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Mooney tours Harpers Ferry fire scene

February 26, 2016
In The News

HARPERS FERRY - Months after an early morning fire left several businesses in Harpers Ferry with extensive damage, Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., came to the historic town Monday afternoon to talk with the mayor, council members and business owners about the progress of repair.

"It's important that I come here while the renovation is still in progress," Mooney said. "It was a good experience, and I will be happy to advocate for projects moving forward."

Alongside the reconstruction, the community is working on a few projects Mooney said he will support including a Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) grant council member Charlotte Thompson said the Harpers Ferry town council has applied for that would help create a fully-funded police force and a Potomac Street revitalization effort that would completely repave the main road in historic Harpers Ferry.

During Mooney's visit, Dulyea Construction of Martinsburg-the contracting company working on the repairs-was clearing debris and continuing the project that is expected to take a couple years.

Most of the businesses that suffered losses in inventory were left with salvageable brick and mortar foundations, and one of the buildings on High Street has its original pine timber, brick and plaster skeleton left standing. Charred wallpaper that is at least 100 years old still clings to what remains of the walls. Dan Dulyea, owner of Dulyea Construction, said he plans to keep as much of the original construction as possible.

"We have been working so fast; the inside of here was crazy," Dulyea said. "Other contractors said they would have to do a complete demolition before the rebuild, but I was determined to make it salvageable."

Dulyea said the 150-year-old floor joists and the ceiling beams will be sodablasted to remove the outside charring. Sodablasting is a mild form of abrasive blasting using sodium bicarbonate and compressed air.

Several of the business owners who were affected by the fire attended the outdoor meeting with Mooney Monday. Some have set up shop elsewhere, and others are still recovering from the damage.

"We lost everything, but we relocated just six weeks after the fire," said Crystal Grimsley, manager of The Vintage Lady. "The community just came together afterward. It was a pretty smooth process-difficult, but smooth."

Grimsley said she has worked at The Vintage Lady for six and a half years. Although none of the shop's inventory could be resold after the fire, Grimsley said a collection of fragile Blenko Glass on display at the new location serves as a reminder of the blaze.

Barbara Pusateri, who has owned the building located at 180 High Street since 1975, rented to five commercial businesses and two apartment tenants who lost their homes and spaces after the fire. Pusateri said she had planned to use the money she collected for rent as a retirement fund because she is a retired nurse.

"It was pretty devastating for everyone," Pusateri said. "I was full covered with my insurance, but the insurance company didn't anticipate how much the demolition and renovation would cost. I never even thought this could happen."

Pusateri also said the mayor and Dulyea Construction have been very dedicated throughout the process.

"I can't say enough good things about the construction company," Pusateri said. "(Dulyea) is very much an activist for historic preservation, and he has been very helpful and willing (to do this project). It's not really helping him, it's helping us."

Pusateri continued, saying, "(The mayor) has been very instrumental from day one letting us know that it's going to get better."

While she said the financial hit has been challenging, Pusateri has also submitted an application to the West Virginia Historical Society to receive a tax credit in the future for damages caused by the fire.

Mooney said he plans to visit Harpers Ferry again in the future while the construction process is ongoing, and he is going to write a letter of support for the historic town. Mooney also cited Harpers Ferry's switch to home rule and how it can benefit them during the demolition and renovation because planning and zoning can move more quickly without having to go through an extensive approval process. The town renovation still must comply with historical standards, however.

For more information or to help, visit gofundme.com/renewharpersferry.

Staff writer Emily Daniels can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 132, or twitter.com/emilykdaniels.