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Crowd favors Lewis County seat return to Martinsburg after mock debate

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MARTINSBURG — The Lewis County seat should return here after a 150-year hiatus, according to results of a tongue-in-cheek debate on the topic Saturday.

Martinsburg Town Supervisor Terry J. Thisse even suggested divine preference for his community, given that the old Martinsburg Town Hall, the county’s original courthouse, remains intact, while fires have damaged a few county buildings in Lowville over the past century and a half.

“The good Lord apparently thinks this should still be the county seat,” he said.

Following a roughly half-hour debate between members of the Martinsburg Town Council and the Lowville village Board of Trustees, all but a handful of the nearly 30 audience members sided with Mr. Thisse and his fellow board members.

That was partly because most of the crowd hailed from the greater Martinsburg area.

Lowville’s cause also was hampered by a turncoat: Trustee Joseph G. Beagle.

Shortly after his wife, Lowville Town Historian Charlotte M. Beagle, gave a presentation on why the county seat was moved 3 miles up Route 26 to Lowville in 1864, Mr. Beagle turned against his colleagues and threw his support behind a return of the county seat to Martinsburg.

“It’s possible this was unconstitutional,” he said of the 1853 decision by the county Board of Supervisors to seek state Legislature approval for the relocation without consulting its populace.

Mr. Beagle also argued that given the amount of tax-exempt property owned by the county within the village and town, relocating municipal buildings to Martinsburg would “alleviate this hardship for Lowville” and force Martinsburg residents to “share the cost of government.”

Lowville Mayor Donna M. Smith noted that Martinsburg has no restaurants at which county employees could take their lunch breaks and warned of some burdens of holding the county seat.

“You may have to add a red light,” Mrs. Smith said.

Parking also could be an issue if county buildings were moved to Martinsburg, she said.

“You would have to pave an entire pasture,” Mrs. Smith said.

However, Mr. Thisse didn’t see parking as a major issue.

“Most of the time it’s frozen up here, so you can park anywhere,” he said.

The debate, sponsored by the Martinsburg Historical Society and moderated by its president, Nelson K. Schwartzentruber, accompanied the society’s annual open house at the old Martinsburg hall, which the town is continuing to refurbish.

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