Former Belmont County sheriff Thomas McCort never lived in the sheriff's residence next to the courthouse in downtown St. Clairsville, but he said he felt like he did while working many years there when it housed the sheriff's department offices.
McCort was among those turning out Thursday night for an open house at the sheriff's residence building, open again following $899,000 worth of renovations. It has sat empty since McCort moved the sheriff's department offices to their current location at the Belmont County Jail in 1996. The last sheriff to live there was George Neff in the early 1970s.
The former residence will now serve as a satellite office for the Belmont County Tourism Council.
Back home again, Sheriff George Neff’s daughters, Dolly Springhetti and Barbara Stewart, pose with sister-in-law Brenda Neff, widow of their brother Rich. The pair enjoyed reminiscing about the remodeled residence they called home from 1960 to 1976. The three children moved from Jacobsburg into the sheriff’s residence. Barbara, who was in first grade, got the old girls detention room with bars on the windows and Dolly, who was in the fourth grade, picked the balcony room seen here.
"They took my bed," McCort said as he looked into the updated bathroom next to his former office on the second floor. He said that some nights after working late, he often would throw pillows into the bathtub and sleep there.
McCort also looked with fondness at his former office, now patched up and painted. The ceiling always leaked as plaster always was following, he said.
"But this place was always warmer than the new offices - and I don't mean temperature-wise," McCort said. "The deputies always said this was a homey place."
In the early 2000s, Belmont County commissioners received an Ohio Department of Transportation grant for $679,000 to begin the renovations of the former sheriff's residence.
The Belmont County Tourism Council contributed $150,000 in matching funds; and the Belmont County Department of Development, another $70,000.
Commissioner Mark Thomas was commissioner when the ODOT grant for the project was first received more than a decade ago.
"When we started the process (of finding funding for the renovation), we got beat up," Thomas said. "There were people who said, 'Tear it down. Make it into a parking lot.'
"But we stood fast to do this, and here we are."
Commissioner Ginny Favede made the sheriff's residence a focus of her efforts after she joined the commission in 2009.
"It's been a decade in coming, but it's 100 times better than I dreamed it would be," she said.
Favede said she is a preservationist who worked with Dave Mertz, chairman of the building preservation technology department at Belmont College, to research the history of the sheriff's residence.
They learned the county's only legal execution took there in 1870. Records show Thomas Carr was hanged inside the sheriff's residence after admitting to killing his 13-year-old fiancee, Louiza Fox, in the Egypt Valley area. Carr also admitted to murdering as many as 14 men.
Both Thomas and Favede said they would like to see the nearby former county jail facility also renovated for county use.
Eugene "Doc" Householder, county director of tourism, said he envisions a museum in the building with rooms dedicated to specific communities or areas of the county. He asks those with items they wish to donate to contact the Belmont County Tourism Council's Ohio Valley Mall office at 740-695-4359.