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Scrabble being nominated as historic district

February 26, 2006|By ROBERT SNYDER

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -

And then there was one.

Jim Staley calls himself the last current resident of Scrabble who still can trace his roots back to the village's initial settlement.

"I'm an antique," he said. "The only direct descendant of anybody that settled in Scrabble."

Staley, who grew up there, returned to Scrabble after serving in Vietnam, and later moved into the 1850s-era brick house that his great-great-grandfather, John W. Hollida, had erected around an older stone dwelling. Staley said most of his ancestors are buried in the village's cemetery next to Mt. Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church, and some of his kin once taught in the village's one-room school before it closed in 1936.

Many of the houses presently in Scrabble owe their origins to the subdivision of farms owned by Hollida and his brother, George Washington Hollida, two of Scrabble's original landowners.

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It's that connection to what's been called a "quintessential crossroads village," and the documented site of the first mill in West Virginia, dating to 1734, that compelled Staley to seek the village's listing on the National Register, the federal government's official list of properties worthy of preservation.

Earlier this month, the Scrabble Historic District was one of seven sites in Berkeley County nominated by the West Virginia Archives and History Commission for inclusion on the register.

If selected, Scrabble would bring to 23 the number of historic districts in the county and city of Martinsburg listed on the register, said Berkeley County Historical Landmarks Commission Chairman Don C. Wood, who himself is a descendant of one of the village's residents, George William Mallory Tabler, who once owned the village's Elisha Snyder House.

Wood said there are not many counties in West Virginia that can match Berkeley County for the number of historic districts listed on the National Register.

Eleven sites statewide were nominated for consideration to the register this year. That seven came from Berkeley County is evidence of how busy the county's landmarks commission is, said an official with the West Virginia Division of Culture and History.

"Berkeley County is one of the most active groups," said Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Susan Pierce, who credited the commission with taking advantage of available funding resources, such as the National Register and state survey grants.

Other sites nominated in the county include the Strode-Morrison-Tabler House and Farm near Hedgesville, the Marlowe Consolidated School, the Newcomer Mansion near Martinsburg and the Miller Tavern and Farm, which, like Scrabble, straddles Berkeley and Jefferson counties. Also nominated were the John Evans House, south of Martinsburg, and the Snodgrass Tavern near Hedgesville, for a boundary increase.

Officials from the National Register have 45 days to respond to the nominations, Pierce said.

Listing on the National Register qualifies properties for federal and state tax credits for rehabilitation projects, and also allows for review of proposed development activities by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and by the state's Division of Culture and History.

Grant awards from the State Historic Preservation Development Grant program also are available for rehabilitation of listed properties, Pierce said.

Wood said recent listings include the Tablers Station Historic District in central Berkeley County and the Spring Mills and Clary's Mountain historic districts, both near Hedgesville.

At 164 acres, Scrabble's historic district is one of Berkeley County's smallest, with more than two-thirds of it east of Rockymarsh Run in neighboring Jefferson County.

The Scrabble district contains 34 properties eligible for listing, and includes a number of 19th-century brick houses, such as the George Washington Hollida House, the McQuilkin-Myers House, the aforementioned Snyder and Hollida houses, and the schoolhouse, which was built in 1882, according to information from a U.S. Department of the Interior registration packet.

The Mt. Wesley church, one of the more modern buildings slated for inclusion, was built in 1920 following the destruction by a tornado of an earlier brick church, built in 1839.

Perhaps one of the more head-scratching features of this former agricultural settlement is its name.

Originally known as Hardscrabble, Staley said the village's name is not unique, and he has visited other Hardscrabbles around the country that, like his hometown, once were little farming communities.

Staley said the name, from the word "scrabble," which means to scrape, denotes the tough-going farmers who tilled the hilly, stone-scattered soil.

"My grandfather always said there was only one rock in Scrabble. It was all connected," Staley said. "You had to work hard to make a living out here."

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