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Byrd trumpets town's revival

May 23, 2004|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA.

A celebration of downtown Charles Town's new look Saturday focused as much on the invisible - buried utility lines and replaced water mains - as the brickwork and benches that catch the eye.

City Councilman Matt Ward said it took four years to guarantee funding for the $8 million revitalization project, then one year to do the work. More improvements lie ahead, he said.

From the steps of the Jefferson County Courthouse, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., ignited warm feelings about the work into loud cheers.

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"You have gathered the threads of your town's history and are weaving them together into a beautiful tapestry," he said.

As he is wont to do, Byrd wandered from his written speech, quoting an anonymous poem ("Am I a wrecker as I walk the town/Content with the labor of tearing down?") and speaking wondrously about Sir Christopher Wren, an architect who helped rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666.

Near the spot Wren is buried at St. Paul's Cathedral, an epitaph says, "Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you."

That verse was appropriate Saturday.

Aside from new streetlights, benches, granite curbs and brick walkways, the ceremony introduced four historical markers to the public.

One, next to the courthouse, says, "You now stand in the center of a town that is almost as old as the United States, laid out on 80 acres of Washington lands in 1786 - four years before the First President took office."

It explains that Charles Washington, the youngest of George Washington's five brothers and half-brothers (excluding siblings who died young), moved to the area in 1780. Six years later, he donated four lots for town and city buildings, which became the heart of Charles Town.

Fittingly, that historical marker was unveiled by Walter Washington, the great-great-great-great-grandson of Samuel Washington, another of George Washington's brothers. Walter Washington lives west of Charles Town.

A man dressed as city founder Charles Washington also helped.

"Our economic and cultural renaissance has begun," Mayor Randy Hilton told a crowd of about 300 people sitting along the curb and standing in the road on George Street, which was closed to traffic from Washington to Liberty streets.

Hilton recognized and thanked a slew of people, from local and state officials to business owners who suffered through the inconvenience of the construction work.

"I know they're glad this is behind them," he said.

Del. Dale Manuel, D-Jefferson, said there was a period where the state wanted to give money to either Charles Town or Ranson, but he fought to see that both got money.

Manuel said he was thrilled to finally share a podium with Byrd, who stopped frequently during the day to shake hands and say hello to awed admirers.

In front of the Shu Chen Chinese restaurant, Byrd noticed Abbey Kent, 6, staring up at him. He paused, complimented the purple barrettes holding up her blonde hair and put an arm around her for a picture.

Abbey's grandmother, Judy Cheezum of Shepherdstown, said Abbey, who attends C.W. Shipley Elementary School, was hoping to get a show-and-tell photo for class.

During an interview after the ceremony, Ward went over the finer points of the revitalization project, including its funding sources:

n About $2 million went toward "what you can see," including a plaza, benches and sidewalks. Of that, $1.2 million was federal transportation funding secured by Byrd and $800,000 was state transportation and economic development funding.

n About $5 million was spent to replace the drinking water system. That money came from the West Virginia Infrastructure & Jobs Development Council in the form of a 40-year, no-interest loan.

n About $1 million went toward burying utility lines. Frontier Communications donated $850,000 worth of work, the city paid $75,000 and the county paid $75,000.

Ward said another $600,000 has been raised to continue revitalizing the city east past Samuel Street, where the current project stopped.

An estimated $2 million will be needed, he said.

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