Two sad endings
Out in Cold Run Valley, there was an auction at Coolfont last Wednesday. Everything was sold. When I arrived at about 11 in the morning, people were already carrying chairs and tables and dishes out to their vehicles. Inside, I watched as the auctioneer moved swiftly from room to room. It took two minutes to sell a mountain of wooden coathangers for $16.
After an hour, without buying anything, I drove up to the little house on the mountainside where Sam Ashelman lives now. He was sitting by a window. I described the scene at the auction to the man who had established Coolfont in 1961 and ran it for more than 40 years before selling it a year or so ago.
Sam is 94 now. His response to my telling him about the auction: "It's too bad. I don't want to go down there. I'd rather stay here and listen to music."
* * *
That afternoon, in the center of town, they brought in a crane to knock down the courthouse. The surrounding buildings, the Assessor's office (once the library) and the County Commission office, had already been demolished. Now the crew was attaching a heavy metal ball to the end of the crane. It would be aimed first at the old jail, next to the courthouse.
I negotiated with the boss of the demolition crew for a couple of cast iron radiators that were inside the courthouse. After he told me to hurry up and get them, I went in with a wrench and crowbar and sledgehammer to unfasten them from the floor.
Passing that narrow staircase from the former Circuit Clerk's office to the judge's chambers, I climbed up. The judge's office was surprisingly intact. His desk was only half-burnt. Law books, although charred and waterlogged, still lay in lines on the shelves.
I walked over to the door that led out into the courtroom. Beyond it was a scene of total devastation. The courtroom, open to the sky, was just a shambles of burnt beams, collapsed pipes and endless miscellaneous wreckage. I stood there, a foot inside the courtroom, and said for the last time: "May it please the court."
Hurrying, I disconnected the radiators and managed to get them out to the sidewalk. Then I watched as the wrecking ball swung through the air and hits its first blow.
* * *
For many people in Morgan County, the courthouse and Coolfont had been a regular part of our lives for many years.
In the one place, we argued our disputes to juries and went for licenses to hunt or be married, and recorded the wills of loved persons who had died.
In the other place, we went for meals or to swim in the indoor pool or to be entertained at the many cultural events.
Now, at the same time, both were gone. No more courthouse. No more Coolfont.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007, was a sad day for Berkeley Springs.