By Terry Harris
Finally, there appears to be an end in sight for the town of Waverly for a cleanup effort that the mayor and town council have been dealing with since 2018. In October of that year, the interior of the structure at 315 West Main Street – known to locals as “The Old Pope’s Grocery Building,” collapsed all the way to the ground and the exterior began shedding bricks onto the busy street out front. Last week, Council President Franklin Cox, who has overseen the project, recounted the saga of the clean-up of the triple storefront building.
“Our town zoning guy had actually gone into two weeks before the building interior collapsed and said, ‘These are in bad shape. We need to condemn them,’” Cox began. “The 2016 tornado badly damaged the roof, so the structural integrity of the building was already compromised, and when the roof came down it took everything else with it.”
“The middle one was two stories,” he continued, “and only pigeons had been up there for a long time. When the internal part of that collapsed, the buildings on each side, which already were in bad shape, were seriously damaged as well. You couldn’t tell it from the outside, but all the interior supporting structure had collapsed to the ground.”
“All three buildings were compromised, and bricks were falling onto the sidewalk,” he continued, “and the street Inspectors said that the obvious bowing of the brick façade that was left posed a very real threat that vibrations from passing heavy trucks down the busy street could well cause the rest of the building to fall onto the street. So, we closed the street that day.”
Thus began the saga of trying to track down the owners of the building to at least make it safe for pedestrians and motorists going by. Cox related how the town had first gone through the stage of discovering that the owners were unable to pay for the demolition but would deed the property to the town so that they could.
“The town didn’t have funds for something like that, either,” he said. “But the county stepped in with some grant money, so we were able to get the first part of the clean-up done – removing the teetering bricks up where the pigeons were roosting – to make it temporarily safe.”
For the next year and a half, he explained, he and Town Attorney Rick Matthews dealt with legal issues relating to getting clear title for the town while they continued to search for more grant money to fund demolishing the ruined structures.
“Between then and now we got quotes from demolition contractors to take it down to the slab,” Cox said. “Finally, during 2020, at no cost to the town, we took title to the building and the county found some more grant money for the project. At the end of 2020 we got updated proposals from contractors and awarded the contract to the least expensive.”
“Wet weather delayed it,” he added, “but finally J & J Clearing and Demolition out of Suffolk were able to start two weeks ago and with a hearty thank you to the previous and current county administrations I can happily state that after a great deal of time and headaches endured, it is all safely and completely down.
So, finally, two and a half years later, the pigeons have had to find a different place to roost, Cox and Mayor McPhaul report that the only monetary expenses the town had to absorb were the costs of transferring the title and renting the temporary fence around the structures, and the town has a pristine slab to work with as they consider options for ongoing efforts to improve and freshen up the town.
In response to a question about why 315 West Main was not salvaged, Cox explained that that was never an option.
“It’s never easy to take down old historic buildings,” he said. “Unfortunately, after the collapse we basically had a pile of bricks. All the structural integrity was gone. Much as we would have liked to restore it, there was no salvageable part of the structure. There just wasn’t anything left there to restore.”
“We’re all about the positive,” said McPhaul. “We’re considering several options for how to best use that space now, with a focus on making it both useful and beautiful – something to make local citizens proud and to encourage all the thousands of people from all over who drive by daily aware of the ongoing revitalization of Waverly, VA. Because that’s how you promote pride in the town for those of us who live here, and interest in the town from people looking for an opportunity and a place to start new businesses. That’s how you bring in jobs and increased opportunities for everyone.”