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Historic Jefferson County Village Making Improvements

The village of Middleway, W.Va., appears to be a moment frozen in time.  The historic district of the village is home to buildings that date back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and was a battleground throughout the Civil War. 

Nowadays, the streets are quiet, the cars are few, and the numerous buildings that line the streets are dark and uninviting.  Moss and vines creep up the old War Hospital on Queen Street and residential properties are boarded up and left alone.

The abandoned buildings in Middleway have become drop-offs for refuse and tires, and places of shelter for squatters and drug abusers.  President of the Middleway Conservancy Association, Peter Fricke, appreciates the neighborly characteristics of the village, but began to notice some people feel their village isn’t safe. 

Fricke’s background of living on a farm in England allows him to appreciate the small-town feel of Middleway and gives him incentive to help the community restore itself back to its better days.

“In England, farms are in communities for generations and this is true here too,” Fricke said.  “So when I moved here, coming from an English farm, and having been in all sorts of other things, it was in a way coming home.”

Technical Grant Awarded

The Brownfields, Abandoned, Dilapidated (BAD) Buildings Technical Assistance Program awarded the Middleway Conservancy Association a $10,000 technical assistance grant. The BAD Buildings Program helps communities in West Virginia identify and prioritize properties based on community need.  The Middleway historic district was the only unincorporated community, and one of eight statewide, to receive the grant.

Other towns that received the grant were Fairmont, Point Pleasant, Kenova, Ronceverte, Shinnston, Wheeling, and Weston. 

In order to obtain the grant, Fricke talked to people who would have an interest or would benefit directly from the village’s restoration, including the county commission and various local churches.

The grant applies to the entire community of Middleway, particularly property owners in the historic district. The process of development will begin when WVU staff comes to Middleway to train an assessment team to evaluate properties and determine their status. 

The community will receive an interim report in July, and will begin setting priorities with property owners. The technical assistance grant will provide a series of options for the community to achieve its goals, ultimately putting a better economic and social spin on the village.

The assistance of WVU staff and experts will provide individual property owners with advice to help with the planning process. In addition to bringing commerce back into the village, Fricke said other community suggestions have been considered.

“The suggestions we have are that a couple of the lots that are currently vacant be cleared and used for other purposes with in-character buildings so that they’re not sore thumbs,” he said.  A lot of people have talked about pedestrian safety.”

Dilapidated Buildings Create Problems

Project Manager of Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center, Luke Elser, traveled to communities throughout the state and spoke with councils and mayors to address the issue of abandoned and dilapidated buildings in their areas. 

An independent committee of experts across the field reviewed applications and chose which communities would receive the grant. Elser said the BAD Buildings Program provides citizens with tools to solve their independent issues at a local level.    

“There are people in these communities that want to do something, but just need to be pointed in the right direction and be shown what steps to start taking,” Elser said.  “Our experience has been that these projects really take off in fantastic directions we never would have imagined.”

Elser described the restoration of abandoned buildings in West Virginia as a huge need.  The unused buildings lower property values, tax base, and reduce community morale.

With the Middleway Conservancy Association acting as a facilitator, the participation in the grant is voluntary and driven at the property owner and community level.  Elser said it’s important to deal with abandoned buildings throughout West Virginia.  He said it makes a community less desirable to live in.  

“So if you live next to a couple of properties that are abandoned and have windows knocked out and grass overgrown, you’re just less likely to want to stay there,” he said. “So people move away from these properties and it just sort of becomes a cancer within a community.”

The Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation funds the BAD Buildings Program through the WVU Foundation.

Rebecca Glover is a student at Shepherd University.

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