Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 14, 2012

Pocahontas Company Store demolition sparks heated emotions

POCAHONTAS, Va. — Another symbol of the storied past of Pocahontas fell into a heap early Wednesday morning, touching off a battle between one of the community’s most ardent proponents of historic preservation and a town council eager to promote future development and protect the public.

“I’m angry about this,” Thomas B. Childress, treasurer and chairman of grants & properties of Historic Pocahontas Inc., said. “I was serving as the election officer for the primary election (Tuesday night) and I came over here to the Historic Pocahontas office before I went home and saw the crew arrive to tear down the front of the old Pocahontas Fuel Company Store.

“We have three agreements with the town,” Childress said. “I met with the mayor and vice mayor and said I had an appointment with John Shott (of the H.I. Shott Jr. Foundation) to talk with him about funding for the project. Now it’s down, laying on the ground. We had a pile of good lumber there that we could have used.”

Childress said that Vernon Presley was going to file an injunction on Historic Pocahontas’ behalf in Tazewell County circuit court seeking to block the town of Pocahontas from proceeding with its Downtown Revitalization Plan. Childress contends that the town did not follow through on recommendations made by Julie V. Langan, director of Resource Services and Review of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Childress claims that in a letter dated May 14, the DHR asked for several components to be completed before razing the store front.

Although Childress claims the requirements weren’t met, Pocahontas Mayor Jonathan Gibson said that events of this week called for the town to take immediate steps to prevent the building from falling when people were present.

“During the last two days, the top of the building started swaying,” Gibson said, adding that there hasn’t been much wind in the area. “We asked the architects with Hill Studios and some building inspectors from Bluefield, Va., to come and take a look at it, and the consensus was that the front of the building represented an immediate danger to the public and public safety supersedes everything in a matter like this.”

The building served as a store for more than 100 years, but the past 30 years have been difficult. The aging roof started leaking, compromising the structure and eventually, the last remaining tenants left and without heat inside, the deterioration accelerated. Eventually, the roof and walls collapsed, but Childress and other volunteers shored up the front of the structure and it remained that way until a little after midnight Wednesday morning.

“After we determined that it had to be done as a matter of public safety, we contacted the sheriff’s office and they recommended that we do the work after 11:30 p.m., Tuesday night at a time when a deputy could close off the street so nobody would get hurt,” Gibson said.

“The town is 100 percent behind the Downtown Revitalization Project,” Gibson said. “With the Spearhead Trail System coming here next year, we have to take steps to get ready for it. The work on saving the metal-front buildings Centre Street is coming along, and we have made repairs to the Exhibition Mine to get it ready for the season. This was just a matter of public safety.”

Childress said that he hopes to pursue a civil complaint against the town for breach of contract. “We’re going to tell everyone in the world,” Childress said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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