So much of the ongoing discussion about the future of the Alkire Mansion has concerned me that I really don't know where to begin.
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
So much of the ongoing discussion about the future of the Alkire Mansion has concerned me that I really don’t know where to begin.
I have always lamented the demotion of beautiful old buildings - whether they are “officially” historic or not. So many times in my travels to various towns and cities I see beautiful old buildings that have been repurposed into something for the community to enjoy and I find myself wondering: Why can’t we do that?
Thanks to the Mineral County Historical Foundation, they are “doing that” with the Carskadon Mansion and Traveler’s Rest. Progress in any historic restoration or renovation is always slow because the funding mechanism moves slowly, but the Foundation is getting it done and has come a long way from where these two structures started.
Foundation members have been steadfast in their dedication to the restoration of these pieces of local history, and are continuing to work on both. In both cases, they have reached the point to where the buildings are usable at least in part to the community.
Another example of what people dedicated to preserving history can do is found at Ashby’s Fort, which the Friends of Ashby’s Fort have turned into a wonderful place to learn about our heritage.
There are, of course, other examples throughout the county, but I want to focus my comments today on the Alkire Mansion and the controversy that has surrounded it.
I have covered the Keyser City Council, which owns the mansion and Mill Meadow Park around it, for quite a few years, and the mansion has come up for discussion many times.
Each time, however, they first discussed whether they could afford to or even wanted to keep it, and then made a decision. The public, thanks to coverage in their hometown newspaper, was made aware of what was being considered and had a chance to voice their opinions.
Once the city leased the mansion for something like $1 a year to a gentleman who wanted to put an addictions recovery center there. Unfortunately, that gentleman fell ill and was unable to fulfill his dream.
But the entire process was thoroughly discussed and covered in the paper.
Once it was discussed as a possible training for local firefighters (i.e: burn it down and they will use the fire to gain firefighting experience) and yes, a previous council talked about tearing it down.
Each time, concerned citizens were able to read about the open discussion in the paper and attend council meetings to share their thoughts.
When Leon Ravenscroft approached the immediate past administration with the idea of fixing it up to the point where the city could rent it out for social events, the officials at the time were initially reluctant to put money into it but nevertheless voted to set aside some money to help Mr. Ravenscroft and the Historical Foundation with their plan. The money they pledged was $18,600 - which had been the estimate they’d received to tear it down.
Giving Mr. Ravenscroft and the Historical Foundation that $18,000 seemed like a win-win situation. After all, the plan would benefit the city through rental fees for the building once it was finished.
Leon, his brother Norm, and many volunteers put a lot of time and their own money into renovating the mansion, and according to some of the photos Leon has shared with me, the main floor ballroom and other areas inside are beautiful.
In Leon’s words approximately two weeks ago: “It’s about a week away from letting people use it.”
The current administration, however, apparently does not share his vision of holding social events, meetings, small reunions, and more inside the mansion.
In fact, the comment was made when they began talking about whether to keep it or sell it that “we’re not getting anything out of it.”
Without any public discussion about selling the property, the current city officials entered into negotiations to sell the mansion, and possibly a large chunk of the park around it, to a business which would bring a service and a few jobs to the area.
Again, in reference to Mill Meadow Park, the comment was made that “it’s doing nothing for us except costing us money.”
And while I would be the first one to agree that we need jobs in the area, I also wish to make a point that any decision to approach a business or agency about selling city property should have been made in open session prior to the negotiations.
But the public has made it clear to previous administrations that they don’t think the Alkire Mansion should be demolished, so I’m sure the current administration was trying to avoid such a roadblock to their plans to get rid of the property.
At the same meeting where the officials said neither the mansion nor the park were benefitting the city, mayor Damon Tillman said of the mansion: “The building really needs to be knocked down.”
That comment drew the ire of many area residents, and the mayor at one point after that denied that he said anything about tearing it down.
During this week’s council meeting, as I was videotaping the discussion for our website, he looked right at the camera and said, “The building’s not, it’s NOT, going to be torn down by the city.”
At the last meeting, however, Mayor Tillman admitted to Frank Roleff and Leon Ravenscroft of the Historical Foundation that he had said it needed knocked down, but only after seeing a picture of the mansion in “the paper.”
The photo he was referring to was actually printed in the out-of-state newspaper, not the News Tribune, and was an old photo taken prior to the recent work done at the mansion to restore the front porches and windows.
The photo that ran in this paper was a recent one taken by myself after the discussion came up about the future of the mansion. It clearly shows the improvements made to the facade of the building.
As for the notion that neither the Alkire Mansion nor Mill Meadow are doing anything for the city, I find this kind of ironic coming from a mayor and council who ran for office on the idea of providing more activities for children and families of the city … including keeping the pool open even though it costs the city money.
There are many people who use Mill Meadow for photo sessions, hikes, or just a chance to get out with your family or dogs.
If the city officials feel they are getting nothing out of the Alkire Mansion, however, then they should turn it over to the Historical Foundation and let them finish the renovations and turn it into something the public can enjoy.
And they also need to keep Mill Meadow as the quiet, quaint park that it is … again something the public can (and does) enjoy.
Liz Beavers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.