At the end of this month, it will have been one year since the Greene County Library System closed the Thomas Hughes House Reading Center in Jefferson to focus its resources on developing an outreach program geared toward seniors.
Our initial reaction was one of disappointment because it meant there no longer would be any reading centers in Greene County. In 2012, the library system closed the reading center in Jackson Township, citing a decline in use by patrons.
Now, the 200-year-old home of one of Greene County’s early settlers, Thomas Hughes, is up for sale, having been vacant for a year because the county, which gained possession of the house from the state in 2003, has been unable to find a use for it.
Despite having a house of such historical value in its possession, we agree with Commissioner Chuck Morris who said, “We can’t come up with any use for it that justifies the expense.”
The cost of maintaining the building and heating it is indeed pricey.
Under the agreement in which the county accepted ownership of the building from the state, Greene can sell the building. But to sell the building, the county was required by state law to have it appraised, and anyone interested in purchasing the two-story stone house and 2.26 acres of land that goes with it has until the end of today to submit an offer.
The property is included on the National Register of Historical Places and the new owner will have to abide by historic preservation covenants. The covenants would generally require that any major changes proposed for the building be approved by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
The appraised value is around $100,000, rather low, we think, considering that 11 years ago, the state pumped in $700,000 to restore the property. At that point, the building had no electrical wiring, plumbing or heating and, though the exterior stone had held up fairly well, interior walls were in poor condition and had to be replaced. As part of the restoration, an addition was constructed on the building to house all the mechanical components, such as the furnace, as well as the building’s restrooms and an elevator to the second floor.
The county should reject all offers it receives for the house, considering all proceeds for the sale must be returned to the state, except the expenses incurred by the county to sell it, such as having the building appraised and advertising it for sale.
We suggest the county do whatever is required and give the house to Jefferson Borough, which, as we understand, has expressed an interest in using it as a borough building. The borough would be best served, as would the community as a whole, by the county’s magnanimity.
And we can’t help but think Thomas Hughes would approve as well.