The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources will auction 20-year leases to five deserted houses in Cass, W.Va. -- a once-thriving thriving lumbering town -- on Oct. 6.

The leases to the frame houses, which are owned by the state, include a stipulation that the successful bidders restore the exteriors of the houses to original turn-of-the-century designs within 18 months.

The auction -- to be held at the town, a five-hour, 230-mile drive from Washington -- is the next step in West Virginia's plan to use public funds and private real estate investments to turn Cass into a West Virginian Williamsburg. The overall plan called for improving the water and sewer lines in the town and restoring the 106 houses, wooden sidewalks and picket fences.

The state also wants to turn the abandoned mill into a lumbering museum, pave a six-mile logging track between Cass and the Snowshoe ski resort and possibly run a railroad spur off the Cass Scenic Railroad line to the bottom of Snowshoe's ski slopes.

Three years ago the state bought the town of Cass from the Mower Lumber Company for $1.5 million. This summer the state spent another $1.1 million to modernize sewer and water lines and restore one home as a prototype.

Bidding, which will start with a $2,000 minimum, will take place in Cass in front of the five auction houses and the one restored house. Prospective bidders must deposit $2,000 to register for the auction.

The Department of Natural Resources predicts that the leases will go for between $2,000 and $12,000. They estimate that the exterior restoration work will cost an average of $5,000 to $8,000 a house. Interior restoration work, which need only meet standard building specifications for health and safety, should cost between $2,000 and $9,000, department spokesmen said.

Leases will be for 20 years, with the right to renew for another 10 years. Monthly rent will be $100.

Donald Andrews, chief of the Division of Parks and Recreation of the Department of Natural Resources, noted that there are restrictive clauses about selling the leases. Subletting will be allowed but only with the department's permission.

"We want to auction or lease these properties to persons personally interested in the maintenance and welfare of the houses and the town. We're not interested in speculators, so only one house will be leased to any one individual or corporation," Andrews said.

Only five of the 106 houses are being auctioned off at this time.

"We're going to try it with five and see if it's feasible," Andrews said. "If we have no takers, we'll have to change plans. But we don't anticipate that there'll be anything but real great interst and that the auction will go well. If it does, we'll come back in the spring and auction off more in increments of 10 or 12 at a time."