A new day for Middleway

[cleeng_content id=”319534955″ description=”Read it now!” price=”0.49″ t=”article”]Historic village wins $10,000 WVU grant ‘to reverse decline’

MIDDLEWAY – A $10,000 grant is offering this Jefferson County village settled in the 1790s the chance for a brighter future.

Middleway was the only Eastern Panhandle community to win the funding from the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center based at West Virginia University. It’s also the sole unincorporated community awarded grant money.

Peter Fricke is president of the Middleway Conservancy Association. He called the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center award a way to help reverse the decline of Middleway’s historic district.

Peter Fricke is president of the Middleway Conservancy Association. He called the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center award a way to help reverse the decline of Middleway’s historic district.

Five cities – Kenova, Wellsburg, Fairmont, Point Pleasant and Ronceverte – along with the town of Weston and the Downtown Wheeling Inc. association also garnered the grants, which come through the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

Peter Fricke of the Middleway Conservancy Association Inc. called the grant award an exciting development for the town. “Our purpose in seeking this grant was to reverse the decline in the condition of the Historic District,” he said.

The draft of the 2014 Jefferson County Comprehensive Plan puts Middleway in the center of a preferred growth area, Fricke said. “What better way to stay ahead of that planning process than to identify clearly what the Middleway community wants to preserve and to integrate those decisions into the historic and rural character of the village when development occurs?” he asks.

Workshops for craftsmen and artists as well as increased tourist traffic tied to Middleway’s Civil War history are possible benefits to the project, Fricke said.

“The outcome, we hope, will be a blueprint for individual and community activities to conserve the Historic District and make it more attractive for residents and business for many years to come,” he said.

The first step, Fricke said, will be to contact each property owner in Middleway’s five-block Historic District to explain details of the grant to and ask them to take part. Next up: a community-wide meeting to ensure that anyone interested in the project is informed, then a visit by the WVU team to the Jefferson County Commission and, in March, a meeting of the Conservancy, property owners, leaders of stakeholder organization and the WVU team.

The WVU officials will provide technical help as Middleway leaders assess dilapidated structures with the aim of transforming problem properties into resources for the community.

“This will be a community-based project with volunteers working with the Conservancy to make it all happen,” Fricke said. “We hope that the end product will be a Historic District that’s more attractive both to residents and to businesses.”

Among the project’s stakeholders and supporters, according to Fricke, include Grace Episcopal Church, the Jefferson County Commission, the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, the Jefferson County Convention and Business Bureau, the Jefferson County Development Authority, the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission, the Middleway Climbers 4-H Club and the Preservation Association of West Virginia. The grants are made available through the Brownfields Center’s BAD Buildings Program, with BAD an acronym for Brownfields, Abandoned, Dilapidated.

Luke Elser, program manager for BAD, said more communities are seeking the agency’s help as leaders see successful turnarounds in cities and towns across West Virginia.

“We are absolutely seeing more communities become interesting in taking a proactive role in dealing with their vacant, abandoned and dilapidated buildings,” Elser said. “Local elected officials and citizens are seeing the reality that municipalities and communities need to be the ‘first ones in’ when dealing with these vacant properties and lots simply because no one else is willing to do so.”

In each of the communities awarded grants, decisions will be made locally, Elser said. “The core goal is to return these properties to a productive use,” he said. “The community decides what that productive use will be on a site-by-site basis and can be anything from a community center or green space to a new business/commercial building or new residential property.

“Our goal is simply to help a community identify what that reuse should be and then develop a plan to move from Point A – a vacant, dilapidated building – to Point Z – the vision for the property.”

In the application for the grant, Fricke noted a number of problems facing Middleway that can be traced to its abandoned, dilapidated structures.

“With a population aging in place, financial and human resources for building maintenance are limited,” the application reads. “When nearby buildings are BAD, the image and effect of limited resources are accentuated.”

Among the “negative impacts” happening in Middleway, according to the application, are drug abusers and others “squatted in empty buildings, requiring action by law-enforcement and health department officials”; trash dumped on abandoned lots; lower property values for homes in the Historic District, with sales prices 60 percent below appraised value for comparable properties; “properties adjacent to or near BAD buildings have been difficult to sell”; “empty stores have not been sold or leased”; a bed and breakfast has gone out of business; “potential employers have gone elsewhere”; and that people visiting the Historic District for church services or social or cultural events report feeling “discouraged and disturbed by the condition of the village.”

Four structures that have fallen into disrepair and will be examined thanks to the grant funding, according to Fricke, include a structure built in 1828 as a hardware and ironmongers store that served as a hospital in the Civil War; a village store built in the early 1800s and used until 1998 as a shop with lunch counter and gas pumps; a log house built in 1806 and abandoned since 1984; and a stone forge and adjacent house built in 1804.

Elser said the work ahead in Middleway is cutting-edge, noting that BAD representatives have been invited to speak on the work being done in West Virginia at national conferences.

“We’ve been held up as a model for effective rural community redevelopment,” he said. “So our model is actually being copied and used in other states as well.”


Want to know more?

Learn more about the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, go to wvbrownfields.org.

Membership in the Middleway Conservancy is open and not limited to those who own homes in Middleway, according to Peter Fricke.

The nonprofit organization founded in 1982 has as its mission “to preserve, restore, acquire and revitalize, when and where possible, the nationally registered Historic District, surrounding rural areas and the areas adjacent to the historic district.” For more information on becoming part of the project, go online to MiddlewayConservancy.org or call Fricke at 304-728-6400 The original village was platted in 1794 and chartered as Smithfield, Va., in 1798. The town officially became Middleway in 1805.




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