Letters to the editor - 1/7/03

January 07, 2003

Save the Jefferson jail

To the editor:

I write on behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a private non-profit organization, regarding the Jefferson County Commission's desire to raze the historic Jefferson County Jail. Demolition of the historic jail would destroy an irreplaceable part of West Virginia and U.S. history and waste a valuable piece of public infrastructure.

With the strong support of our 250,000 members, including 1,000 members in West Virginia, the National Trust provides leadership, education, and advocacy to save America's diverse historic places and revitalize our communities.

There is hope for the historic jail. Recently, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of local preservationists, stating that the County Commission's decision to demolish the jail must be reviewed pursuant to West Virginia Code Section 29-1-8. The preservationists' victory means that Jefferson County is obligated to conduct an objective evaluation of alternatives to demolition.

Make no mistake, the Jefferson County Jail is a historic landmark and an important element of the downtown Charles Town Historic District, a National Register Historic District. It is well worthy of preservation. At the urging of West Virginia members of the National Trust, we have three times offered to provide free technical assistance and a modest grant to help Jefferson County seriously consider alternatives to demolition. Unfortunately, to date we have received no reply to our offer.


Before the jail is replaced by a gravel parking lot, we hope West Virginians will consider the following issues. First, does the historic jail fulfill the purpose it was meant to serve, or is there a new need it can satisfy? Local preservationists believe that the historic jail can be rehabilitated to serve local interests in a new way. Historic buildings across the nation have been "adaptively reused" to serve a wide range of new purposes.

Second, is the historic jail safe? We toured the historic jail on Dec. 13, 2002 and it is apparent that the historic building is structurally sound and poses no threat to public safety. There is no immediate need to raze the jail.

Third, would it be cost-effective to rehabilitate, operate and maintain the historic jail? Definitive estimates for rehabilitation have not been obtained. That is why the National Trust has offered to help fund and implement an objective feasibility study.

Preservationists sometimes are accused of opposing demolition of any and all old buildings. In fact, few if any preservationists have that attitude. Instead, most believe that demolition should not be approved until enough is known to judge whether what is being gained is greater than what is being lost. The evaluation of alternatives mandated by West Virginia law will provide this information.

We understand that the Jefferson County Commission has now sought bids for demolition. The Commissioners may believe that the county is now free to demolish the historic jail. Preservationists will continue to vigorously oppose demolition, and the National Trust has again respectfully urged the County Commission to defer this vote and, instead, to conduct the required evaluation of alternatives.

Citizens of Jefferson County must act now to protect their heritage. We ask you to contact the Jefferson County Commission and express your support for preservation of the historic Jefferson County Jail and the Downtown Charles Town Historic District.

Robert Nieweg, Director

Southern Field Office

National Trust for Historic Preservation

Kind people, gone

To the editor:

Recently I attended funerals for two people who were very special to me - Mary Ellen and Jerry "Hat" Dietrich. I'm having a hard time dealing with this, though I know their families are having a worse time.

These two were the kind of people who would do anything for anyone. I had the privilege of working for Jerry and he treated those who worked for him and his customers with respect. He and his wife became my friends and special people in my life.

The accident that claimed their lives was senseless and steps need to be taken to see that no more families go through the pain and suffering that these people have endured.

This tragedy has made me realize that family and friends can be gone from you in a split second.

Glenda Hollingsworth


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