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A bar? A Borders? Opinions vary widely for old Jefferson jail

March 31, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - How about a bar in the old Jefferson County Jail?

Local resident Terry Tucker thinks an "elegant bar" might work well in the old building at the corner of George and Liberty streets.

Tucker, speaking during a public hearing Thursday night to offer input on possible uses of the jail, said she thinks the building would be a good spot for an "elegant bar" where people can go after a play at the Old Opera House across the street and discuss the play.

Tucker said she thinks the jail would also be an ideal place to have a bookstore like Borders and an art gallery that would promote local artists.

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Perhaps space could also be set aside for folk music events and poetry readings, Tucker said.

Former Charles Town Mayor Randy Hilton told the Jefferson County Commission during the hearing at the Charles Town Library that stores which are being built today all look the same and therefore tend to make communities look the same.

But new uses for the jail can "distinguish us from 'anywhere, USA. We still have this where we can identify with our roots," Hilton said.

The commission has been considering renovating the jail and using it for functions such as county office space.

The commission has hired Matt Grove of Grove & Dall'olio Architects in Martinsburg, W.Va., to develop a renovation proposal and the commission decided to have a public hearing Thursday night to get public input on uses for the jail.

Commission member Dale Manuel said he thinks having some court operations in the building could free up needed court space in other government buildings.

But Manuel said he also wants to hear from the public about what they want.

Manuel said it's hard to say when a renovation plan might be finalized or when a renovation might start.

Carol Gallant, who helped lead an effort to save the jail, said she thinks the building should serve as a multi-use center that would combine government operations with historic use.

A series of trials that were held in Charles Town in 1922 for miners involved in a labor uprising referred to as the Battle of Blair Mountain in southern West Virginia and there has been consideration of having a historical interpretation area in the jail to tell the story about the trials.

There are two "fireplace rooms" in the jail, which dates to 1918, and those should be furnished similar to the 1918 style and used as sitting rooms for informal meetings, Gallant said.

Gallant said such a facility would "energize downtown."

Under Grove's proposal, parts of the original design of the building would remain the same, but changes include removing a second floor cell block and creating office space. The plan also calls for an elevator in a corner of building close to the Jefferson County Courthouse that could also serve as the circuit judge's chamber, Grove said.

Grove said the building's design is fluid, meaning it could be changed as the county possibly builds more court buildings.

Officials have estimated the jail will cost as much as $1 million to be renovated.

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