Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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July 8, 2012

Public safety — Demolition justified in Pocahontas

The recent demolition of several historic structures in the town of Pocahontas is an unfortunate, yet necessary, development.

When crews tore down the remaining front of the old Pocahontas Fuel Company Store last month, a cherished landmark was lost. Tommy Childress, chairman of grants and properties of Historic Pocahontas, Inc., an agency that has been working to preserve several historic landmarks in the town, had hoped the old company store would play a central role in the town’s ongoing revitalization project.

Childress argued the town did not follow through on recommendations from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which asked for several components of the restoration project to be completed before the razing of the old store front.

However, Pocahontas Mayor Jonathan Gibson said the demolition was a necessity for public safety. Gibson said the top of the company store began swaying — and that was well before the destructive storms blew through our region. Architects and building inspectors who examined the structure determined it represented an immediate danger to public safety, according to Gibson.

Then, late last Wednesday, crews took down the last of the old iron-front buildings in the town in order to once again ensure public safety. They were correct in their actions.

The powerful storm that hit the region on June 29 with wind gusts in excess of 70 mph brought down the middle section of the iron-front structures in downtown Pocahontas. The following day, what was left of the middle section and end section collapsed and the only remaining iron front was weakened. If the remaining structure had fallen, it would have knocked down power lines and poles, Gibson said.

One of the two iron-front structures, in fact, collapsed just as an Appalachian Power worker stepped out of the area, according Stephen Arey, attorney for the town of Pocahontas. The power company official said workers could not return until the area was secured.

The loss of these historic landmarks is truly unfortunate. We’ve seen too many such structures fall, or be demolished, in our region in recent years. The Matz Hotel. The Colonial Theater. The old brownstone. And now the remaining front of the old company store. They were symbols of the storied past of our region. The old company store in Pocahontas had stood in the town for more than 100 years. But time had taken its toll on the landmark. The aging roof started leaking, compromising the structure, and the last remaining tenants left. Without heat inside, the deterioration accelerated. Eventually, the roof and walls collapsed. The company store was largely beyond saving.

We believe the town had no choice but to ensure public safety, which is paramount. Had the remaining facade of the old company store still been standing when the powerful storm rolled through our region last weekend, it most certainly would have collapsed into the adjoining public streets. And someone — perhaps even a small child — could have been seriously hurt.

The town can still move forward with its revitalization plan without these historic landmarks. The loss is regrettable. But public safety must be first and foremost.

 

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