Should it stay or should it go?

Development Authority seeks input on Latham House

BUCKHANNON — Have an idea for what to do with the Latham House?

The Upshur County Development Authority is taking over control of one of Buckhannon’s historic properties — the George R. Latham House — and is inviting feedback from the public about the structure’s fate.

UCDA executive director Rob Hinton said Thursday the development authority has owned the Latham House, located at 11 Madison St., for years, but has been leasing the house — named for George Robert Latham, a captain and colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War who once lived there — to Create Buckhannon.

Latham also served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1865-1867.

“We’ve always owned it, but we kind of leased it to Create Buckhannon, so Create Buckhannon is going to exit the lease,” Hinton said.

Years ago, Create Buckhannon wrote a proposal to restore the exterior and make improvements to the interior so the structure could be used to house the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce, W.Va. Strawberry Festival Association headquarters and other community organizations.

Restoring the Latham House was part and parcel of a plan to revitalize what Create Buckhannon executive director and city councilman CJ Rylands has referred to as the “Spring Street corridor in the heart of Buckhannon.”

Rylands on Friday said he was “absolutely” disappointed that Create Buckhannon’s plans hadn’t come to fruition.

“Lots of people put their time and energy into this but just couldn’t find a way forward,” he said. “We originally thought of it as a home for the chamber, the CVB (Upshur County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the development authority, but they have found other homes, so those lease holders or developers weren’t on the table.”

The chamber and CVB rent a location on Main Street owned by Rylands, while the UCDA plans to move into the new business center being built on the corner of Main and Spring streets.

The Latham House’s location in the floodplain was the crux of the issue, Rylands said.

“The floodplain issue was the big gorilla in the room,” he said. “The finished floor is located 38 inches under the 100-year floodplain. It became cost-prohibitive with what you could do and what you couldn’t do. It was costing Create Buckhannon about $12,000 a year between the mortgage and flood insurance. We had spent a lot of money trying to fix it up in materials and in labor.”

Rylands says he’s disappointed Create Buckhannon wasn’t able to find a way forward because he thinks it would have been powerful to link the town to the Civil War.

“I would love to have that tell our story and connect us to the Civil War and pre-Civil War era,” Rylands said.

Hinton said while the UCDA is prepared to take “full control” of the Latham House, what will become of it is still up in the air.

“I’m not sure exactly what we’re going to do with the property,” Hinton said. “We’d love feedback about what people would like to see done with it. I know there are some people who would like to see it saved, and some people would like to see the building torn down. Something’s got to be done with it.”

As for the financial arrangement, the UCDA will take over the loan.

“We’re going to contribute $5,000 a year to Create (Buckhannon) for the next five years and help Create out,” Hinton said. “Create Buckhannon found themselves in a spot where they had made an investment and couldn’t really go any further with it, so we are stepping in and helping them out, so we can let them focus on the thing they do best, which is community development.”

To share your thoughts relative to the Latham House, contact the development authority by calling 304-472-1757.

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