Group closer to saving pre-Civil War House

By CFS2012 • October 4th, 2011

By Alex Bridges —

WINCHESTER — A historic preservation group moved a step closer this week toward saving a pre-Civil War home on Va. 7 from demolition.

The Frederick-Winchester Service Authority board on Monday approved a memorandum of understanding with the Fort Collier Civil War Center regarding the restoration and future use of the Millbank House, which sits next to the Opequon Water Reclamation Facility.

The authority still needs to sign over a deed for the site to the Fort Collier group and then subdivide the property, separating the 2.97 acres on which the house sits from the entire 6-acre tract.

“We think it’s wonderful,” said Bob Stieg, president of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Branch of Preservation Virginia, the group that helped facilitate the proposal. “We’re very grateful to the authority for having worked with us for two years and for having come to this conclusion.

“We have finally come to an agreement and we are happy about that.”

The organization then faces the job of rehabilitating and restoring the dilapidated, vacant building once used as a hospital during the Third Battle of Winchester in the Civil War.

The memorandum sets forth what would appear in a final contract between the Fort Collier group and the authority regarding the property gift.

“This is a critical step to say ‘OK, we both agree these will be the terms,'” Stieg said after the meeting.

In the past decade or more the house fell into disrepair in spite of the authority spending
its money to fix the building.

In recent years authority board members decided the agency no longer could afford the upkeep on the dilapidated property, which they viewed as a liability.

Vagrants, vandals and thieves ransacked the building while the elements did much of the damage.

The board stood poised two years ago to raze the structure. The Coalition to Preserve Millbank House, which included the Fort Collier group, stepped in and offered to take on the responsibility of rehabilitating and reusing the building.

Negotiations continued until the board revisited the matter Monday.

Board Chairman John Schroth noted at the meeting Monday that John Stevens, president of the society, had presented an altered version of the memorandum of understanding.

“It was the feeling of the board those changes would not fly,” Schroth recalled.

After the authority contacted Stevens about the matter, the group president said they would prefer to return to the original memorandum, according to Schroth.

“So I think it’s time we discuss this thing and vote for it up or down,” Schroth said.

Board members then convened for about 10 minutes in closed session, as allowed by Virginia’s open meetings law, to discuss the disposition of the Millbank property.

They came out of the session to vote on the original, “non-binding” memorandum of understanding.


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