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Calendar rekindles jail fight

December 20, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN - The controversy over a proposal to tear down the old Jefferson County Jail in Charles Town showed no signs of cooling down Thursday after a Jefferson County Commissioner expressed displeasure that a state calendar mentions the proposed razing.

The 2003 calendar produced by the state Division of Culture and History features courthouses in counties in the state.

The Jefferson County Courthouse is featured in the month of September.

The calendar shows a picture of the Jefferson County Courthouse and gives a brief history of the building, including the decision to hold a series of trials there in 1922 for miners involved in the Battle of Blair Mountain in southern West Virginia.

The calendar notes that the jail is being threatened with demolition by the Jefferson County Commissioners.

County Commission President James K. Ruland objected, saying he doesn't believe the Division of Culture and History should bring up the issue of the proposed demolition with a calendar that was paid for with state money.

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"Maybe I'm all wet here, but this is offensive," Ruland said.

Ruland also questioned why the state produced the calendar at a time when state officials say money is tight.

"I certainly think something needs to be done," said Commissioner James G. Knode.

Knode expressed concern about the commissioners making too much of an issue of the calendar, especially if it turns out that some of the miners were held in the jail, a debate that continues between the commissioners and those who support saving the jail.

Ruland said there is no proof miners were held in the jail. Supporters say they have photographs and court papers to prove they were.

Despite Knode's concerns, the commissioners decided to send a letter of complaint to the "appropriate cabinet level secretary" regarding the calendar. Ruland said he wants the letter to ask how much state money was spent on the calendar and for proof that miners from the 1922 trials were housed in the Jefferson County jail.

"If this turns out to be bogus, there should be a recall of this calendar," Ruland said.

Reached by telephone at her Charleston, W.Va., office Thursday, Susan Pierce, the deputy state historic preservation officer, said she wrote the history about the jail included in the calendar.

Pierce defended her description of the court and jail, saying she was stating that the jail is being threatened by possible demolition by the commission.

"And that's a fact," said Pierce, adding she does not make any judgment about the commissioners' decision.

"I regret they're upset, but that's part of my job, to let people know about the issues," Pierce said.

Pierce said the calendar was funded by a grant from the National Park Service and the state contribution was staff time from her office. Pierce said reaction to the calendar from people across the state has been "very complimentary."

Carol Gallant, who along with Jim Whipple, has been leading a charge to save the jail, defended the Division of Culture and History's work on the calendar.

"The Division of Culture and History is doing their job and I'm not surprised that it is making them (commissioners) mad," Gallant said.

The commissioners plan is to tear down the jail at the corner of George and Liberty streets and erect court offices.

Gallant and Whipple have said they believe the jail should be preserved for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the miner trials were held there.

The miners were brought to Jefferson County after an attempt to unionize Logan County in 1922. The Battle of Blair Mountain ensued, and involved the use of machine guns and aerial bombardment.

Gallant and Whipple appealed a Jefferson County Circuit Court decision that allowed the demolition of the jail to the state Supreme Court of Appeals. Since the high court made its decision on the case recently, lawyers on both sides of the case have given different interpretations of how the commission can proceed regarding the demolition.

The commissioners have interpreted the Supreme Court ruling as saying that they can proceed with the jail demolition.

Although the Supreme Court ruled that a new law freeing county commissions from conducting a historical review on the jail cannot be retroactively applied to the commissioners' decision, the commissioners can take another vote on the issue, said Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson, who is representing the commissioners.

If the commissioners vote again on the demolition of the jail, they would not have to conduct a historical review since the new law is in place, Thompson has said.

Attorney Tom Michael, who is representing Gallant and Whipple, said he does not believe the commissioners can make the same decision again and avoid the historical review process.

The commissioners say the jail demolition will be discussed at the Dec. 30 meeting of the commission but they would not say whether they think there will be a vote.

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