Legislature Looks At Bill To Save Civil War Building

LITTLE VALLEY – The battle has been waged for the past couple months with no solution in sight. That solution may be a bit harder to accomplish for preservationists of the Cattaraugus County Memorial and Historical Building after a resolution to ensure all possibilities have been exhausted before demolition was held in committee.

Letters and emails from descendants of the New York 154th Volunteer Infantry, a Civil War unit raised from mostly Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, started shortly after news came out about the proposed demolition, seemingly spearheaded by unit authority and historian, Mark Dunkleman, who lives in Rhode Island. According to a few legislators, the majority of those that are against the destruction of the building are from out of the county, even out of the state. That has made an impact on the lawmakers as to the lack of voice within the boundaries.

The resolution, which reads, in part, “Whereas, recently several persons have requested that, because of the historical significance of the building, the Legislature delay the building’s demolition so that all options resulting in its preservation can be fully explored, and whereas, such building is historically significant because it was dedicated by and has served as a memorial to the citizens of Cattaraugus County who fought in the Civil War, and whereas, it would be in the best interests of the County and its residents to explore all options relating to the continued use or demolition of the building before proceeding to raze it.”

All of which was intended to resolve that the legislature would ensure that, after the architectural and engineering services that have already been contracted, no further action would be taken with the buildings. That state would remain until any and all options for preservation would be exhausted. Further resolution would call for all ideas and suggestions from the public to be submitted to the county Public Works Department.

“The intent of this resolution would be to collect all of the emails and letters that have come from the people that don’t want to see the building demolished,” said District 10 Legislator and sponsor of the resolution Steve Teachman, R-Olean. “We don’t have to have an act to postpone, but I went with having it so outside people can see we are doing everything we can to explore all options on the building.”

As was brought to the legislature as a whole during the Nov. 13 meeting by former Chautauqua County Legislator Nancy Bargar, Teachman said the waiting period could bring to the front a group that might be able to purchase the building and turn it into something, such as a restaurant.

The feasibility of that idea was shot down almost immediately as County Attorney Tom Brady said the property that the County Building, in Little Valley, to include the land where the Memorial and Historical Building is located, was given to the county under specific rules. Those rules would have the land revert to the family that endowed the land.

All is not lost for the preservationists, however. The building still stands as engineers plan asbestos abatement and demolition processes, said County Administrator John R. “Jack” Searles.

“I would think we aren’t going to tear this building down any time soon,” he said, with agreement from Public Works Commissioner Joseph Pillittere.

Estimated time to be able to bring the building down would be sometime in spring 2014, at the earliest, Pillittere said.

The bill received enough votes to hold it in committee and was brought to the floor of the legislature Tuesday.

Those with ideas on the building, or ideas on a fitting memorial for the site are encouraged to send them to the county administrator’s office.