Local Lifestyle, News

Wilkes Street used to be the road to Hancock

Paving of North Wilkes Street brings back memories

by Trish Rudder

Jack Waugh, age 74, was born and raised on North Wilkes Street. He said members of the Waugh family have lived on the street since 1946.  The road was paved recently by the state Division of Highways (DOH). Waugh said he didn’t think it was ever paved before in his 74 years.

His daughter in law, Melissa Waugh has lived with her family on North Wilkes Street for the past 22 years.

“How excited we are,” she said of the newly paved road. “Happy is an understatement,” Melissa Waugh said.

Jack Waugh said he remembers about five small grocery stores that people walked to. Most people walked to the stores, since if the family had a car, it was being used for work, he said.

One grocery store was in the current Town of Bath Municipal Building on the corner of North Wilkes Street. Waugh said the grocery store was in the bottom of the building and the upstairs was an apartment where the owners lived.

Across the street, the current Mountain Springs Apartments, formerly the Berkeley Springs Motel, was Rice’s Motel when Jack Waugh was a kid in the 40s and 50s, he said.

“Old Man Rice didn’t like kids,” Waugh said.

He said once the town had a big snow storm and deep snow covered the area. Back then only shovels were used to clear snow.

Photos from local history book “Warm Springs Echoes” show the Municipal Building on North Wilkes St. that was a grocery store, antique store, filling station and ice house.

Waugh said Mr. Rice told him and his friends that he would pay them if they cleared the Rice Motel parking lot. He said about eight boys from 12 years old down to eight years old worked all day shoveling snow off Rice’s lot.

He said when they were finished, Rice gave the older boys a quarter and the younger ones like Waugh got a nickel.

“A nickel?” Waugh’s father said. “You worked all day shoveling snow off that lot,” he said.

Waugh said back then when Wilkes Street was the old U.S. 522, even though no cars parked next to the road, when big trucks met, one had to pull over to the side of the road to allow room for the other to get by.

When asked if the residents on the street were bothered by noisy trucks on the road, he said, “You got used to it.”

The road to Hancock

It’s hard to imagine getting to Hancock, Md. on any other roadway than the current U.S. 522 the runs through the Town of Bath on South and North Washington streets.

But before the highway was completed in the Town of Bath in 1963, the old U.S. 522 route was on Wilkes Street.

If traveling north from Winchester, Va., the route to Hancock required a left turn from South Washington street onto West Fairfax Street, then a right on South Wilkes, crossing Route 9 West, (also known as Cacapon Crossing) and continuing north on North Wilkes. That connected to Hancock Road, and to the entrance to the bridge to cross the Potomac into Maryland.

Before the current 522 became the new highway, Waugh said the road was “all concrete” and he rode his go-cart on it.

“It had a gasoline engine!” he said.

He remembers there were two cut-off roads – Jimstown and Sand Mine roads — that connected to the old U.S. 522. After 1963, these roads were no longer available for public use and were blocked with metal fences.

Town Recorder Susan Webster said the state abandoned Wilkes Street on January 25, 1963 and gave it to the “City of Berkeley Springs” (which does not exist), and the Town of Bath had to maintain the street.

“The expense of repairing and replacing Wilkes Street was a burden that town councils over the years could not afford,” Webster said.

Webster was Mayor in 2000 when the state notified the town that the West Fairfax Street bridge had to be repaired. There was a great deal of deterioration and the bridge over Warm Springs Run was thought to be unsafe, especially with heavy water trucks running across it and the street being wet much of the time, she said.

“I contacted Charles Trump who was our State Delegate at the time and pled our case, asking him to assist us in convincing the state to not only take over the maintenance of the Fairfax bridge, but also all of Wilkes Street,” Webster said.

“Delegate Trump was able to persuade Gov. Cecil Underwood and the State DOH to take over the maintenance of both of these financial and safety burdens for us!”

Senator Trump said last week that in the early 1930s, the state took over the county roads and put the state in charge of the roads because no one was maintaining them.

He said that former Governor Underwood’s “Orphaned Road Program”  — proposed during his second term in the late 1990s and eventually embraced by the legislature — helped Sen. Trump get the approval that the DOH would maintain Wilkes Street.

South Wilkes gets improvements

When then-U.S. Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito helped to secure a $200,000 federal grant to the town for the first Streetscape improvements program, parts of the southern end of Wilkes Street were chosen for sidewalk improvements, Webster said.

“We were able to convince the WV DOH that paving the southern end of Wilkes was in the best interest of the state because this street was a main entrance to the Berkeley Springs State Park property. It was an embarrassment to leave it as it was. They agreed to pave it,” she said.

North Wilkes was left undone

Over the years, the town was told of an upcoming paving project for North Wilkes that never materialized.  When the town was told North Wilkes was going to be paved this summer, Mayor Scott Merki was skeptical it would really happen.

Mayor Merki lives on North Wilkes, so he experienced the rough, pot-holed road firsthand.

Like his neighbors, Merki said last week he was happy the street was finally paved “after 37 years” of living on an unpaved North Wilkes Street.

“I’m sure the paving of North Wilkes Street is a great benefit to the people that live on the street because it had been in bad shape for a long time,” Sen. Trump said.

Since North Wilkes has been paved, a celebration is being discussed for the improvement to the north end of the Town of Bath.

Photos from local history book “Warm Springs Echoes” show the Municipal Building on North Wilkes St. that was a grocery store, antique store, filling station and ice house.

The Morgan Messenger is looking for old photos of Wilkes Street. Please submit any pictures to the Messenger at 16 N. Mercer Street, Berkeley Springs, WV 25411 or by email at news@morganmessenger.com.