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Why is it worth protecting a place such as Boydville?

January 08, 2006|By Tim Rowland

As a future resident of Boydville - which he facilitated by marrying into the family of Gen. Elisha Boyd - Charles James Faulkner was born in Martinsburg, (West) Virginia in 1806, the same year that Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific Coast and Zebulon Pike discovered Pike's Peak.

It was 30 years after Americans declared their independence. We basically knew how wide and how tall our new nation was. Now what were we to do with it?

Faulkner might appear to typify young America on two fronts: He didn't just answer opportunity's knock, he flattened the caller on the way to the top. Second, he represented some of the agonizing, formative questions of the day with what must have been a touch of unassuredness and doubt. Yogi Berra was right this time. Faulkner came to a fork in the road and he took it.

According to a clip from the Martinsburg Independent upon Faulkner's death in November 1884, "The record of his father's will shows that he was left at an early age an orphan, and thrown upon his own efforts and resources. He was literally the builder of his greatness and success. Stern realities of life surrounded him, and through their rough and rugged way his strength of will, untiring industry and indomitable perseverance won him honor and renown. He chose the law as his profession, and in the arena, where intellect is the force and propelling power, he ranked among the giants as an expert, technical pleader."

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But what to plead for? He was a Virginian vexed by Virginia's disrespect of its western regions. He was a southerner who ran for Congress as a Union candidate from the Eastern Panhandle, and was sent to France as a union ambassador - a job from which he was recalled for whispering sweet, southern nothings in the ear of Louis Napoleon.

His lobbying on behalf of the South got him yanked back to the states, where he was arrested as a subversive, and eventually swapped for a Congressman imprisoned in Richmond. He served his time with the South through the war, but was instrumental in ensuring that Jefferson and Berkeley counties gave Virginia the boot.

As a lawmaker, he argued for, and introduced legislation (unsuccessful, as it turned out) to bring about the eventual abolishment of slavery. As a lawmaker, he also appears to be one of the main architects of the infamous Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, arguably one of the darker acts in our storied history of poor racial behavior. He served on the staff of Stonewall Jackson, but while in Congress, his views on compromise were adopted by the campaign of Franklin Pierce.

This bit of history (taken from the West Virginia State Archives and various biographies) is a small scratch on the surface of an amazing, swashbuckling life.

And this is why is matters when people take up the fight for historic structures. Certainly you want to save the walls. But more important is to preserve the stories that evolved within the walls, stories and lives that will fly to the wind without some physical tether.

We will remember Faulkner, and future generations will continue to remember him, because so many different people with so many different motives put their heads together at year's end and found a way to save Faulkner's home, the majestic estate known as Boydville on South Queen Street.

Boydville wasn't going to be bulldozed by developers, but it was going to be smothered - all but three acres of the estate were to go up in duplexes and single-family housing, and the presence of the mansion certainly would have been lost.

Contemporary development around Boydville, a dignified manor house dating back to 1812, would have been the equivalent of putting Davy Crockett in a modern nursing home, surrounded by perky nurses encouraging him to do arts and crafts - alive, but for what purpose?

What should draw Tri-State attention to Boydville is not just its history, but the incredible array for forces and interests that joined to protect the estate.

A lawmaker spoke. City Hall and the Farmland Preservation Board acted. And a developer listened. Mayor George Karos admitted he wouldn't have thought it possible. I know that I didn't think it was possible, when my friend and history buff Jeff Fink called to tell the story in November. I assumed it was too late in the process and that forces were in motion that couldn't be reversed.

But State Sen. John Unger kept plugging away, and The Rector Companies, a Virginia-based developer, came to realize that while there was profit to be made at Boydville, there was other profit to be made elsewhere - at a cheaper cost to Berkeley County's culture.

All those involved are worthy of applause.

And as long as we're telling stories and recounting history, let's keep this episode in mind next time we come across a historical structure that "can't" be saved. The next time there's a Kammerer House or a Hagerstown Roundhouse that our elected officials aren't smart or determined enough to save, we can look to Martinsburg and take heart that maybe there is a way to save it after all.

It may not be easy. It may take thought. It may not be "the way we've always done it." It may take creativity. But the history we save goes beyond walls and stairways. Very often you will find the life of a man such as Faulkner inside.

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