Preservation Alliance of West Virginia has added the historic Helen Apartments in Helen, WV to the Buildings At Risk Register (B.A.R.R.) – a list featuring historic buildings in West Virginia facing any risk of being demolished including environmental, vandalism, and neglect. Since 2007 the Helen Apartments have been vacant and fallen into a state of disrepair. The apartments have been vandalized, the electrical copper has been stripped and other deterioration is visible. In October, the building was in danger of being demolished, but demolition was halted after a prioritized structural needs assessment generated community interest in rehabilitating the ex-coal community building.
The situation regarding the property first came to light during a historic resource survey undertaken in August as part of the Bridges to the Past educational outreach initiative – a partnership of the alliance and the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority. The Helen Apartments were one of the highlights during a tour of the Winding Gulf communities including Helen, Sophia, and Tams. The Winding Gulf Restoration Organization (WeGROw), a 501(c)3, took interest in saving the structure based on a structural narrative needs assessment developed by the alliance’s field services staff. This document details the current condition of structures, outlines building materials and their historic uses, and prioritizes steps needed to preserve and re-use structures. The former property owner agreed to let the building go to WeGRow, and the Raleigh County Commission was approached and agreed to grant WeGROw the funds to cover the costs associated with taking ownership.
Plans have been made to clean the apartment of all debris and mothball it. The purpose of mothballing the building is to secure it from weather and vandalism until it can be rehabilitated and put into a new use. The alliance led volunteers in fabricating plywood panels for the doors and windows. Volunteers will begin installing panels to secure the first floor. Additionally, they will clear the apartments and finish securing the entrances. The process for mothballing of the property is being documented on high definition video by the Fine Arts Department of Liberty High School, and still photography by Michael Burk, a former Preserve WV AmeriCorps member who is also a professional photographer. Various local and state organizations have gotten involved including The National Coal Heritage Area Authority, Raleigh County Commission, the Raleigh County Solid Waste Authority, The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, and The Raleigh County Office of West Virginia State University Extension Service. Lowe’s will be supplying the construction materials at cost.
The Preservation Alliance of West Virginia is a statewide grassroots organization supporting historic preservation in the mountain state. Since 1982, the nonprofit PAWV has been working to preserve West Virginia’s precious historical resources for the benefit of present and future generations. The alliance announced the Buildings At Risk Register in February in an effort to bring attention to at-risk historical resources that may be lost and efforts to save these special places. “The purpose of the register is to demonstrate that these places matter to West Virginians and there is interest in saving them. It will also be an educational tool about the preservation of historic properties all over the state,” explained Danielle LaPresta, executive director for the alliance. The register will serve as a watch list for individuals wanting to know the status of historical resources in West Virginia. Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis and are reviewed once a month by a committee comprised of members of the alliance’s board of directors and staff. The alliance will maintain close contact with persons submitting at risk site applications for advocacy purposes.
For a full list of sites on the register, visit https://preservationallliancewv.wordpress.com/b-a-r-r/sites-on-the-buildings-at-risk-register/.