Fallout shelters revisited

With North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s recent threats to launch nuclear weapons against the United States, some local residents have been reminded of the Cold War, and particularly the numerous fallout shelters officials established in our region more than 50 years ago.

Elkins City Councilman Carman Metheny can remember taking part in “duck and cover” drills as a schoolboy in the 1950s. During that same period, a fallout shelter was set up in the basement of the building that was then the Elkins Post Office, and now serves as Elkins City Hall.

“They used buildings with large basements,” Metheny said. “They set up shelters in several of the schools in Elkins, because they had cafeterias in the basements, where the furnace was as well.

“They kept canned goods down there. I can remember the canned water they stored,” he said.

Metheny took The Inter-Mountain on a tour of the basement of City Hall, where dozens of boxes of Civil Defense rations are still stacked.

“These boxes are mostly crackers or candy,” he said. The stack included 24-pound boxes of “Survival Ration Crackers,” and boxes containing sealed tins of hard candy, with portion bags packed inside.

City employee Brad Curtis recently discovered the Civil Defense boxes, many of which were stamped as being packed in 1964.

Metheny said the basement of the building featured a large shower room and a bathroom with stalls.

“I’m not sure how they would have set up the sleeping arrangements,” he said, though he thought cots would probably have been set up in several of the large rooms in the basement.

Metheny said the distinctive fallout shelter signs, in yellow and black, were posted by the lights at the front of the building, and he remembers them on either side of the front doors of the Randolph County Courthouse, as well.

The largest local fallout shelter arrangements Metheny can remember officials making were plans to use the limestone mine near Elkins in case of war.

“They planned to have people stay in the mine if bombs dropped,” he said. “They stocked it with food and tents. They had supplies in that mine for 60,000 people, supposedly.

“It was a time when people were really worried about bombs and war,” he said. “I hate to see us having to worry about that sort of thing again.”

One of the classic fallout shelter signs still hangs on the side of the current Philippi Public Library.

Librarian Judy Buckner Larry said she presumes the shelter was part of the building that was constructed in 1929. The site was de-commissioned as an official fallout shelter prior to her employment with the library.

“The basement of the library where the fallout shelter was housed contains an extremely thick barrier between the walls and under the floor of the library,” Larry said. “We found out how thick they were when the workers broke a bit trying to drill through the floor to install phone lines.”

Larry said at one time there were doors from the library into the basement shelter, probably while the building was still being used as the Philippi Post Office.

“During remodeling, the doors inside were removed,” Larry said. “Now there are double doors on the outside of the building into the basement area. They are similar to those you see in movies leading to a tornado shelter. These are on the outside of the building on the ramp, and they are too heavy for me to open.”

Larry said the old shelter received water damage during past floods.

Staff Writer Beth Christian Broschart also contributed to this article.