Putnam desires separation from office
WINFIELD, W.Va. — Putnam Commissioners are considering cutting ties with the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office for renovations to the Hoge House near the county courthouse.
Lee Casto, vice chairman for the Hoge House committee, asked the commission to consider paying back $4,600 in grant money from the Division of Culture and History so that the project would be free from bureaucratic red tape that has held up the project.
"The Hoge House is in a very serious crisis back there, and we need to deal with it as soon as possible," Casto said.
The Hoge House is a pre-Civil War structure that was originally located on Winfield Road beside the courthouse but was moved back about 200 feet in 2004. It is now positioned on a spot up the hill beside the new 911 center at the edge of the woods.
It was the home of Judge James W. Hoge. According to Casto, Hoge played a vital role in the history of both Putnam County and West Virginia.
"The people of this area, which was part of Mason County, asked him to go to Richmond and help us become a county. He did," Casto said. "Then the War Between the States brewed, and he was asked to go to Richmond and vote against secession. He did. Then as the war was going on, the people of Putnam County asked him to go to Lewisburg to vote for statehood.
"This man was important to Putnam County. We need to preserve his home."
Last year, work began on an addition to the back of the house for a museum, but the plywood frame has been unclad and without a roof through the long winter, and as a result the back wall of the original structure has sustained plaster damage.
"We've been held up by Culture and History due to some misinformation," Casto said.
Because Hoge House has received some grant funding from the Historic Preservation Office, that office has to OK every aspect of the project, even parts it doesn't fund.
Casto said state funds were not used to build the addition, but the Historic Preservation Office ordered them to stop work until it could approve the project.
Namely, the office was concerned about the roof line of the addition, the position of the building and an allegation that electricity for the building was being "stolen" from a nearby county building, according to Casto.
"We met with them over a year ago and explained to them about the roof line on the extension and about how far the building is set back in and about us borrowing electric from the 911 center," Casto said. "We answered all of them, and they found that we've done it right."
But the real problem seems to be that the committee didn't notify the state office that they'd begun work on the addition.
Casto conceded that was a mistake, but insisted the committee had no choice.
"We were in another crisis because the outer wall where the extension is was leaning. We built the extension where it is to hold the wall."
Now the spot where the new roof for the extension connects to the old roof is leaking, and the old exterior wall that was already leaning has sustained significant water damage.
Casto asked the commission to approve cutting ties with the Historic Preservation Office so the committee could resume work on the structure quickly to save it.
"We have been a year dealing with these folks to get permission to put our roof on, to put the siding, to put the electric and to put the air conditioning," Casto said.
All three commissioners expressed tentative support for the move, but wanted to ensure that there would be no negative ramifications.
"My gut reaction is, I have complete disdain for that organization," Commissioner Joe Haynes said, "but I don't want to cut off our nose to spite our face."
Haynes has a rocky history with the Historic Preservation Office. He was involved in an effort years ago to repatriate more than 600 American Indian remains that were disinterred from a site in Buffalo and were, at the time, housed at Ohio State University.
Haynes said Putnam County tried to claim the remains to have them reburied near where they were disinterred, but the Historic Preservation Office stepped in and claimed them, only to send them to a museum in Moundsville.
Haynes is emphatic that the remains should be returned to Putnam County for burial.
"I mean, my God, these are human beings," Haynes said.
As for the Hoge House, Casto assured commissioners that the house would not lose its place on the National Register of Historic Places or its eligibility for other grant funding.
County Project Manager Dusty Hurley has served as a liaison with the office and handled the grant funds. She told commissioners that the grant was relatively small and required an equal local match, so if the Hoge House receives $4,000 in grant funds, it has to come up with $4,000 to match it.
"Being under SHPO guidelines requires us to get things approved in writing every time work has to be done on the Hoge House, and sometimes it can make things more expensive," she said.
She agreed that the process of getting plans approved had taken excessively long, though she said she expects approval to go ahead with work on the addition in April.
"It's a lot of hassle for a small organization like the Hoge House," Hurley said.
She also said she would be glad to continue working with the historic preservation office if commissioners decided not to cut ties, and said that the working relationship between the two groups has improved in recent months.
Commissioners agreed to make a decision at their next meeting, March 25.
The Putnam County Commission meets at 9 a.m. the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at the county courthouse in Winfield. All meetings are open to the public.