I wrote this letter as a sound off to the Editor of the Greene County Messenger and to the county commissioners. I hope they listened.
As I begin my studies for the spring semester at Roger Williams University, I am glad for two things. One is that I was born and raised in Greene County and two is that I have the opportunity to leave and come back to Greene County. With this opportunity I can look at Greene County with a critical eye and see things that many would miss.
Things that people miss include two great buildings directly across from the courthouse. The former Messenger building is slowly falling to pieces right above the heads of the stores on the ground. The building is sound and the interior only needs cleaning. This building would be a great place to have apartments and offices.
The second place that is dead is the People Bank Skyscraper. Do you know about Greene County's skyscraper? According to many sources in the later part of the 1800's, Waynesburg was destined to become another Uniontown. This building has two great features. One is that it has plenty of room and the second is that it has a great elevator. Now, don't get me wrong. From all accounts, this elevator was a death trap waiting to happen. I say that this elevator could become a centerpiece for Greene County showing off technology's history right here in the little corner of Pennsylvania.. Think how important that elevator is to the history of Waynesburg. More elevators would need to be inserted, but the building and that elevator is still worth someone's time and effort. The sheer size could hold several different aspects. I can imagine a museum/library outreach. I can see apartments. I can see offices. I can see shops all along the ground floor. "The People's Shopping Center."
If you can find a copy of a book called "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs, take a look at it. This book is the basis for all city planners today. She advocated "mixed-use" and downtown shopping. Mixed use is a term referring to apartments and offices as well as shopping all living within one area. It is the current thinking for many planners and would be a great way for the People's Bank and the Messenger building to be used. If the centerpiece for our town is the Courthouse, why do we let the nearby buildings sit empty? Preserve them, use them, celebrate their history.
Downtown shopping should be advocated as well. Calling for an enclosed shopping center is not the way to go. We should be drawing people to our area because of our downtown. England has few malls and the people are not upset, because their downtowns are thriving. A little bit of pedestrian walkways go a long way. How often do you go into downtown Uniontown? Or Washington? I have a difficult time telling you where exactly those are. I have a vague recollection of where Uniontown city is, but I can pinpoint the mall exactly. Do you want to see our town and the memories of our ancestors die? I would not say that our downtown is dead yet and I don't want to sound any kind of alarms, but the need is there to take a critical look at the downtown.
Downtown city areas are praised by several state, federal, and non-profit agencies. All of them are willing to support the plans for a growing main street.
But there is more to a city than just a good feeling or a bad feeling. There is more than good growth or bad growth. There is also an ugliness that can grow.
Take for example the intersection of 21 and 19. There is a place that has no sense of place. Can you tell me what makes that intersection important? Probably the clock at First Federal. I applaud them for that. But do you recognize the Triangle Tavern? That is an old building that is barely alive for one reason. All the other buildings ignore that type of construction. It is out of place. All along 21 there are pockets of good history, but there are pockets of forgettable history. Do you recognize the church at the intersection of 188 and 21? Its now an office. How old is the former East Franklin School? (Quick aside: the Triangle Tavern has been torn down, and East Franklin has a Burger King in its playground area.
There is ugliness right in the center of Waynesburg too. Facadism is a term used to describe the preserving of just the front wall of a building while removing the rest of the building. Though the architects have a good plan for our courthouse, my heart hurts when I see that they are using a technique that many preservationists say is fooling the public. Though it is too late now, I wanted to alert everyone so that they know that what they see in the sheriff's residence is not history anymore. It is a very tiny slice of history put on to a new body.
So, basically it comes down to three thoughts. Greene County and Waynesburg is a good place to live. Little crime and a clean town and county. There are many places in Waynesburg that could be great places to be. The former Messenger building and the former People's Bank building are two that spring to mind. West Greene is still the most beautiful place I have seen in my travels to England and New England. Eastern Greene County is rich in history and is a fantastic place to see how the frontiers in American History grew. We have much to be proud of and many memories to cherish.
Greene County and Waynesburg can be bad too. Calling for enclosed malls and bypasses that destroy Greene County are calls for destroying our history. I am in favor of a bypass, but make sure it doesn't destroy precious memories and important downtowns. The people of Greene County need to keep an eye on the future to make sure that their children don't think Greene County is a place without a past.
But there is ugliness too. The sign out side of the theater is falling apart on the west side. When someone is walking, it makes the theater look bad. In places like the intersection of 21 and 19, there is a jumble of modern commercial architecture that makes me want to turn around and forget Waynesburg. And there is the courthouse. Though the architects are doing a great job, they are using techniques that make history ugly.
Above all, be proud of our county. It is a place that should be listed as "the" place to go to see how life should be. Our history is rich and our buildings are strong. Please as the citizens holding the future of Greene County in your hands, do a good job and keep those in charge responsible for our well being.