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If history would repeat itself, maybe we could save Shepherdstown’s Town Hall

By Staff | Oct 2, 2009

The old saying “where there is a will, there is a way” is sadly evident in the determination of the building committee’s insistence on tearing down, rather than building an addition.onto the 1948 Town Hall. For all the “reasons “given to demolish it, there are as many reasons to save it, add on, and make it into a useful building.

In 1913, the Shepherd Fire Department, asked the town to tear down a little building in the middle of King Street because it was considered a hazard for the emergency vehicles.Fortunately, the town did not want to spend money to tear it down, or to move it to another location.. Today, that troublesome building, is the charming Public Library.

In the 1970s, some people wanted to tear down an “ugly” building, but a forward looking person took on the project of “fixing it up,” and it became Keith Knost’s store;. As the old pool hall, the white clapboard building was a little unattractive, but with imagination, it became a fashionable showroom for Keith’s beautiful merchandise. Now, with a fresh yellow ochre faade and awnings,it is sattractive town asset , Blue River.

In the early 1970s another building, on the corner of German and Princess Streets,was slated for demolition. The owners, Shepherd College,wanted to build a parking lot (or tennis court, or something). But, by the efforts of a few dedicated people, the building was saved, bought by the town, and is now the Entler Hotel/Museum..

Shepherdstown has in recent years made a big deal of being “historic”. The designation is a calling card for tourists, diners, theater-goers, shoppers, and homebuyers. Most businesses use the term in their advertisement.

People who like old buildings are interested, and care about success stories of saving buildings. They do not like demolishing good buildings; they like the idea of reusing/recycling old buildings because it is practical and it is the “green”thing to do.

Most people probably don’t even notice Town Hall. I have lived here since 1962, and have never heard anyone complain about town hall being “ugly”, until recently. Only a handful of people have been complaining, and the chorus reminds me of the Pied Piper’s story.

Part of what makes Shepherdstown so appealing is the variety of architecture, and little town hall is a unique example of 1940s buildings. An addition is all that is needed.

The architect’s presentation last week did show a building, much improved over earlier versions, and I liked it. On further consideration though, I have to question whether that building is appropriate at that location. Look at the new business complex on the corner of Princess and Washington streets-there is a chilling blandness of glass, metal, dark brown brick. I fear the proposed new town hall will look like an “urban renewal” project in the historic district.

I venture to say that in any other town, the town council, governed by the “historic” label would wisely choose to build an addition or relocate into a historic building owned by the town. Refusing to move into either the Entler or the train station is shortsighted and senseless.

Town Hall does not have to be in the “center” of town. “Center” of town was when there were grocery stores, five and dime, ands drug stores; and one could park in one place and get all their errands done. It doesn’t exist anymore, so why can’t town hall be at German and Princess Streets?

The police station does not have to be in the same building complex. Drive to Boonsboro, and see the police station, in its new location, in a house, on the outskirts of town.

In the spring of 2008, one of the committee members told me I had no “right” to be concerned with what goes on in town, since I live out of town( by Morgan’s Grove Park).

So, with that less than friendly admonition, I ask the silent majority, who live in town and care about being “green”, and/or, the effects of a major construction project on King Street,or who feel the town hall should relocate to the Entler or Train station to quickly form a Friends of Town Hall. Be vocal and active;call town council members, create a petition; because it is not too late, legally, for Town Council to reconsider the demolition of Town Hall before wrecking crew arrives.

Encouraging the Town Council to build an addition or to relocate, would honor and-enforce the integrity of the historic district, and mitigate the damage done by the demolition of the Sara Cree’s cottage/and log structure on Church Street a few years ago.

Diana Suttenfield