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History clashes with quarry

June 06, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

GERRARDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Two homes built more than 275 years ago by a wealthy Berkeley County merchant and money lender would be most affected by a quarry proposed near Gerrardstown, according to the state's deputy historic preservation officer.

Susan M. Pierce, in letters to state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials, said the visual impact of the mining project proposed by North Mountain Shale LLC would be greatest for Prospect Hill and Oban Hall, homes built by William Wilson between 1792 and 1825.

"Oban Hall is owned by (North Mountain Shale) -- its setting has already been somewhat compromised," Pierce said in a Feb. 9 letter to the DEP she released last week. "We encourage DEP to continue consultation with the Prospect Hill owners to discuss appropriate mitigation of the visual impact to this resource."

Pierce said the company's reclamation plan and a letter by a DEP permit supervisor indicate revegatation and landscaping as options, and asked the mitigation issue be discussed further with adjacent property owners, which include Prospect Hill owners Stevan and Wendy Hudock.

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Pierce said in the letter it is the State Historic Preservation Office's opinion the quarry would affect, in varying degrees, the historic homes of Gerrardstown, which is within a mile of the two homes Wilson built.

While the visual impact has been reduced by a decrease in acreage associated with the permit application, Pierce said "the quarry will adversely change the character of the overall setting of Gerrardstown."

Much of the community is part of a historic district that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In a November 2008 letter to a DEP engineer, Pierce requested a computerized simulation to demonstrate the proposed visual impact on the ridgeline of North Mountain to help clarify concerns.

The State Historic Preservation Office acts as "a consulting party" to the DEP's permitting process to provide information about the impact of projects on historic resources, Pierce said

"We have not completed the review process and are waiting on additional information from DEP/the applicant," Pierce said.

In both letters, Pierce told DEP officials her office asked for a qualified consultant to assess the boundaries for Prospect Hill and Oban Hall as defined by the National Register of Historic Places.

"Their nominations (to the National Register) date to the mid-1980s and do not consider the relationship of the buildings to the fields and lands associated with the properties since their earliest ownership," Pierce said in the February letter. "Without this assessment, we cannot fully comment on the effects to these two National Register properties."

Prospect Hill, built between 1792 and 1802 off what now is W.Va. 51 at the foot of North Mountain, is considered "a fine example of late Georgian style" that isn't easy to find in Berkeley County, according to the statement of significance on its National Register nomination form.

Oban Hall, a Federal-style home built in 1825 for Wilson's wife, Mary Park Wilson, was part of a 220-acre farm south of Prospect Hill when it was nominated for the National Register. In 1830, William Wilson owned 1,699 acres in Berkeley County and was a money lender and merchant, selling supplies to settlers moving west through what is known as Mills Gap, according to its nomination form.

Oban Hall was renamed by attorney Archibald McDougall, who had an international career and once served as a delegate to the League of Nations on behalf of Iraq in the 1930s, according to League of Nations and historical accounts.

Last month, the Berkeley County Commission adopted a resolution opposed to a permit being issued for the quarry because of the impact on the historic properties.

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