By Bobby Bordelon
The building next to Alderson Town Hall could be seeing a new life in the future. In a recent meeting, Alderson Town Council voted to remove the building from the National Guard’s demolition list and gave Joe and Sarah Alderson a year’s time to craft a plan to save the building. That planning barreled forward on Friday, July 10, when a local historian and a representative from the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia came to inspect the building.
In June, demolition of 204 Monroe Street South, the building located next to Town Hall, was approved by Town Council, scheduled for sometime in June or July. Mayor Travis Copenhaver explained the Slum and Blight program was the city’s next best option after a contractor was stopped by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection because of asbestos in the building.
“I’m gonna be honest, the contractor is a person who lives here. He said he would take it down because of the issue with the roof, said he would do it for $1,000, and that’s when I said okay,” Copenhaver explained. “We later found out, … he could not remediate the asbestos. We did not receive any fines because of the asbestos. We’ve got it on the list for the guard, … but the guard will not take down just part of it. It is all or nothing.”
After Copenhaver noted the town did not have enough funds to restore it, council voted to demolish it through the Slum and Blight program through the National Guard. However, in July council voted to remove it from the list after a proposal from Joe and Sarah Alderson. The Aldersons explained one central reason for their interest in saving the building is because of their family history.
“The building did belong to my great grandfather for a short while,” said Joe Alderson. “The front steps to the building are the steps to the original Alderson Store. They put the building where the old store had been. There is a bit of personal interest, … it has certainly been a part of my family history.”
“I actually got interested because Jim Costa came in the store and he said he wanted to see the building,” said Sarah Alderson. “He started by telling me that is probably [the city’s] oldest commercial building.”
With this approval, the ultimate fate of the building now lies in the Aldersons’ hands; they have one year to determine if the money is available to restore and relocate the building to one of several places downtown. This would not be the first time the building was relocated – the building was moved to its present location in the 1930s. In his proposal, Joe Alderson pointed to several possible new locations on Railroad Avenue in downtown Alderson, including:
• between Fritz’s Pharmacy and the Alderson Fire Department. In his plan, Joe Alderson noted there is a tree planted in memory of Ruby Grimmett Richmond in that site and he would plan to speak to the family to get their approval before moving forward.
• next to the old post office building, where Lobban’s Furniture used to stand until it burned down.
• across from the Train Station at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Greenbrier Street.
On Friday, the Aldersons, local historian Jim Costa, and Historic Preservation Consultant Michael Gioulis arrived in downtown Alderson to inspect the building. Before even getting out of his vehicle, Costa pointed to his “nail board,” a display of various types of nails taken from buildings built at a known time. Using these boards, it’s possible to compare commercially made nails from buildings of an unknown age to known aged nails, dating the building’s construction.
Once inside, a previous use of the building was evident – at one time the building served as a home for stray animals picked up by the city, with toys, towers, litter boxes, smells and more signs cats and dogs scattered through. Despite this, and debris scattered through the the entire building, Costa and Gioulis got to work, creating the feeling of watching Sherlock Holmes at work, the team picking apart individual, barely noticeable details throughout the structure into order to determine its age. Sticking a flashlight into a hole in the wall, Costa speculated that the building is a balloon frame, rather than a platform frame, a potential indicator of age.
“Platform framing is you build the floor of the first floor, then you put the walls up,” explained Gioulis. “Then you put the joists for the second floor and walls on top of the second floor. It’s interrupted at each floor. … The give away will be if you can look up … and see all the way up [to through all the floors], it’s a balloon frame. If you can’t see, it’s a platform.”
The significance of the framing is timing – many of the buildings built before the 1890s used balloon framing. This was until the Chicago World Fair in 1983, where many of the newly constructed buildings burned down, the fire quickly traveling through the gaps inside of the balloon framing walls.
Once upstairs, Costa and Gioulis inspected doors, windows, lighting, anything that could be of interest. Pointing to the top section of an upstairs door, Costa explained several were handmade.
“There’s your square peg,” Costa said. “They didn’t do that in a factory shop. That’s all homemade by somebody local.”
Although the windows likely contained asbestos in the puddy, the molding design also indicates the buildings age.
“They had multiple styles of moldings and I’ve got one that does this,” Costa said, pointing to molding in the building’s upstairs. “My store from  has the same one. Same molding and designer.”
The paneling could also serve as an indication of the building’s true age.
“This is all hand planed. If there was a machine that did a square tongue-in-groove, I’m not aware of it. So they’re still in that era, where people are doing all of this stuff,” Costa explained. “That’s another thing [pointing to] 1870s, 1880s.”
Looking a at piece of roofing leaning against the building, the group inspected a logo stamped into the side. Costa pointed to the side of the panel, where a piece of tin stuck out.
“That’s why you didn’t have any nails up there, out in the weather. They would tab it down here, then it pulls loose,” Costa said. “That’s neat.”
The Aldersons remain hopeful grants will be available to help relocate the building. The vote of Town Council also leaves them hopeful for a new business location downtown.
“It has been there for long time and if they’re willing to do something with it to keep it from deteriorating more it would be to our benefit.” said Councilmember Doris Kesley. “[It would be good] to have another business in town if at all possible.”
In the June meeting, Copenhaver also noted that the initial demolition contractor was stopped, in part, because of a Department of Environmental Protections inspection, which could have hit the town with a $50,000 fine and “threatened” to take Copenhaver “away in cuffs. … It is not at all what we would think the enforcement from EPA would be as a customer service person.” Removing the building from the Slum and Blight list could also cause issues, Copenhaver explained the city could “if we stop the demolition, we have an abatement issue that could potentially be a [problem] because of the asbestos. We also don’t have money to tear it down because [it costs] $25,000 [or] $30,000 because of the asbestos.”
With council’s approval, the Aldersons now have a one year countdown to find a better solution for the potentially 150-year-old structure. Joe Alderson specified he wants to see it thrive.
“In the end, it’s not my desire to own another business on Railroad Avenue,” Joe Alderson said. “I already have one business there and that’s enough. I don’t want to be landlord. I’m just wanting to save the building. My goal would not be to die with that as one of my possessions. … My thought is to make it a viable business location, … goodness knows the town does need more businesses.”