No takers on park’s new alcohol policy

MARTINSBURG – As wedding season approaches and the “clink” of champagne glasses fills Blair County’s banquet halls, at least one well-known site might remain quietly sober.

Despite an 8-month-old policy allowing alcohol at private parties, guests at the Morrisons Cove Memorial Park have remained stubbornly uninterested in imbibing, park officials said recently.

They’re following a long tradition that’s kept the Cove dry – save for a few private watering holes – for generations.

“We’re near a year, and we haven’t had anybody use it yet,” Janice Sell, assistant to park director Roseanne Conrad, said last week.

Sell said the decision, approved at an August park board meeting, drew opposition from “a lot of people.” But it remains unclear just who opposed the policy, which Conrad said drew a nearly unanimous “yes” vote.

Some in the borough have suggested the opposition remains below the surface, part of a longstanding cultural opposition to alcohol among the Cove’s older residents.

“It was never a verbal thing. It never came to blows,” Martinsburg Borough Council President Connie Lamborn said. “It was just a sense.”

Lamborn said some in Martinsburg feared a slippery slope, with private parties giving way to more rambunctious affairs.

As alcohol policies go, the park’s is fairly strict: Guests at private parties must provide the drinks themselves – wine, champagne and beer, but no hard liquor – and cover the event through their own homeowners’ insurance, Conrad said.

The park even provides bartenders, who Conrad said would closely monitor consumption and ensure guests aren’t keeping bottles at their tables.

Conrad said the board voted to change the policy after future brides had repeatedly asked for alcohol at their wedding receptions. The park hosts roughly 12 receptions each year, she said.

“Basically, what some people want is just a champagne toast. That’s all they want,” she said.

But even that simple request brushes closely against the stipulations in the park’s deed transfer from Mary Snyder Ashcom, a widow who, in 1922, sold her plot to the nonprofit park association.

The deed said park officials “shall not suffer or permit any baneful or harmful pleasures or amusements to exist … or disorderly conduct or the manufacture or sale of alcohol beverages,” among other supposedly immoral pastimes.

But the park is serving, not selling, alcohol, a policy that puts it in league with other private Martinsburg-area venues.

Those renting event rooms at The Village Green, part of The Village at Morrisons Cove, can bring drinks, but the Martinsburg retirement community “does not promote, encourage or serve alcoholic beverages,” according to listed guidelines.

And guests of Martinsburg’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post can drink, but its doors aren’t open to the public, members said.

Martinsburg, like Cove neighbor Roaring Spring, simply doesn’t allow public bars, Lamborn said. Lamborn and Roaring Spring Borough employees noted that the communities’ shared “dry” laws go back generations, possibly to the time before Morrisons Cove was divided into townships.

While Cove liquor licenses are mentioned in documents dating to the 1840s, an 1883 county history said “the prohibitory law has held sway” in nearby Woodbury Township “for well nigh a dozen years,” Blair County Historical Society Executive Director Jeannine Treese said.

In the 1930s, when nationwide prohibition was repealed and municipalities were left to choose their own alcohol laws, boroughs and townships in the Cove voted en masse to continue the ban, Blair and Bedford County historian Jim Wentz said.

“They got to decide whether they could stay dry or go wet,” Wentz said. “It’s the religious influence that keeps the Cove dry.”

Liquor licenses aren’t available in Martinsburg, Lamborn said; the park apparently didn’t need official approval, however, because it’s open only to private renters.

Despite earlier guest requests for an alcohol policy, no one has taken advantage of the new rule so far, Conrad said.

“A lot of people in the Cove, they’re so used to not having alcohol at functions. … They just say, ‘no thanks,'” she said, noting that park officials aren’t interested in advertising the rule.