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by Deanna Wrenn
(Sunday, July 5) A town recognized for its covered bridge has something new to brag about.
Philippi recently won the Main Street West Virginia Award for Restoration in the small town category for the town's Williams Building.
"It's a great example of the county and the city working together to make positive things happen," said Philippi City Manager Joe Mattaliano.
The Williams Building, founded in 1911, originally housed a bank. Over the years, a Masonic Lodge, offices and even a barber shop have been located in the four floors of the building. The building was abandoned more than 20 years ago and quickly fell into disrepair, local leaders said.
"You could hardly walk up the stairs," Philippi Assistant City Manager Karen Weaver said. "Now we have restored the stairs, and we even have an elevator."
Making the building a more modern facility was not the only goal of the city employees. Historical preservation was also an important factor.
"Anything that could be saved was," Weaver said.
"We used a lot of the original wood and we kept the unusual curved windows on the rounded corners of the building. We wanted to use everything we could," said Tammy Stemple, director of Philippi's Main Street program.
The rehabilitation project began in 1994 when the City of Philippi and the Main Street program decided they wanted to keep the historic building instead of tearing it down. The decision was part of the city's comprehensive plan. "We were the first town in central West Virginia to do visioning. One of our goals was that we wanted to save the building," Mattaliano said. "So city council opted to buy the building."
The city received a Small Cities Block Grant through the Main Street program for more than $300,000.
"The Philippi project was ideal for us," said Monica Miller, the director of Main Street West Virginia. "Our program is dedicated to economic development based on historic conservation. That's just what they wanted to do in Philippi, make a usable space out of a historic building."
The Williams Building is now used as the home of the Barbour County Senior Center, as well as the county magistrate's office.
"In our old place, every couple of years we flooded. We love it in this building," said Brenda Wilmoth, director of the senior center.
This new location has provided the center with many things it didn't have before: a lot of office space, a new, modern kitchen, a conference center and a dining room. The center uses the kitchen and dining areas to serve reduced-price meals to more than 100 senior citizens.
"This has really helped the community," Mattaliano said. "We've gotten the seniors out of the flood area. We have such a great senior citizen program Ñ this gives them more income, and they will eventually become the owners of the building."
Helping the community is one of the goals of the Main Street program, Miller said.
"When a town wins an award like this," Miller said, "it is good reinforcement for a lot of hard work."
Although the Main Street program supplies technical assistance for designs, networking and special topics, each individual community does the actual work. "We're here for the towns," Miller said, "but they do the work."
The program, founded 10 years ago, divides West Virginia cities into the small town and large town categories. Each category currently has eight towns in it, and the program plans to announce another town in the near future.
Miller and other Main Street officials said they were very impressed with Philippi's work.
"Philippi has done a fantastic job," she said.