Tyler County Home Evokes Memories of Younger Days
A recent tour of the Tyler County Home revealed a touching past while rediscovering optimism for the future.
The County Home has been abandoned for years, so there is talk that it may be demolished because of potentially pricey repairs. The Tyler County Commission has not made any concrete plans about what to do with the property. In October, commissioners approved a motion that allows preservationists more time to formulate a plan and locate funding resources.
Tonya Wade stayed at the county home in the 1990s when her sister, Teresa, and Kevin Hadley, who was then her sister’s husband, were the caretakers.
“When I had the chance to go inside the house (last week) after all of those years I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Wade said. “I swear to God, as silly as it sounds, when I saw how bad a shape it is in it was honestly like looking at an old, sick friend slowly dying. That is not the same house I stayed in.”
Like a centurion returning to Rome years later to see the Coliseum is in ruins and the Forum is a shadow of itself, Wade was shocked by the deteriorating image of where she spent many hours in her youth.
“That house deserves better than that,” she said. “I remember coming home and I couldn’t even sleep that night because I couldn’t get the images of it out of my mind. I literally stayed up all night thinking about it. I never forgot every twist or turn or stairway of that house. I kept it tucked safe in my mind as well as my heart. I hope they can save it. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than when I was in that house. I swear there is just something about it that makes you fall in love with it.”
The tour revealed an aging building where neglect and vandalism has taken its toll. A YouTube video posted on Wade’s Facebook page shows peeling paint, damage to the plaster ceilings and walls. The structure’s roof and eaves need repairs. Toward this end, the Tyler County Restoration Committee has begun gathering cost estimates and making plans to possibly repair the place.
Peggy George, a member of the committee, received an estimate from Kalkreuth Roofing of Wheeling that indicates that roof repairs would cost between $110,000 and $150,000 depending on the extent of the slate that needs to be replaced.
That figure does not include the wooden eaves, which are in serious disrepair.
She hopes the group can secure grants and more needed to pay for necessary repairs.
“The damages are not going to be fixed overnight cause it has been going on for 40 plus years, that no repairs have been done,” she said. “A lot of the repairs are superficial such as scraping paint, restoring plaster, sanding and varnishing floors. After this, there will be amazing an difference. Several men I have spoken to have had wonderful ideas of how to accomplish some of the work to get done, such as the broken spindles, which it is a travesty to have let vandals come in to destroy. I can’t help but be angry about this because a caretaker should have be appointed to be there at all times. This has doubled our work load, but it’s still fixable. Let’s just hope that the future generation cares for the building better than what this last generation has.”
Memories are a powerful thing that can shape lives past and present. Wade, now 39 and living within walking distance of the home nearby in Middlebourne, spoke of a magical place where she grew up.
She recalled small parties where lives were created and dreams planned.
“Sometimes we would bring junk food with us but we never hurt anything,” she said. “We always cleaned up after ourselves and never did any kind of harm and left everything as it was when we left. Me and my friends would sit up and there and talk about everything in life. Our dreams, boys, what what wanted to do with our lives after graduation. I guess it sounds silly but it was so wonderful up there, so special. It was like our own private world up there. It’s been 24 years since then but I can still remember so much about that place. The rooms, the stairways. I can even remember the way it smelled. Like an an old , sweet musty kind of smell. It was so comforting.”
And just like that, Wade’s mind pour forth memories from 1992 of times spent on the second floor a special time and place.
“The second level was completely empty,” she said. “Really, nobody was supposed to be up there but I begged her to let me take a peek at it and when I did, I fell in love with it. I remember bothering her all of time asking her if she would let me sleep up there sometimes. I think I drove her about bananas ha ha.. Finally she gave in and said yes. I remember that I spent a great deal of my summer sleeping up there. I would always bring a friend with me. We would take sleeping bags and lay on the floor.”
Wade spoke of days gone with the wind, when life was more simple.
“I remember going to sleep at night in my sleeping bag and in the middle of the night waking up and seeing the blue and silver colored moonlight streaming through the windows,” she said. “I remember how it sometimes made different kinds of shaped shadows on the wall that seemed to dance across the floors and ceilings.”
The moonlight conjured up a memory of a hawk’s struggle to find a way home.
“I remember one morning when I woke up there was a hawk that must have flown in one of the windows and was trapped,” Wade said. “It was so scared that it couldn’t find it’s way back out and I was scared it was going to hurt itself or die. It took me forever to catch it but when I did, I let it out the window. I will never forget the sight of it spreading its wings and flying away. I watched it until it completely disappeared out of sight.”
Good times and bad always come to end only the mountains endure an eternity.
“I cried when my sister moved out of that house,” Wade said. “I remember not being able to watch her move so I didn’t. The day she left I didn’t watch her go. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it I guess. And I can’t watch what is happening to that place because I find it so hard to understand how the county let that place basically fall to the ground. I know that house has done and served so much for the town of Middlebourne and now I think it is time that Middlebourne gives back to it.”
Future at stake
Chris Hoke has asked the Tyler County Commission for assistance and guidance for saving this iconic structure. Hoke said the home has seen better days, but she believes it can still be a useful part of the community.
“Since 2009 when a small group of us were in the Tyler County Home cleaning it out, the structure has sustained more damage,” she said. “However, that said, I still believe the structure is solid, and with community help, this grand lady can be useful once again. As the saying goes, this structure is not empty, it is full of possibilities.”
Hoke said the structure can be refashioned into a bed and breakfast inn, maybe have a store, utilize rooms for the community college, perhaps display rooms for the quilt and flower shows or be used as rental space for meetings or weddings.
“The Tyler County Home can bring jobs and money into Tyler County in a good way,” she said. “With the help of all Tyler County citizens, with their money or labor, or both, the grand lady will be filled with laughter and activity once again.”