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Millcraft Center purchased for $3.5 million

Millcraft Center, one of the tallest and most recognizable structures in downtown Washington, has been sold.

Debbie Bardella, Washington County recorder of deeds, said Wednesday that Holly Hall Investments LLC purchased the office complex from 90 West Chestnut LLC for $3.5 million. She said the deed for the property, at 90 W. Chestnut St., was recorded on Sept. 2, and that seven parcels were listed as sold in the document, which may include parking.

Bardella added that the seller and buyer are Delaware Limited Liability companies. To start an LLC in the Keystone State, Holly Hall had to file a Certificate of Organization with the Pennsylvania Department of State. It did so on July 27.

Millcraft Center, nine stories tall with a three-story wing, is the fourth-tallest structure in Washington, at 123 feet. It sits on a 1.23-acre lot and has 943 parking spaces and more than 168,000 square feet of space. SVN/TRCA Property Management is the property manager for the new owner. Pamela Williams, senior property manager for the Ross Township-based company, said Holly Hall is eager to make improvements.

“We want to get the building all leased,” she said.

Jack Piatt, who died about a year ago at age 92, started the company Millcraft Investments, a small machine shop, in 1957.

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Local miners attend Battle of Blair Mountain centennial event in W.Va.
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After enduring a three-day march over 38 miles of mountainous terrain in southern West Virginia, Kipp Dawson felt empowered as she and countless other union miners traced the path more than 13,000 miners took a century ago during the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Dawson, 76, who worked in Bethlehem Mines Co.’s Mine 60 in Cokeburg from 1979 to 1992, followed United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts during the Labor Day weekend event commemorating the centennial anniversary of the “Mine Wars” battle that dealt labor unions an initial blow, but eventually gave workers the strength to organize in the coming decades.

“To walk those same roads and with the same goal in mind to form a union to protect the lives of coal miners, it was almost a spiritual experience,” Dawson said. “They streamed in from different places to take the same road for the same cause.”

The story of the Battle of Blair Mountain is not as widely known, considering its historical significance.

It involved thousands of miners taking up arms in late August and early September 1921 to literally fight for better pay, more freedoms in company towns and safer working conditions. More than a hundred people died in the violence in the southern West Virginia hills, and the U.S. Army eventually was dispatched to quell the uprising. While the miners were defeated, their cause eventually gave way to the explosion in the labor movement in the 1930s amidst the Great Depression.

Dawson marched beside her longtime friend and fellow retired coal miner Libby Lindsay, and the two women thought about those who came before them and the impact of the march.

“For both of us to pick up the spirit of our forebears who made it possible for us to work safely in union mines so many years later, it was moving. It was a thank you. We were determined to keep going,” said Dawson, who left coal mining and later became a teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Dawson traveled to the five-day event from her home in Pittsburgh with Lou Martin, an associate professor of history at Chatham University who helped to found the West Virginia Mines Wars Museum in Mingo County. Martin attended a similar event a decade ago after Blair Mountain in Logan County was removed from the National Register of Historic Places and nearly wiped off the map when plans were made for mountaintop removal coal extraction. Blair Mountain was eventually re-listed as a historic place, but Martin said the 100th anniversary celebration this past weekend in several towns from Charleston to Matewan told the story of the “culminating event” of the Mine Wars of the early 20th century.

“It’s an important chapter in West Virginia history, American labor history, and how so many of us enjoy health care, pensions, weekends and other things we take for granted,” Martin said. “We needed to restore it to its rightful place.”

Martin, 49, who grew up near Weirton, W.Va., but now lives in Beaver County, authored the book, “Smokestacks in the Hills,” telling the story about industrial workers in rural West Virginia. Martin said the Battle of Blair Mountain emboldened miners and other industrial workers to organize and take a stand as federal laws in the 1930s helped them to organize in “lightning fast” speed.

“It did end in defeat for the union miners, but it was an amazing display of solidarity across many divides: language, race and ethnicity, geography,” Martin said. “It was an illustration of what miners could do when they came together in a common cause.”

While union membership has diminished in recent decades, the fight for workers still resonates today, Martin said. He pointed to the statewide teachers strike in West Virginia in 2018 and the current push to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“It’s certainly true that labor laws have changed and undercut a lot of union protections. And it’s true union membership continues to decline overall. But we’re also in a moment over the last few years when there has been more union activity than any time I can remember,” Martin said. “The time is right for a resurgence for a labor movement. It just might not take the same form as it did in the 1930s when the miners were taking the lead.”

Martin saw that firsthand at the various events across several counties that attracted more visitors than he was expecting. Organizers set out about 20 chairs to wait for a walking tour at the Mine Wars museum in Matewan and were amazed when 120 people were standing in line waiting to attend, even attracting one visitor all the way from Alaska.

“I had high hopes and every event exceeded my expectations by a mile,” he said. “It was just an incredible thing for that many people to come to that town for that day.”

