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Official sticking with idea of saving part of old jail

January 02, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County Commissioner Al Hooper is prepared to try a tricky demolition feat to help save part of the old Jefferson County Jail.

His idea surfaced during the commission meeting Thursday in which a standing-room-only crowd gathered, some pleading that the commissioners consider other uses for the jail before tearing it down.

A group of local residents believe the jail should be preserved because of a series of treason trials that were held in Charles Town for a group of miners involved in a labor uprising in the southern part of the state in 1922.

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After a lengthy debate Thursday, the commission decided to seek bids to tear down the jail.

But Hooper is prepared to save part of the jail.

Hooper proposed during the meeting that one of the cell blocks or a portion of one be cut from the inside of the building and put on display in a new court office building the commissioners want to build at the site.

The cell block could be displayed along with other memorabilia, such as photographs of the miners during their stay here and court documents relating to their trials, Hooper said.

Hooper believes one of the cells can be saved, although it will take some ingenuity.

When the jail was built, the cells were locked into the building using steel beams, Hooper said.

Workers would have to cut through the beams to remove the cell, Hooper said.

"It's like pulling a main beam out of a barn. It's going to take a little bit of doing," said Hooper, a civil engineer who has worked on renovations of old buildings in the past.

Hooper said he believes the other commissioners support the idea. To take out the cell, the commission will have to request the work when they advertise for bids to tear down the jail, Hooper said.

The commissioners advertised for bids to tear down the jail on an earlier occasion, but at that time the proposal was to "bulldoze it over," Hooper said.

A local woman who is helping to lead a fight to save the jail said she "certainly appreciates the effort" Hooper is making to save part of the jail.

But Carol Gallant said what she and her supporters really want is for the commissioners to conduct a historical review of the jail building.

Under the historical review process, the commissioners would be required to document other possible uses for the old jail at the corner of George and Liberty streets.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson said he does not think the commissioners have to conduct the review because of a new state law that frees counties from the requirement.

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