County loses ‘jewel’ to fire

By Alex Bridges

MAURERTOWN — Shenandoah County lost “a jewel” Sunday when a fire destroyed its historic Alms House at the County Farm.

Barbara Adamson, president of the board of the Shenandoah County Historical Society Inc., stood by the County Farm Road structure as it continued to burn that afternoon.

“It’s very, very sad,” Adamson said. “This is such a county landmark and treasure.”

The building that provided shelter for area homeless people had retained much of its original, historic appearance over the years, Adamson said.

“For those of us who really love that kind of thing, it was a jewel,” Adamson said.

Adamson had been at the scene earlier that morning but returned to see how far the fire had progress. She pointed out that when she had returned, half of the front wall of the main building had collapsed and the metal roof on the north end had fallen into the structure.

“There are a lot of reasons why old, historic buildings disappear and this is one of the reasons,” Adamson said.

The Alms House, sometimes referred to as a poor house, had been constructed on a 200-acre farm previously owned and used by Peter Muhlenberg, pastor of Beckford Parish, and his family. The Glebe Farm became an institution for the benefit of the poor, according to Adamson. The property was deeded to Shenandoah County in 1798 and a different building on the site was used as a poor house.

The Alms House was built in 1829 for the purpose of providing a home for needy people, according to information from Adamson. A kitchen wing on the west side and a two-story extension on the south end were built around 1850. Other buildings on the property possibly date back to the 18th century, according to Adamson. A large barn was built on the property in 1952.

“Changes were made but it was still a basically beautiful … building,” Adamson said.

Approximately 40 acres of the entire farm is now part of the county park. The county also leases part of the farm for agricultural purposes.

The Shenandoah County Alliance for Shelter has used the southern addition for emergency or transitional housing for area homeless people. Structural problems in the central portion and a collapsed wall in the kitchen wing limited the agency to what parts of the building could be used.

The Alms House had been one of the last remaining structures built strictly for the purpose of housing the area’s needy people and was still in operation.

By the late 1980s only a few elderly residents lived in the Alms House. The Alliance for Shelter took over the Alms House to provide shelter for homeless families and with a goal of making them self-sufficient.

The Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors last week approved an agreement with the Alliance for Shelter and People Inc. for the rehabilitation and renovation of the building. The agreement outlined the responsibilities of all parties involved. Abingdon-based People Inc. would seek funding for the project.

County Administrator Mary Beth T. Price said Sunday afternoon that there may no longer be a need for the agreement and that the fate of any effort to rehabilitate the building remains unknown.

Edward Provost, treasurer and past president of the Alliance for Shelter, said the organization is helping the two people who were staying at the county farm.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com