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Blue Sulphur Springs site on endangered list

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Greek Revival pavilion covering a mineral spring that drew thousands of visitors to a remote corner of Greenbrier County in the 19th century and a church that nourished Wheeling's abolitionist movement in the 1860s are among five historic sites named to the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia's Endangered Properties List for 2013.

The other properties making this year's list are a Pendleton County farm settled by German immigrants in 1799; a 28-room, ballroom-equipped Shinnston mansion built in 1921; and a Sears, Roebuck and Co. mail-order kit home built in Lewisburg in 1924.

Each year, the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia identifies noteworthy historic properties within the state that are threatened by neglect, demolition, structural deficiencies or inappropriate development. Sites that make PAWV's Endangered Properties List receive special preservation and advocacy assistance to help local supporters save and reuse historically significant buildings for heritage tourism, educational purposes and economic development.

The 2013 Endangered Properties List was announced Wednesday during a presentation at the state Capitol.

The endangered mineral spring pavilion was once the centerpiece of Blue Sulphur Springs, a resort that opened in 1834 in a scenic valley nine miles north of Alderson. It is the only structure that remains from the three-story, 200-guest resort hotel built by developer George Washington Buster.

The resort's pre-Civil War guests included Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, Robert E. Lee, Henry Clay and Jerome Bonaparte, brother of France's Napoleon I.

The spa's staff physician, Dr. Alexis Martin, a former surgeon in Napoleon's army, believed the iridescent blue water produced by the spring cured hepatitis and ulcers and calmed frazzled nerves. It was at Blue Sulphur that Martin administered the nation's first therapeutic mud baths, also said to have curative properties.

In the late 1850s, facing intense competition from The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, the resort was sold to a Virginia Baptist organization and became Allegheny College, a seminary for Baptist ministers. In 1860, fire swept through the former hotel, which was partially rebuilt just in time for Civil War hostilities to break out. The former resort was used as an encampment and hospital by troops from both sides, but Union soldiers burned all but the spring pavilion to the ground in 1864.

"Without repairs, this thing is going to come down," said Alex McLaughlin, a member of Friends of the Blue, a preservation group working with the Greenbrier Historical Society and Greenbrier Historic Landmarks Commission to save the pavilion.

The pavilion consists of five-foot-wide marble slabs supported by 12 Doric columns sheltering a 32-foot-square mineral spring basin. Now surrounded by a cattle pasture, it can be seen from a paved secondary road that passes near the site of the resort.

Other sites on this year's Endangered Properties List are:

* Second Presbyterian Church in Wheeling's Center Market Square Historic District.

Built in 1850, the church soon became a gathering point for abolitionists in the Wheeling area. Its pastor, the Rev. Richard Dodge, who came to Wheeling from Springfield, Ill., was a personal friend of President Abraham Lincoln.

In 2011, shortly after a private foundation bought the church, a portion of its roof collapsed because of a truss failure.

"We plan to repair the church and reopen it for plays, educational events and for use as an urban astronomical observatory," said Richard Pollack of the Near Earth Object Foundation, which owns the historic building.

Pollack said a grant from NASA's West Virginia Space Grant Consortium would assist the foundation in conducting solar astronomy and in observing and monitoring near-Earth objects like passing asteroids and comets.

* The Ananias Pitsenbarger Farm near Franklin, Pendleton County.

Settled in 1799 by a German American family, the farm includes 23 log-and-frame structures hand-built from local materials. Until the last of the family members died in the 1970s, horses powered all machinery used on the farm, according to current owner Jeff Munn.

Munn said he would like to restore the buildings, most of which have not been maintained for more than 40 years, and use the farm to promote heritage tourism, including living history exhibits and a bed and breakfast inn showcasing 19th century farm life.

* The Abruzzino Mansion in Shinnston, Harrison County.

Built in 1921 for Frank Abruzzino, an Italian immigrant who initially worked in the mines and went on to operate a bakery and start a soft drink bottling company, the mansion is perched on a hilltop overlooking Shinnston.

A new owner converted the building into apartments during the 1960s, but maintained much of the mansion's historic layout and many of its unique features. The mansion's current owners, who live in the state of Washington, had begun restoring the structure when a fire broke out, damaging one wing and a portion of the roof.

"It's still very restorable," said PAWV field representative Lynn Stasick. With PAWV's assistance, the mansion's owners have received estimates for roof repairs, and have had power restored to control interior humidity and prevent mold growth.

"The owners intend to donate the mansion for use as an educational property," Stasick said.

* "Westly," a Sears kit home adjacent to the Greenbrier County Courthouse in downtown Lewisburg.

Built in 1924 by a Lewisburg man who assembled its 10,000 labeled and pre-cut components, the mail-order home has been vacant for several years, and has begun to deteriorate following decades of use as a WVU Extension Service office. The Lewisburg Historic Landmarks Commission and Lewisburg Preservation Alliance want to restore the site to showcase the significance of such kit homes, and find a buyer to preserve and reuse the building.

To be nominated to PAWV's Endangered Properties List, buildings must be listed, or eligible for listing, on the National Register of Historic Places, and have a preservation emergency and local support for a reuse project.

Among buildings once on the Endangered Properties List now being successfully reused are Charleston's Quarrier Diner; the former Clendenin Middle School building, now Riverview at Clendenin, a residential complex for seniors; and the old Greenbrier County Library in Lewisburg, now the library for New River Community and Technical College.

For information on PAWV and its Endangered Properties List, go to http://www.pawv.org.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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