Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 28, 2013

Demolition begins on Judge Johnston House

By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Sunlight spilled into an historic home’s interior Tuesday when workers salvaging woodwork removed the front entrance. What is left of the structure will be demolished.

The Judge David E. Johnston House on West Main Street was spared destruction earlier this year when Mercer County Circuit Court Judge William Sadler granted a 30-day stay of demolition order. The city of Princeton had condemned the structure.

Members of the Mercer County Historic Society had hoped to purchase the home. The owner, Betty Cutlip, and the historic society had negotiated about selling the house, but there was no sale.

 City Manager Elke Doom was visiting the house Tuesday afternoon when she confirmed that it would be torn down. She watched as molding, stair rails and other parts were removed, then looked at a door held together by wooden pegs.

“It is coming down,” Doom said. “The demolition permit was pulled today. They are saving as much of it as they can.”

The house has an extensive background, said Lois Miller, a fundraising coordinator with the historical society. Judge David Johnston, who owned the home, had published one of the best books about Mercer County’s history. Part of the house has survived the Confederate burning of Princeton during the Civil War, and a small building on the property served as the town’s first post office.

There were also times when the house held the local bank’s money, Miller said. Sometimes bank managers took home as much as $25,000 in gold coins for safekeeping. In fact, one story about the house involves the bank robbers Frank and Jesse James.

One or both of the outlaws might have visited Princeton with plans to strike at the Bank of Princeton, but decided against it because a Confederate veteran either ran the bank or worked there. Both the James brothers had fought for the Confederacy, and did not like the idea of robbing a fellow veteran, according to accounts at the historical society.

“There was so much history there, we couldn’t write it all down in one newsletter,” Miller said.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com