Right up Buckhannon’s alley: Vision of Trader’s Alley Arts District steadily taking shape

BUCKHANNON – Way back in 2015 and even prior to that, when architect Bryson VanNostrand would sit in his office with his windows open in the summer, he would hear people buying an ice cream treat and then walking down the alley.

They would always be making their way from Main Street Buckhannon to Jawbone Park.

That simple observation prompted the idea of Trader’s Alley becoming more than just an alley, and today, progress on the project is moving quickly.

“I could just hear this kind of banter being above the street with my windows open,” VanNostrand said. “The idea that we would turn Trader’s Alley into a pedestrian-friendly back alley that would connect Main Street Buckhannon with Jawbone Park was the seed of that idea.”

Trader’s Alley has long been what VanNostrand terms an “unrefined place.”

“It got its name historically,” he said. “A blacksmith had his shop there more than 100 years ago and people would come in to town to have their horses shod or repair a wagon wheel. The blacksmith shop was kind of the historic version of the mechanic’s shop today. It was also where guys would bring in a bushel of potatoes if they were looking for a bushel of apples.”

VanNostrand said he interviewed a gentleman in his late 90s who recalled his memories of Trader’s Alley back in the 1920s. Back then, Jawbone Park was mostly swamp, but the name Trader’s Alley definitely came from the informal farmer’s market that used to take place on the property.

With that history in mind, in 2015, VanNostrand, the city’s architect, prepared a plan to present to the City of Buckhannon. In the plan, he suggested Trader’s Alley be designated as an arts district.

“I designed what I thought would be the entry point, and the general idea was to get pedestrian-friendly – let’s pave, let’s get sidewalks,” he recounted.

A photo of the “Monkey Mural” in Trader’s Alley.

VanNostrand said in 2015, the City of Buckhannon agreed to make the streetscape improvements with the hope it would spur development in the buildings located in the alley.

“Making a connection between Main Street, straight down to Jawbone Park is really a good strategy,” he said. “As we are bringing this vision together of an arts district – a funky kind of destination space – some things are happening.”

Trader’s Alley had a retaining wall that was failing and was deemed unsafe. It was reconstructed in a safe way and artwork will be installed there.

“Buckhannon Public Works Director Jerry Arnold and his crew have just constructed the retaining wall in the last few weeks and are filling in the soil to put the road back,” VanNostrand said. “On top of that will be a 12-foot high steel construction with colored fabrics stretched across. It’s a 60-foot-long art installation and will be a key element to the Trader’s Alley District.”

Other art installed in Trader’s Alley to date include a mural completed in 2014. VanNostrand said the piece is referred to as the “Monkey Mural.” He said a hands-on art installation during the Trader’s Alley Block Party two years ago brought a mural on the side of another building.

VanNostrand said the gateway to Trader’s Alley is one of the current projects undergoing construction.

“We are working on a vintage 1960s car with a ‘Men in Black’ vibe,” he said. “Over the summer, we purchased a car knowing that we would be developing a Trader’s Alley gateway on the Jawbone Park end, we developed the idea that the car will appear to be launching up out of the alley on an angle. This is another project where we will partner with the City of Buckhannon to complete.

A rendering of the old car city officials want to install at the Jawbone Park end entrance of Trader’s Alley.

“So, this project is in the works and slowly moving forward,” VanNostrand added. “It will get a lot of attention, and if we are lucky, it will encourage cruise-ins on weekends in the summer.”

Buckhannon Mayor David McCauley and VanNostrand said Trader’s Alley is resurfacing as a colorful place for fun.

“For the last two years, we have hosted the Trader’s Alley Block Party,” VanNostrand said. “We want to ramp it up with art, music and food.”

Last year, VanNostrand said they proposed a “pavement painting” to city officials. He said they would use white and yellow paints to create tentacles reaching out into different parts of the city.

“Imagine a drone shot of that when it’s completed,” McCauley added. “It will be sweet.”

VanNostrand said the goal of the arts district is that the property’s “vacant spaces can be updated into fun and interesting boutiques and the like.”

“All of this is geared toward fun, but at the bottom of it is economic development,” he said. “I am particularly focused on kids and having a town that is hip enough [for youth to want] to stick around and progressive enough that all kinds are welcome.”

A vintage 1960s ‘Men in Black’ car is being restored and will be suspended over the entrance to Trader’s Alley.

McCauley said he looked at the permits at city hall and learned there’s about $15 million in economic development going on downtown currently.

“When you add up Citizens Bank and go right on down the line, Community Care, Orion Strategies, Fish Hawk Acres, Stone Tower Brews, The Opera House, the five-story Bryson has, the beautiful apartments CJ (Rylands) is putting in, Jesterline, the Innovation Center and the Colonial Theatre – when you are having that kind of private development downtown, the least you can do is some of these kinds of enhancements to help bring it all together. Trader’s Alley was just calling – it has to be done.”

“Every community has an economic planner on board, but those guys are looking at big industry,” VanNostrand said. “We are planning for quality-of-living issues. The arts play a huge role in that even though it’s hard to measure how the arts create jobs. The arts are definitely a component that are overlooked.”

A sign marking the Trader’s Alley Arts District project.

McCauley said he thinks economic growth will snowball as Trader’s Alley grows.

“In the future, I see the laterals – Florida Street, Spring Street, Kanawha and Locust – we want to be sure there is period lighting on all of those side streets,” the mayor said. “We want to clean up all of the sidewalks, fresh pavement. Take this concept from Main Street we are now interjecting down Trader’s Alley and keep going with this flow up and down every side street downtown.”

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