A river and history flow through it

Rowlesburg’s Szilagyi Center Continues to Churn Up Interest in Preston’s Past

Morgantown Dominion Post - EDITORIAL
26 March 2013

Rowlesburg’s past flows directly through that community on the Cheat River. Though this small Preston County town also owes a chapter or two of its history to the railroad, the river wrote the book. And in a fashion, it’s responsible for the latest page in its storied bygone days. During the devastating 1985 flood, the Cheat left its banks and roared far and wide through Rowlesburg, destroying homes, small businesses and the town’s centerpiece, its school. Though the building was not swept away, the damage from the floodwaters caused it to be condemned. The three-story, brick structure was then put up for sale and fittingly, a river rafting company bought it to use for its business. About two decades later the owners of the rafting company donated the site to Rowlesburg’s Revitalization Committee. Almost like the 1985 flood’s stops and starts from obstructions and bridges, plans since then for this building have not been a steady flow, either. More aptly, good ideas for the site’s use have appeared, then seemingly get dammed up with details and then break through — picking up more interest, and repeating the process. Anyhow, you might make that connection if you look at how the Szilagyi Center — named for the building’s donors — has developed since 2008. It started with housing a World War II Living History Museum, then a Preston County Sports Museum and will soon serve as a place to display Preston 4-H’ers’ memorabilia. Later this spring a library will also open, complete with a reading room, and children’s and rare book sections. Some may wonder how such projects emerged to fill the Szilagyi Center’s space. What’s not hard to imagine is what this building might have become. One vision that quickly comes to our mind is one more shuttered eyesore like other condemned school buildings in Preston County. Or it could have been razed and become either a vacant lot or a parking lot. But thanks to the efforts of scores of Preston County residents this building — this old school — is still serving to teach the area and this community about its history. We applaud everyone who has contributed to the Szilagyi Center’s development and smart use. Many communities in this area and across the state and nation continue to wrestle with how best to use antiquated school buildings and others damaged by natural disasters. It seems to us that Rowlesburg and Preston County might have the perfect blueprint. Who not only know exactly where they’re going with this site, but don’t want to go anywhere else, just like the river.