From February of 2016 to January of 2017, the illnesses and subsequent passing of three family members, and the attendant matters that from which arose, it was necessary for me to spend more time in Washington Court House than I had in the previous 10 or 15 years, combined.
The more time spent here, the more it seemed as if I was being “called” back. After a 40 year absence, I returned in April of 2017.
I grew up in Washington CH in the 60’s and 70’s and remember when the community was thriving.
Downtown was a center of commerce; a bustle of activity. There were three jewelry stores; Boylan, Ross and Gossards. There were two pharmacies; Risches and Downtown Drug. Pittsburgh Paint and Glass, French’s Hardware, Boylan and Cannon Electronics, Steen’s, Craig’s Department Store and a Florsheim Shoe Store were there, along with a theater and several restaurants.
Also contributing to the economy were NCR, Armco Steel, Mac Tool and at least two lumber mills. The Record-Herald was printed here. Pennington Bakery, Alkier’s Bakery, Orthmeyer’s Pastry and Cudahay’s (sp) produced food products.
Today, all these things and more are gone and a good third or more of the buildings downtown are empty. Others have been torn down; rendered into vacant parking lots.
The common theme among those with whom I talk is; “There is nothing here”.
For decades, the best and brightest have been leaving Fayette County. There is little reason for our expatriates to return. There is little to keep others here, let alone attract new residents and businesses.
In spite of memories from the 60’s and 70’s, after a 40 year absence, I am an outsider and see things today through the eyes of an outsider. What I see is as unsettling as what I do not see; there has been little growth and a great deal of deterioration.
Were I just a passer-by without roots, here, I would take one look and just keep going. But, my roots are here; and when one is “called” to something, it is for a purpose.
Maybe my purpose here is to help affect change and “Make Washington Court House Great, Again”.
It is my hope that this series will stimulate discussion, encourage others to share their ideas and stir people to action.
Future articles will address issues that hold us back from growing good jobs, including some statistics; and offer some ideas for making our community a destination point for arts, entertainment and business; and for making it a more desirable place to live, work and raise a family. The natural resources are here, we just need to steel our resolve and determine to do it, with the realization that it is a long-term process.
William Boylan is a Washington Court House native.