I have always loved old buildings. As a child, I thought the old Clay County Courthouse was the closest thing to a castle I’d ever seen. It was perched on the hill overlooking town like a golden sentry. After school, I’d go there to visit my grandmother Ella Braley, who worked for the county clerk, and I’d busy myself in the stacks of deeds and genealogy records. The heavy and dusty oversized books, the polished black and white checkered floors, the painted wooden banisters, and the thick doors that creaked open with authority were the catalyst of many stories I fabricated as I sat at a vacant desk with a typewriter. Someone along the way had told me the story of how locals tried to lynch the defendants of the Booger Hole trial at the courthouse in 1917. I vividly recall spending days pecking at the typewriter as if I were a tweed-wearing muckraker.
Historic buildings are not just the caretakers of our heritage; they are also essential to our state’s economic vitality. Heritage tourism is a billion-dollar industry. In West Virginia alone, $192 million in economic impact was generated from construction projects supported by the state’s historic incentive programs, according to The Economic Impact of Historic Rehabilitation in West Virginia, released by West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics in 2015. Every dollar spent by the state in tax incentives or grants supported $11.45 of economic activity in the state economy.