Brooke museum, center opens

WELLSBURG – The opening of the Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center Saturday was a celebration, literally, of old and new.

About 100 turned out to see the museum, which opened its doors at 704 Charles St. after several months in which board members and many other volunteers relocated hundreds of items from its former location at Sixth and Main streets and renovated its new site.

Among the many on hand were Dean Six, executive director of the West Virginia Museum of American Glass in Weston; and members of the Pittsburgh chapter of the National American Glass Club, who joined local officials and residents in marking the 200th anniversary of the production of glass in West Virginia.

Six delivered a proclamation from Governor Earl Ray Tomblin noting Wellsburg, when it was known as Charlestown and part of Virginia, was the site of the state’s first glass factory in 1813.

Ruby Greathouse, museum board member and unofficial curator, said the factory was established by Isaac P. Duvall and was one of more than 30 that once operated in Brooke County.

George Leonard of Worthington, Ohio, a descendant of Duvall, has lent several pieces produced by his ancestor’s company for display in the museum’s glass room. There examples of the craftsmanship of local glassblowers at many of the county’s local glasshouses can be found.

Six estimated 476 glass companies have operated in the Mountain State, some employing as many as 2,500 people. He noted that unfortunately that number had dropped to five glass factories and 10 glass studio artists.

Six said the state glass museum will be celebrating the industry’s 200th anniversary with visits at several cities, including Wheeling, Morgantown, Huntington and Charleston, but its first stop, as noted on a commemorative “tour” T-shirt, is Wellsburg.

“The idea was since the first West Virginia glass began in Wellsburg, we should begin in Wellsburg,” he said.

Of the museum’s glass room, Six said, “It’s wonderful. It tells a local story and tells it well, which is what a local museum should do.”

The museum also offers visitors a glimpse of other businesses and aspects of Brooke County lives, including work, school, church and military service, over more than 200 years.

Recent acquisitions include photos, samples of steel and other items from the former Wheeling Corrugating Plant that were donated by Hackman Capital, the facility’s new owner, through the arrangement of Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle.

Visitors Saturday also got a new look at the photos of Wellsburg High School graduating classes over the years. Smaller versions of the large photos have been created through the efforts of Action Images and displayed in a rack paid for by the Wellsburg High School Alumni Association, which was represented Saturday by its president, Bill Konkle.

Some area residents got a sneak peak during the Wellsburg Applefest at the work done by the museum’s board members and other volunteers. That included removing sections of the cubicles once used by the telemarketers who once worked there and leaving and extending other portions to create half-walls for displays that include recreations of an 1890 dining room, 1920s kitchen, one-room schoolhouse and other scenes filled with items donated to the museum over the years.

The half-walls of the cubicles were covered with wallpaper and paneling suited for their period and selected by board member Mary Greathouse.

Vickey Gallagher, the museum board’s president, said many commented on the unusual but effective use of the cubicles.

“A lot of people have used the word unique, that our museum is different from many others,” she said.

A nod to the G.C. Murphy Store that once occupied the site was made with a display that includes signs from the former five-and-dime store that were found stored on the building’s second floor and a display counter filled with household items that would have been sold there.

Gallagher noted the center also will serve as a cultural center, a move suggested by state Commissioner of Culture and History Randall Reid-Smith, who helped the board to secure a $90,000 state grant to purchase the building.

It hosted a Christmas program featuring local children led by Carol Allman and the Brooke High School Madrigal Choir and on Saturday, Brent Kimball, a member of the choir, returned to perform the national anthem and other music.

Visitors sat in pews once used by Brooke Hills Free Methodist Church and donated when the church underwent a major renovation last year. The church’s youth group, as well as staff and volunteers with Brooke Hills Park, also have volunteered with the museum’s relcoation and renovation.

Gallagher said plans have been made for several events in the year ahead. They include holding a May art exhibit featuring works by Brooke High School students and alumni and hosting a traveling display depicting the Civil War’s role in the state’s creation in the fall.

The museum’s current hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, with other dates available by calling (304) 737-4060. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.