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Renovation Project Sparks Community Group

By Staff | Jun 21, 2011

Martha Stewart Stowe needs some help in renovating this kitchen in her early 1900s home on Maple Avenue. The desire of friends to help has spurred the formation of a group called Save This Old Town that will help people restore old properties in New Martinsville. Now they are looking for people interested in contributing to the project. (Photo by Amy?Witschey)

What would Martha Stewart do without a proper kitchen? While we can’t speak for “the” Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart Stowe of New Martinsville keeps chipping away at making her historic home at 735 Maple Avenue more livable and beautiful while making do with the half-demolished kitchen on her main floor.

The problem is that the kitchen is the largest project remaining in this task the single, retired woman took on three years ago. She just doesn’t have the expertise or funds to have the essential room renovated.

Her financial footing was severely shaken before her project even began by having to pay for two residences for a year while still living in North Wales, Pa. “I put the cart before the horse,” said Stowe. “I didn’t mean to, it just worked out that way.” It happened that the house became available before she was ready to move and Stowe decided to take the leap and buy the home built in the early 1900s.

Stowe is the daughter of Leland and Jeanne Stewart. Having moved here while Stowe was in the first grade, she spent most of her childhood in New Martinsville. And for 35 years or more she came across the Pennsylvania Turnpike for her return visits. Now that trek has ended, but the task is not complete.

While Stowe has received some renovation help from friends throughout the process, now some friends want to help her out in a bigger, more defined way. Quillian Eubanks-Brogan, Stowe’s childhood neighbor and also a retiree who returned home to New Martinsville, admires Stowe for even taking on such a task of buying and renovating the former Jan’s Florist and Gifts. Brogan and Joe Ward began talking on Facebook about a movement to help Stowe and others who want to fix up and preserve some of New Martinsville but need a helping hand or two in the process.

Then New Martinsville Mayor Lucille Blum got involved. She thought it would be great if a group could be formed that would help people care for their aging properties, something that would in some way take the place of Habitat For Humanity, which was active in Wetzel and Tyler counties in the past.

Last week the four New Martinsville residents, eager to make a difference in the community they see falling into disrepair, met to discuss how to start such a group. They settled on naming the project Save This Old Town and defined its goal as respecting and maintaining local properties with an emphasis on heritage values. Special consideration would be given, they decided, to historical properties and properties needing assistance and repair. Like Habitat, the quartet envisions that recipients of the project’s help would in turn donate their time and effort on subsequent projects of Save This Old Town.

The organization is just in its gestational period, forming for the eventual birth into a network of volunteers, supplies, and recipients that can make a difference in New Martinsville. For now the four instigators of Save This Old Town are issuing an open invitation to those with skills in restoration or those just wanting to volunteer their time to help make a difference to contact Quillian Eubanks-Brogan on Facebook or call her at 304-398-4204. They want to gauge interest and eventual participation in the group.

Once some details are worked out, they foresee accepting donations of materials and finding a provided place to store those items. For instance, someone may have some excess sheets of dry wall or tiles left from a project that they would be willing to donate. They could then be used to help another property.

Ward emphasized that this group is not interested in helping anyone intentionally profit from Save This Old Town’s goodwill. Projects that would facilitate the “flipping” of a property for a quick profit or even readying it for rental are not the kinds of tasks they would accept.

“This is a great place to come back to,” said Brogan, who added that a program like this might entice some to return to New Martinsville. If they knew some local residents would be willing to offer a helping had, more people might be willing to take on the daunting task of renovating an older property, thus being part of a movement to Save This Old Town.