I have had the privilege to work with a group called WeGROw (Winding Gulf Restoration Organization) while serving in the Winding Gulf coalfields of Western Raleigh County. The organization is a nonprofit 501(c) (3) that works to improve the quality of life for the residents of the communities of the Winding Gulf Region through improvement of the natural environment, protection of people and property, creation of education and recreational opportunities, preservation of cultural heritage of the area, tourism and economic development, and care of seniors and the disabled. They are based out of Helen, WV. In a short, six-week period I have seen this organization step up and save an important historic structure.
The Helen Boarding House has been an eyesore to the members of the community for years after falling into disrepair. It was being processed through the Abandoned and Dilapidated Properties Program. The eight-apartment structure has been stripped of copper pipes; the windows busted and anything of value has literally been torn from the building. Lynn Stasick completed a building needs assessment and concluded that the building is architecturally intact and savable. A Historic Property Inventory Form has been completed and The Boarding House is a potential candidate to be put on the National Register of Historic Buildings. WeGROw recognized the buildings potential and stepped up to save it.
The Boarding House had been auctioned off earlier in the year to a third party because of back taxes owed on the property. If the taxes and fees were not paid by the current property owner by March of 2015 then the third party would take over ownership of the property. WeGROw’s President Tracy Lewis, with support from her board, stepped into action and got in contact with the current property owner. They worked out an agreement to allow WeGROw to pay the $2000 required to take over ownership of the property. With the support of Raleigh County’s Extension Agent David Rotenizer, WeGROw asked The Raleigh County Commission for a $3000 grant to cover the cost and to secure the building and was approved.
WeGROw is currently exploring funding options to help cover the costs to protect it from further damage and do much needed repairs. With the aid of The AmeriCorps we hope to organize a volunteer clean-up day at The Boarding House to get rid of the garbage that has piled up over the years. The building will be mothballed to prevent mold and mildew from forming and keep vandals out. The roof will need replacement and the windows will need to be repaired. A wooden window restoration workshop will be scheduled to save and restore the original windows that are left. The porches need stabilization as well.
Once the repairs are done WeGROw can decided how they want to use the building. Some uses that have been proposed are to make it the new office space for WeGROw, turning it into a convenience store; which would not only benefit Helen but also the neighboring communities of Amigo and Rhodell. It could also be used as a vacation rental for people hunting and fishing in the area. It absolutely has the potential to do all three of these proposed functions.