Roberts, the UMWA president, was center stage for several of the events and spoke to Dawson during various portions of the march. But Dawson was blown away when Roberts came over to her at the end of the march Sunday and asked if he could get a photograph with her while praising her UMWA Local 1197 and its leadership, calling out Mark Segedi and Gary Bostich by name.

“She comes from a strong local!” Roberts told others about 1197, which is based in Cokeburg.

“This guy is president of the whole union and would remember their names and my local,” Dawson said. “It’s a testimony to the central place that our part of the country has in coal mining history, at least in the mind of the current president.”

Experiencing the celebration surrounding the Battle of Blair Mountain and the march with other miners are memories Dawson said she will cherish forever.

“They fought and they lost some battles and they won some big ones,” Dawson said. “If we have a sense of our own history, we have some hope. Being down there gave that to me, and I’m very grateful for that.”

COVID-19 surge in the US: The summer of hope ends in gloom

WASHINGTON – The summer that was supposed to mark America’s independence from COVID-19 is instead drawing to a close with the United States more firmly under the tyranny of the virus, with deaths per day back up to where they were in March.

The delta variant is filling hospitals, sickening alarming numbers of children and driving coronavirus deaths in some places to the highest levels of the entire pandemic. School systems that reopened their classrooms are abruptly switching back to remote learning because of outbreaks. Legal disputes, threats and violence have erupted over mask and vaccine requirements.

The U.S. death toll stands at more than 650,000, with one major forecast model projecting it will top 750,000 by Dec. 1.

“It felt like we had this forward, positive momentum,” lamented Katie Button, executive chef and CEO at two restaurants in Asheville, North Carolina. “The delta variant wiped that timeline completely away.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. More than six months into the U.S. vaccination drive, President Joe Biden held a White House party on July Fourth to celebrate the country’s freedom from the virus, and other political leaders had high hopes for a close-to-normal summer.

Then the bottom fell out.

The summer wave was fueled by the extra-contagious delta variant combined with stark resistance to vaccinations that formed along political and geographic lines, said Dr. Sten Vermund, of the Yale School of Public Health.

“The virus was more efficient in spreading among the unvaccinated so that you blunted the expected benefit of vaccines,” Vermund said.

The crisis escalated rapidly from June to August. About 400,000 COVID-19 infections were recorded for all of June. It took all of three days last week to reach the same number.

The U.S. recorded 26,800 deaths and more than 4.2 million infections in August. The number of monthly positive cases was the fourth-highest total since the start of the pandemic.

The 2021 delta-driven onslaught is killing younger Americans at a much higher rate than previous waves of the pandemic in the Northeast last spring, the Sun Belt in the summer of 2020 and the deadly winter surge around the holidays.

During the peaks of those waves, Americans over 75 suffered the highest proportion of death. Now, the most vulnerable age group for death is 50 to 64, according to data from U.S. officials.

Overall, the outbreak is still well below the all-time peaks reached over the winter, when deaths topped out at 3,400 a day and new cases at a quarter-million per day.

The U.S. is now averaging over 150,000 new cases per day, levels not seen since January. Deaths are close to 1,500 per day, up more than a third since late August.

Even before the delta variant became dominant, experts say there were indications that larger gatherings and relaxed social distancing measures were fueling new cases.

“We had been cooped up for over a year and everyone wanted to get out,” said Dr. David Dowdy, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “In the face of that kind of strong change in behavior, even getting almost two-thirds of our adult population vaccinated wasn’t enough.”

The COVID-19 vaccines remain highly effective against hospitalization and death, but many tens of millions of eligible Americans remain unvaccinated. Nearly 40% of Americans 12 and older are not fully protected.

In Rapid City, South Dakota, school officials have recorded nearly 300 cases among students and staff since classes began less than two weeks ago. Still, the majority of school board officials voted this week 5-2 against a proposed two-week mask mandate.

“Nobody wanted to be here. Everyone wanted the personal freedom to be away from masks and free of illness,” said Amy Policky, who introduced the proposal with one other member. “But we have to look at the facts: We’re having illness rage through the school and the community, so what can we do?”

Still, Yale’s Vermund sees reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the next few months. Cases in most states appear to be plateauing and are likely to decline in the fall, buying health authorities more time to vaccinate adults and teenagers before flu season.

“If we can continue making progress between now and Thanksgiving, we may be able to substantially blunt the coronavirus surge in flu season,” Vermund said.

While the economy has been rebounding strongly over the past several months, hiring slowed sharply in August in a sign that the variant is discouraging Americans from flying, shopping or eating out.

And on Monday, unemployment benefits – including an extra $300 a week from the federal government – ran out for millions of Americans.

Button, the North Carolina chef, was feeling great heading into the summer. Her team was mostly vaccinated in May and restrictions were loosening. But the crisis soon changed direction.

Button supports the mask mandate that was recently reinstated in her county but said her employees are exhausted by having to enforce it. And since she has no outdoor seating, some diners have been less comfortable coming in.

“It’s hard to take a step forward and then take three steps back,” she said.