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Library money earmarked for battlefield site

June 02, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Money originally earmarked to build a new library in northern Berkeley County was allocated Thursday to help purchase land near Falling Waters, W.Va., that Civil War preservationists hope to secure for a battlefield park.

The Berkeley County Commission voted 3-0 to reallocate $100,000 toward the purchase of a 14-acre site along U.S. 11 that Falling Waters Battlefield Association President Tom Ressler said could become a park to commemorate the 1861 battle and help preserve some part of the battlefield site that development has recently whittled away.

Ressler said he'd like to restore the historic Crockett-Porterfield house and turn it into a visitors center, giving two acres of the parcel for a library, which could contain a Civil War research center that would display battlefield artifacts.

The commission last year promised to give the money, which was part of a $3 million budget surplus, to the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Public Library to develop a branch library, after contention erupted over the closure of the library's Nestle Quarry Road branch and the subsequent decision by library officials to house it temporarily in the basement of the Marlowe (W.Va.) Ruritan Club building.

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On Thursday, commissioners took turns firing volleys at library officials in absentia who they said had failed to provide them with evidence that they were moving ahead with plans for the construction of a new branch in the northern part of the county.

"We've made money available to the library board and they've done nothing," said Commissioner Ron Collins, who called on library officials to help contribute funding for the purchase of the property, on which sits an 18th-century house, built by the grandfather of Davy Crockett and the scene of some of the battle's heaviest fighting.

Library officials were unavailable for comment.

The property is owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston and is listed for sale for $1.6 million.

Commissioner Howard Strauss said reallocating the money should spur the library board to get a move on with plans for the proposed branch.

"We cannot wait a year or two until the library makes a decision," Strauss said. "If we don't take action the property will be sold, the property will be developed ... and our important history will be lost."

Ressler, who indicated he has received calls from people who have expressed interest in backing the project, said he is awaiting a response from the diocese and plans to get the property appraised.

He said he has also been in contact with the Berkeley County Farmland Protection Board to investigate assisting with the purchase of the land or to obtain a development easement.

Farmland protection board member Clint Hogbin, who toured the site Thursday afternoon with Ressler, said the board cannot pursue options toward acquiring the property without the blessing of the church.

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