Berkeley Co. Council hears update on Boydville estate

June 17, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The director of the county farmland board updated the Berkeley County Council Thursday on the status of the sprawling Boydville estate.

The Berkeley County Farmland Protection Board acquired Boydville in 2005 for $2.25 million. The purchase, undertaken to stop proposed residential development on the leafy 13-acre property at 601 S. Queen St., was made with the assistance of $750,000 from the city of Martinsburg.

Since then, the farmland board has been unsuccessful in finding a new use for the estate, which includes a circa-1812 mansion that was spared by direct order of President Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War.

Robert "Bob" White, executive director of the board, told council members that the board had spent a "substantial amount" of money on maintaining the grounds of the estate and the mansion, but could not provide a more precise figure when council President William L. "Bill" Stubblefield asked for it.

Stubblefield applauded the board's efforts regarding Boydville, but encouraged the board to "aggressively" work to determine the estate's future for the long term.

"I do not think it's in the best interest of farmland protection or the county to continue to use these few dollars that we have to maintain property as opposed to acquire property," Stubblefield said.

Stubblefield said that he didn't want his comments to be taken as criticism, saying the effort to determine a future use for Boydville has been "a hard nut to crack," recounting his own work on the issue while serving on the farmland board.

White told Stubblefield the costs for maintaining Boydville should be reduced now that the board has a groundskeeper living in the cottage that sits behind the mansion.

In an interview at the estate on Thursday, Scott Rheam, who works at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center as a groundskeeper and laborer, said he is very enthusiastic about maintaining the historic property.

"This is a great place," said Rheam, who recently moved into the cottage with his wife and child.

The terms of the agreement between the farmland board and Rheam were not immediately clear, but Councilman Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci said he believed Rheam is providing labor — including mowing and other maintenance work — in lieu of rent.

White said the board was still in the running for a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of an effort to establish a sustainable heritage center at Boydville for the community.

More than 600 people toured the mansion on Heritage Day last month, he said.

A $12,000 state grant awarded to the farmland board has helped pay for needed repairs to the home's stucco exterior roof, French drains and downspouting, White said.

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