Old Opera House hosts rally in effort to save jail building

May 28, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The effort to save the former Jefferson County Jail from the wrecking ball continued Monday night with music and words of hope.

The main attraction at a rally at The Old Opera House was Joe Glazer, a folk singer who wrote a song about the fight to save the jail.

Glazer, who has spent 60 years singing and writing labor songs, had the crowd of about 65 people singing along with him as he sang "Don't tear it down, you hear me? Don't tear it down. The iron ball is swinging every time you turn around."


Glazer said he doesn't understand the Jefferson County Commission's intention to tear down the jail.

"It's one of the best-looking jails I've ever seen," Glazer said after the song.

The County Commission is considering tearing down the jail and replacing it with new court facilities.

Charles Town City Council member Matt Ward encouraged the Jefferson County Commission to consider entering into a partnership with him to find other vacant buildings or lots that could be used for the county's space needs.

Ward asked county leaders how they stand on the issue of preserving the town's history. Will they cherish it or give it up to "asphalt, strip malls and parking garages?" Ward said.

"I know we're on the side of history and we have to stand by it," Ward told the crowd.

Last month, Jefferson County Chief Magistrate Gail Boober appeared before the commission and said court officials are running out of room at the new magistrate court that was completed two years ago on George Street.

Local residents Carol Gallant and Jim Whipple believe the jail should be saved because of its historical significance. Most famously, the treason trial of a United Mine Workers official was held at the old courthouse complex in 1922.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. ruled the commission could tear down the jail, but Gallant and Whipple appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court. Oral arguments on the case are expected to be presented to the Supreme Court on June 5.

Gallant, appearing at the Memorial Day event Monday night, said about 100 people are on a mailing list for The Jefferson County Preservation Alliance to Save Our Heritage, which is spearheading the effort to save the jail.

Whipple told the audience that tearing down the jail for new court offices "is no progress at all. It would be like tearing a page out of our history book."

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