In the small town of Belington, West Virginia stands a 116 year old building that is reminiscent of West Virginia’s heyday of coal and the money it once brought to Barbour County. The Golden Rule building owned by the Shinn family was built to serve the local community as a grocery store and later a furniture store. 70 years later with the closer of several coal mines, decline of the population and the loss of jobs, the 3 story building fell on hard times just like the community where it stands. Left to decay and become an abandoned storage building the Golden Rule’s future was questionable. In 2014 the historic building, having one of the only water powered elevators in North America, was listed as an endangered property by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia. It took another 4 years for things to change for the future of the Golden Rule.
As the building name implies, The golden rule,“Do on to others as you wish them to do unto you” the Woodlands Development Group of Elkins, West Virginia is taking on the challenge of bringing the structure back from abandoned and returning it to usefulness. In March of 2018 the building officially changed ownership and the slow work of rehabilitation began. With use of historic tax credits, forgivable loans and grant money, the plan includes converting the upper two floors of the building to 10, one and two bedroom apartments with at retail space on the first floor. The ground-floor space will have the Durbin& Greenbrier Vally Railroad ticket booth, a small museum space and an artist market and coffee bar. The additional building on the property is planned to house a community space with a working kitchen and outdoor seating. Woodlands Development Group is working in partnership with the Belington Revitalization Committee and The Barbour County Development Authority to meet the needs of their community with quality housing and new jobs within the building itself.
The first stages of change that community will see are the boards going into the window spaces in the upper levels of the building. The boards will be painted with brightly colored images and inspirational sayings to help residents visualize that positive change is happening. The other less obvious change is the clean-up of the interior of the building. Loads of trash and recyclable items have been left all though the building and must be removed before any serious construction can begin.
With some of the items left behind the partners hope to have a fundraiser for the rehabilitation of the building. I have been asked to help create Golden Rule commemorative plate with an image of the building on some of the stoneware plates you see below. What was once trash will be sold in commemoration of the building and its return to usefulness.
As often is the case, the previous owners of the Golden Rule have just walked away, leaving some else to clean up the mess. It will take months of AmeriCorps service hours to clean, sort, recycle or reuse the buildings contents but in some way it is all a sign of positive change for everyone involved.
The project is expected to take around 3 to 4 years to complete with completion of the community building taking a little longer. Today I watched as AmeriCorps members removed the arched windows of the front of the building so that they could be repaired. It is just a small step towards the final goal of seeing this building being a vital part of the downtown of Belington, West Virginia once again.