FROM THE EDITOR'S DESK: One gets new life; one is lost to the elements

Liz Beavers
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Liz Beavers

I recently had the opportunity to spend one of these gorgeous sunny spring days we’ve been having lately working on stories about two of Mineral County’s iconic but very underutilized sites.

For our readers, my on-site visits turned into two good feature stories bringing them up to date on what’s been happening at these sites, and hopefully what’s about to happen.

For me personally, it was a time to celebrate a definite win for the county, in that an historic log cabin slated to be torn down six years ago may now see new life, but it was also a bittersweet time to bid farewell to a place where many of us have spent a lot of enjoyable summer evenings being entertained by some of the best in community theater productions.

As you may remember, the Nancy Hanks cabin, which is not actually her cabin but one that was placed on the site near Antioch where she is believed to have been born, was going to be torn down in 2015 by the Nancy Hanks Farm Homeowners Association.

They did not want the liability or the inconvenience of having people visit the site to soak up the history of the woman who gave us our 16th U.S. President. 

We broke the story, and brought to light a rift among the property owners – some of whom agreed with the decision to destroy the cabin and some who believed to do so would be a travesty.

As a result, I became one of the most hated people in the minds of several of the HOA board members, but ultimately, the campaign to get rid of the cabin was dropped and the historic structure was left alone.

Until earlier this year, that is, when the new president of the HOA reached out to say not only were they wanting to have an open house at the cabin, but they also want to repair it and keep it as the iconic piece of Mineral County history that it should be.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the cabin last week, and had a great conversation with the HOA president, Jacqueline Bogart, and fellow subdivision resident Tim Miller.

I have high hopes for the cabin, but make no mistake – it will take a lot more people than just these two to make this plan a reality.

Jackie has called a meeting for Saturday, June 5, at 10:30 a.m. at the Nancy Hanks Community Building, and invites anyone with any ideas or an inclination to help ensure the future of the property to attend.

I certainly intend to keep you posted on the proceedings.

My visit that same day to Larenim Park to see the amphitheater, however, was not so pleasant.

My disappointment had nothing at all to do with the conversation with Parks and Rec director Kevin Simon, but rather with the sheer shock of how the 37-year-old theater has deteriorated and fallen apart over the years.

Obviously, a wooden structure that sits out in the elements, enduring the extreme hot summers and cold winters that Mother Nature likes to dish out in these West Virginia mountains, will naturally break down over time.

The deterioration of this great rustic old theater, however, was definitely hastened in recent years by neglect.

Now, as you read in our front page story today, over the years both the county’s Parks and Rec Department and Apple Alley Players, who raised money to build the theater at the county-owned park back in the early 1980s,  took on various repair projects, including replacing the rotting floor in the backstage and wing areas, building out the front of the stage and replacing it with Trex planks, and installing concrete to make a more stable seating area for the audience.

It wasn’t perfect, but both entities at least tried to keep it safe and presentable so theater supporters – both local and out-of-towners – could enjoy an evening’s entertainment under the stars.

I personally have spent many evenings there and have many fond memories of the shows and the people who brought them to life. I was there in 1984 for opening night of the very first show - “McNeill’s Rangers,” and I was there for opening night of the very last show - “The Wedding Singer.”

When that last show was presented there in 2017, however, the theater was rapidly getting worse and rather than work together to come up with a plan for the amphitheater’s future, everybody seems to have just walked away.

Of course, funding seems to have been the main issue, with neither the county nor Apple Alley having the money to pay for the expensive repair work.

Now, it has deteriorated so much that it can no longer be repaired; it must be torn down to eliminate not only a big eye sore for this lovely park that the Parks and Rec Department is trying to build back up, but also to eliminate a huge liability for the county.

Believe me, when I walked around the theater that morning (and I walked all the way around it), I walked gingerly …. thinking any moment I could fall through the floor.

Both Kevin Simon and Mineral County Commissioner Richard Lechliter have said the county hopes to rebuild the amphitheater, but who knows when, if or how the money will become available.

And so one iconic Mineral County structure hopefully is getting a new life, but another will soon disappear.

Let’s hope not forever.

Liz Beavers is managing editor of the Mineral Daily News Tribune and can be reached at lbeavers@newstribune.info. Full disclosure: She also serves as a member of the Apple Alley board of directors.