Decrepit building eyed as future cultural center

February 19, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

see the enlargement

Fishermen's HallDecrepit building eyed as future cultural center

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A local group of African-American residents is looking beyond the broken windows, nearly collapsed stairs and rotten door frames of the old Fishermen's Hall on South West Street in Charles Town.

The members envision a cultural center that will tell the story of African-Americans in Jefferson County's history.

In the late 1800s, the building housed a civic club where blacks learned skills to become self-reliant, said James Tolbert, a member of the African-American Community Association of Jefferson County.

The Grand United Order of Galilean Fishermen was started in Baltimore in the 1850s and worked with blacks along the East Coast as they moved from a slave society to a free community, he said.


Fishermen's Hall, known formally as the Morning Star Tabernacle No. 7 lodge, served Jefferson County.

The African-American Community Association of Jefferson County has been formed to raise funds to restore the dilapidated building and convert it to a cultural and learning center.

The group plans to use volunteer labor to do a lot of the work, which is scheduled to start in the spring, said Regina Jackson, a member of the association.

The building was used as a bar and apartments in a neighborhood that was hit hard by drug trafficking in the 1980s, Tolbert said.

The bar closed several years ago and the building has been vacant for five or six years, other than the pigeons that fly around on the second floor, entering through broken windows, Jackson said.

"I can hear our friends upstairs," Jackson said Wednesday as the birds flew about.

The building was donated to the association by the owner, Sherwood Bryant.

The windows are broken, the ceiling needs to be replaced and a stucco finish placed over the clapboard siding decades ago is crumbling.

Jackson said the first step will be to repair the outside steps and the windows to prevent further deterioration.

She said it will take considerable work, but believes the association can get the building restored to the way it must have looked in the 1890s.

Jackson said the group believes it will be able to find volunteers interested in preserving history to assist in the work.

Charles Brown, one of the volunteers in the association, said he joined after word of the project was announced at his church.

The group wants to raise about $50,000 through a fund drive and plans to apply for state and federal grants.

Tolbert said it is important to save the lodge to preserve the history of black self-help programs.

"There's a myth African-Americans were reliant upon others for all their needs," Tolbert said.

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