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Moving day for Town Hall

By Staff | Aug 20, 2010

Shepherdstown Billing Clerk Crystal Painter works in the looming shadow of moving supplies. The Shepherdstown Town Hall temporarily will be moving to a new location on Princess Street as the old structure is demolished and a new facility is constructed. (Photo by Michael Theis)

SHEPHERDSTOWN – Shepherdstown’s soon-to-be-old Town Hall is closed today as municipal employees pack up their belongings for a short, temporary move to an office building at 207 S. Princess St.

This week, employees expressed sentiments of fondness for the cozy Town Hall at 104 N. King St.

Crystal Painter has lived in Shepherdstown all of her life, 50 years, and has worked for Shepherdstown on two different occasions. Between 1984 and 1989 and since 1998 through the present, Painter has come to work for Shepherdstown as the billing clerk.

When asked how the building has changed over the years, she pointed to a divider separating the public from a small office in which Painter and Town Clerk Amy Boyd work. The divider was not there when she first started working for the town.

Painter said the biggest change to Town Hall, and how municipal employees do their jobs, has been the advent of personal computers. When she first started her job, all the town’s water-bill calculations were done on a wall-sized, punch-card programmed, mainframe computer. Painter rattles off the model number as if she used the device yesterday.

“It was a Burroughs L-5000,” she said. “I’ll never forget that machine.”

When Painter started, the massive computer handled the bills for about 800 customers.

“Now we have 1,650 customers,” she said.

Painter won’t be sad to see the old structure go, she said.

“We’ve needed a new Town Hall for a long time,” Painter said. “Of course, I’m going to miss the building. Ever since I grew up in town, this building was here.”

Painter and other employees said that despite the fond memories, there simply a need for more space and more centralized operations.

“It will be advantageous to have all the town departments in the same building,” Mayor Jim Auxer said. “It will improve our ability to communicate with the town residents and employees. Issues will be solved more readily.”

Mayor Auxer says he first encountered Town Hall in the early 1990s when he went to a meeting regarding an issue with a house he had just purchased in Shepherdstown. His first impression wasn’t too impressive.

“I don’t remember having an impression of the building,” Auxer said. “I thought it was in a good location to the center of town, I remember thinking that.”

Auxer also praised the inclusive nature of the building, which seemed almost to be designed into it. “The function of the building mandates interaction with everyone who walks into the door,” he said. “It does have that charm.”

When asked if he is looking forward to the physical task of moving a municipal government a few blocks to the southeast, Auxer replied, “Yes.”

“I know what it will lead to,” he said, referring to the new Town Hall that will be constructed on the site of the existing Town Hall after it is razed. Officials hope to open the new Town Hall by April of next year.

Boyd is heading up the move to the temporary Town Hall. She has received praise from her coworkers for her handling of the job.

“It’s a monumental task, but the town clerk is efficiently handling it,” Accounting Clerk Pat Dowell said. Dowell has worked in Town Hall since 1999.

She laughs when asked if she has fond memories of her time in the quaint Town Hall.

“I’m too busy to have memories,” Dowell said. “The building was functional for our purposes.”

The small building had many fans in Shepherdstown. Local resident Diana Suttenfield wrote a letter, published in the Shepherdstown Chronicle, asking residents to rally around the building to save it from demolition.

“People who like old buildings are interested, and care about success stories of saving buildings,” she wrote. “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.'”

Joseph Matthews also wrote the Chronicle with similar sentiments.

“The present town hall is a major part of the fabric of the community,” he wrote. “It has been here as long as any of us living here can remember. It is certainly not important looking, but then there is no reason for it to be.”

The building was built in 1948 under the administration of Mayor K.E. Eustler out of distinctive “ship-lap” concrete blocks, which made the building seem as if it had wooden siding.

An article appearing in the April 22, 1948 edition of the Shepherdstown Register noted that the blocks “give the appearance of old English siding … It will contain a Council Room, Mayor’s Office, storage room and a temporary detention room in the rear of the building.”

In the end, the need for space and a desire for more centralized municipal operations overcame arguments for the historic or aesthetic preservation of the building.

Within the next few weeks, crews from Callas Construction will demolish the structure. In its place, a two-story brick building will be constructed.