Roof are being replaced, front steps painted and wooden sidewalks and intricate latticework repaired on 28 of the 106 run-down houses in this aging, former lumbering town 2,456 feet up Bald Knob.
The work is part of a state plan that calls for the use of federal, state and private funds to turn Cass into a West Virginian Williamsburg, an historically accurate but liveable town that would serve as a recreational community for skiers at Snowshoe, six miles away. "I've always had a dream, a vision of Cass. It's there, and I just know it can be done," said Don Andrews, chief of the division of parks and recreation of the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources.
The work under way is a far cry from the hopes of the past few years. Although $1.5 million in federal funds was used to purchase the town from the Mower Lumber Co. and $1.1 million in state funds was used primarily for modernizing sewer and water systems, private investment capital has not been raised yet for the restoration of 102 houses the state owns.
The department had hoped to attract private funds through an auction of long-term leases to the homes. Each winning bidder would be responsible for restoring the exterior of his or her two-, three- or four-bedroom, clapboard house to 1910 standards.
Restoration estimates were $8,000 to $10,000 per house. Though many people expressed interest, there were no bidders when the auction was held a year ago.
Since then, Andrews and his department have been plotting an alternative.
The sewer project is completed, and the water project is out for bids. Two houses were restored as prototypes for the auction. Now, the 28 occupied houses are being restored because existing state and federal funds can be used for restoration of residences, Andrews said.
He also is "trying to squeeze a few dollars from here, a few from there" to furnish one of the unoccupied, restored houses. This house then will be rented out to vacationers. Rental rates during the peak summer season will be similar to those charged by the state for deluxe cabins in state parks: $240 to $335 per week of peak season.
"If that goes well, we'll have money from the rentals to furnish the other unoccupied house," Andrews said. "The town will begin to look more and more like a restored 1910 town. People will see the potential and the plan will mushroom. We might even be able to get back to the auction idea."