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Historic Beckley feed store to be razed, replaced by a McDonald's

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Beckley building that is on the National Register of Historic Places will be demolished soon and replaced with a McDonald's.

The Beckley Feed and Hardware building was built in 1935 and added to the National Register in 2001, the first year it was eligible. The business closed in June, as the building was slated to be sold to Paramount Development Corp., a real estate developer with offices in Beckley, Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Richmond, Va.

"The business was doing fine, and it was a successful business," said Austin Caperton, who has owned Beckley Feed and Hardware since 1998, "but I'm 62 years old, and somebody offered some money and I decided to move on."

Being added to the National Register is largely an honorary designation.

"Its main goal is to bring about a better appreciation for historic properties," said Paul Lusignan, a historian with the National Register. "There is no requirement under federal law that those buildings be preserved or protected."

When a building is added to the National Register, which is administered by the National Park Service, its owners are able to access certain state and federal grants and tax credits. If they use any of these funds, then there are restrictions to changing the building. Caperton never did, so he, and Paramount, are free to change the property as they wish.

The Beckley Code Enforcement Department approved the demolition and site plans on Oct. 1.

To be placed on the National Register, a building or site must be "significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering or culture." Nationally, there are about 87,000 listings in the Register, all of which were approved by a state review board. There are 1,041 listings in West Virginia, eight of which are in Raleigh County.

Twenty-four historic places in West Virginia have been demolished since 1972, according to a database compiled by the state Division of Culture and History.

Those include buildings like the Pocahontas Fuel Company Store in McDowell County, the Morgan County Courthouse, Parkersburg City Hall and the West Virginia Colored Children's Home, near Huntington.

Like most of the buildings on the list, nationally and in West Virginia, Beckley Feed and Hardware has a fascinating history.

The following information comes from Beckley Feed and Hardware's application, written in 2000, to be on the National Register:

The company began in 1926, but moved to its current location, on Prince Street, in 1935. A new wing was added to the building in 1951. As the name implies, they sold hardware and farming supplies, but in an age before refrigeration, they also delivered ice to homes and businesses throughout the city.

The only ice supplier in Beckley, the company sent out horse-drawn wagons carrying blocks of ice that weighed 320 pounds. At each house, smaller blocks were cut and chipped off by hand and sold to customers.

The company continued delivering ice, at least in some capacity, until 1974.

In 1938, police had to be called to the store as "Free Chick Day" nearly caused a riot. The store promised free baby chickens (limit 25!) to anyone who came by.

"A mob of people surrounded the building that morning and crowded the doors such that they could barely be opened," the application states.

In 1946, the store held a competition called "Ike and Mike."

Purina wanted to prove that its feed would fatten a pig better than competing brands. So it held an eating contest, pitting two pigs against each other, one eating Purina feed and the other eating a competitor's feed.

The Purina pig won, and Beckley Feed and Hardware sold a record-setting 5.6 million pounds of Purina feed that year.

Robert Cannon, the chief code-enforcement officer for Beckley, said there are still some issues to be worked out, relating to nearby sidewalks and sewers, before demolition of the store can begin. He expects work to begin soon.

Jerime Dudding, the development manager for Paramount, would not comment on the company's plans. McIlvried, DiDiano and Mox, a Pittsburgh engineering and surveying firm that is working with Paramount, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Caperton has donated the building's sign, original blueprints and other documents to the Beckley Historic Landmarks Commission.

"The best use of any viable historic building is to repurpose it and reuse it for a new business," said Scott Worley, the chair of the Landmarks Commission. "I really have misgivings anytime a developer or any entity decides to tear down a historic structure ... . There's better purposes for that building. However, we have no say over the actions."

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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