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Group slowed in efforts to buy battlefield site

November 30, 1999|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. ? The challenge of meeting the needs of a growing population of area Catholics appears to be playing a significant role in slowing efforts by a group trying to buy a Civil War battlefield site from the church.

Thomas Ressler, president of the Falling Waters Battlefield Association, told Berkeley County leaders last week that the group's offer to buy only part of the 14-acre tract and a historic home on the property from the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston was not accepted by church leaders.

The group's first offer to purchase the entire tract off U.S. 11 near W.Va. 901 for roughly half of the $1.6 million asking price was not accepted in December, church officials confirmed Friday.

"Why the offers were rejected, I have no idea," Ressler said Thursday at a meeting of the Berkeley County Commission.

In response to Ressler, diocese officials on Friday noted the church either had "financed, guaranteed financing, paid for or authorized local fundraising efforts" for more than $35 million in new construction or expansion projects in Jefferson, Morgan and Berkeley counties in the last seven years. That includes three new parishes in Shepherdstown, Charles Town and Inwood, W.Va.

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"It is difficult to reconcile the market price the diocese pays to purchase property in this region with current expectations on us to sell property without considering appreciation. We have to work with current market values," said the Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

"For example, we are attempting to purchase a building for our campus ministries in Shepherdstown. We cannot secure this building for less than its market value, and definitely not the seller's cost basis," Bransfield said. "We owe it to the thousands of residents we serve in the Eastern Panhandle to be prudent in our efforts, not so we gain with 'investment' in the real estate market, but to serve people and focus our resources on worship, education and charitable work."

According to statistics provided by the diocese, the number of practicing Catholics in the three counties has increased by more than 3,300 since 1997.

Brian Minor, public information director of the diocese, could not confirm whether the battlefield association's second offer to purchase only five acres of the church property and what is known as the Crockett-Porterfield house was not acceptable, but said the diocese still hopes the group is able to put together a competitive bid.

"We're not trying to hurt anybody," Minor said. "The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is willing to be flexible and work with the Falling Waters Battlefield Association. We have not closed the door on accepting offers from them."

Ressler told county leaders he still hopes a deal could be worked out to save the Crockett-Porterfield house. It is reported to have sustained some damage in the firefight known as the Battle of Falling Waters, and was built by Davy Crockett's grandfather.

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