buried, and could learn of other sites related to George Washington in Jefferson County, such as a cave where he attended Masonic meetings.

"This town has a real wealth of historical sites, but we've just not told anyone," Vogel said.

The visitor's center also would direct tourists to other sites along the planned heritage trail through the Eastern Panhandle, where Washington first came as a surveyor and later as a soldier during the French and Indian War.

Jeffrey L. Harpold, special projects coordinator with West Virginia Tourism, said he thinks the plan could be funded through state and federal grants.

Harpold toured the building Wednesday with Vogel.

Harpold said a visitor's center would help draw tourists who visit Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to take a better look at what the Eastern Panhandle has to offer.

"Historical tourism is constantly on the rise," Harpold said.

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