City talks history, growth

PHILIPPI – Officials representing three local agencies met last week to discuss ideas, goals and concepts for the future growth of Philippi and the preservation of its history.

Philippi City Council, the Philippi Planning Commission and the Philippi Historical Landmark Commission joined together Thursday with Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Susan M. Pierce, who shared her knowledge for the benefit of preserving the small city’s rich history.

“We are born with nothing, and we leave this world with nothing,” Philippi Mayor Jerry Mouser wrote in a statement presented to attendees, “so it is only important what we do here and what we leave behind for those who follow us. Over time, we will be forgotten and our names will disappear. What we do and what we did will not, unless we allow it.”

Mouser also wrote that he believes the collective meeting should work for a common purpose – to preserve the city’s history – but still promote and create economic growth within its borders. Mouser said that the views in his written statement were not necessarily the views of the agencies involved in the discussion.

“The main thing is, we’ve all come here for the good of Philippi,” Mouser said. “I believe that we can work together and have the three things that are my motto: pride, preservation and progress. I believe, if we work together, that we can have all three of those things.”

Philippi already has been working toward the goal of historic preservation by continually urging the state to repair and maintain the Philippi Covered Bridge, Mouser said. The historic bridge is widely accepted as a trademark of the small city, officials agreed.

“I believe we fall short in educating our folks to the importance of history and promoting our history and the history of Philippi to the economic gains of our city,” Mouser wrote in his prepared statement. “I’m aware of the reality that money is a handicap. In the defense of Philippi, we have not abandoned our history.”

Philippi has also installed new city street signs with a historic flair, and the municipality is currently installing new railroad barriers along the tracks on Railroad Street.

However, deteriorating buildings and a seeming lack of available space for new businesses calls to question whether or not some potentially historical buildings should still be preserved.

“Philippi, (like) many cities in West Virginia, is economically depressed,” Mouser wrote in his statement. “We must attract new business and retain those we have. Philippi must grow or die.

“Philippi has but limited space for the location of new businesses and industries. It is important that we fast-track prospective entrepreneurs and industrial prospects. However, we must not cast aside our historical preservation.” Mouser continued. “Our history and our historical site is a major part of what Philippi is and our main attraction.”

Pierce said some historical buildings that are significant to the city, but beyond repair, could be demolished and completely rebuilt. She used a 1991 fire that charred the Philippi Covered Bridge as an example, saying the bridge was so historically precious to the city that it was rebuilt. Pierce advised that the city focus on one structure at a time.

“You can take one building and figure out how you’re going to try and save that building,” Pierce said, “and then work on the next one and work on the next one.”

Pierce advised officials also to think about how the demolition of a historic building might impact the rest of the city. Mouser said that some citizens have mixed responses when it comes to deciding what to do about historical locations like the Philippi Grand Theater. He said that, in some cases, nearly the same number of citizens say they want a building taken down as those who say they would like it preserved.

“In terms of finding a balance, there can be ways where there is a medium, there’s a middle ground that can be reached,” Pierce said. “You don’t necessarily have to tear down, say for example, the Philippi Grand Theater. You can evaluate what alternative uses (there may be) – what you can have (there).”

The proposed Gateway Project is still a potential economic project for the city. It involves the creation of a welcome center and an enhanced view of the immediate area that emerges after crossing the historic bridge.

The proposal also incorporates a possible Civil War-themed mural. The proposed location includes a former gas station on Main Street and nearby Veterans Park. The project still needs funding.