BY JOLYNN POWERS, AMERICORPS SERVICE MEMBER, BARBOUR COUNTY DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY AND WOODLANDS DEVELOPMENT GROUP
In the small town of Belington 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, which was built by the Shinn family, served the local community as a grocery store and later a department store. Seventy years later with the closure of several coal mines, decline of the population and the loss of jobs, the three-story building fell on hard times. 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 few water powered elevators left in North America, was listed as an endangered property by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia. It took another four years for things to change for the future of the Golden Rule.
As the name of the building implies, “Do on to others as you wish them to do unto you”, the Woodlands Development Group (WDG) of Elkins, West Virginia is taking on the challenge of bringing the structure back to use.
In March 2018, the building officially changed ownership and the slow work of rehabilitation began. Using a combination of historic tax credits, forgivable loans, and grant money, WDG’s intent is to convert the upper two floors into 10 apartment units, with retail space on the first floor.
Included in this plan is space for the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad ticket booth, a small museum space, and an artist market. Meanwhile, a former grist mill located on the property will house a community space with 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 the community with quality housing and new jobs within the main structure.
The first sign of progress that the community will see are the boards going into the window spaces in the upper levels of the building. The boards are painted with brightly colored images and inspirational sayings to help residents know that a change is happening. The other, less obvious change is the clean-up of the interior of the building. Loads of trash and recyclables have been left all throughout the building and must be removed before any serious construction can begin.
With some of the items that were left behind in the building, the partners hope to have a fundraiser for the rehabilitation of the building. The event will involve local community members who want to see a better future for the building, all donations will go towards the rehabilitation costs.
The hope is that the Golden Rule will once again be a center of activity and community life in downtown Belington. Its rehabilitation will add much needed quality housing and will be an economic driver for the area.