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Future for Blairton residents murky

November 05, 1998

By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




BLAIRTON, W.Va. - Compared to the quickly growing towns around it, Blairton almost seems stuck in time.

It is a classic example of the company town, a vestige of U.S. industrialization that has long faded.

After opening its rock quarry in 1909, Blair Limestone Company decided it wanted houses on the property for employees.

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The company provided the materials and employees built the homes. The houses, many of which still retain their original appearance, were built using a unique, stucco-type facade.

The building of the town created an immense sense of pride in the community that still exists today. Many of the families who live there are descendants of people who worked in the quarry.

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Although the company provided materials for the houses, residents donated items.

Hilda Siford, 70, remembers townspeople donating panes of stained glass for the company church. Their names are still listed under the individual panes, she said.

Although people in Blairton own their homes, they still pay rent to the quarry company for their lots, and they get their water from a system provided by the company.

The sleepy village near Opequon Creek just east of Martinsburg off W.Va. 45 has a low crime rate and kids can sleigh ride down the main drag in the winter without fear of traffic.

"Picture this as the Charles Dickens story," said Blairton resident Doc Greenfield.

But residents in the 43-home town wonder how much longer it will last.

Concerned about the potential liability over supplying water to Blairton, Riverton Corp., which now owns the quarry, said it wants to end the water service.

Residents worry it could mean the end of Blairton.

Although Riverton said in a 1995 letter it to wanted to work with residents to find a solution, the community feels it has been ignored by the company.

And because there is no guarantee how long residents will be in the town, no public utility wants to assume the risk of extending water lines to the community, officials said.

Residents filed a suit against Riverton last year over the possible cutoff of water, saying generations of people have lived in the town under the belief that they would be able to enjoy their homes without loss of essential services.

A Dec. 15 trial date has been set. Residents worry that if they lose the case, they could be forced out of their homes at Christmas.

"We can't sleep," said Siford, standing in front of the church with several other neighbors. "This is all we have," she said.

Riverton officials declined to comment last week after the Blairton situation was discussed during a Berkeley County Commission meeting.

But the company faxed a press release, saying it has no plans to terminate the leases it holds with residents for their properties.

Laura Rose, a Martinsburg attorney who is helping Blairton residents, asked the commissioners last week to take the town over by eminent domain. Rose believes the town will have a better chance of installing a new water system if the community is taken over by the county, Rose said. The commissioners said they would consider the proposal.

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