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WVU?intern takes stock

Student photographing, cataloguing items at Brooke County Museum

September 3, 2011
By WARREN SCOTT - Staff writer , The Herald-Star

WELLSBURG - Several months ago volunteers with the Brooke County Museum began boxing up its many artifacts so they could be moved to a new location.

But the items are being taken back out, if only for a while, so an intern from West Virginia University can photograph and catalogue them for future reference.

"I think it's absolutely amazing the things that are here and the history it (the museum) has," said Klair Gaston of Wellsburg, a senior majoring in photography and minoring in art history and arts administration at WVU.

Gaston said she has always enjoyed antiques and the stories behind them.

She's applied that interest and her experience in photography to helping the museum to take stock of a diverse collection of artifacts ranging from military uniforms worn by area residents to typewriters and other office equipment used at local businesses to hundreds of pieces of glass produced by several glass factories that once operated in the city.

Gaston said Ruby Greathouse, a member of the museum board and its unofficial curator, has recorded information about the artifacts in several notebooks, including four for the museum's war department.

Greathouse said the detailed, photographic records produced by Gaston will aid the museum board in its efforts to relocate from its present site at 600 Main St.

The museum board has been considering several new sites after the Brooke County Commission made plans to relocate the county's magistrate and family courts to its building at 600 Main St.

The courts were moved to the third floor of the Progressive Bank building following the 2004 flood. But county commissioners have since learned that area of the building requires costly improvements to meet state fire regulations.

But Greathouse said the present building also lacks space. A horse-drawn plow is among donations it's had to store in the basement, and other prospective donors have been asked to hold onto their contributions until more space is available, she said.

The activities also have curtailed regular museum visits, though Greathouse said visitors seeking specific information are welcome to contact her at (304) 737-4060.

The museum board has applied for a state grant to aid it in relocating and is eyeing a two-story building with a handicap-accessible entrance and restrooms.

Greathouse said she can't comment on the proposed site because negotiations with its owner are ongoing.

At the recommendation of Randall Reid-Smith, the state Commissioner of History and Culture, the board has begun steps to adopt a new name: the Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center.

Reid-Smith suggested a museum that also showcased local musical and artistic talent would have a better chance at securing funds as well as drawing a larger audience.

"We're going to expand our coverage," Greathouse said.

While helping the museum board to prepare for a move, Gaston also has offered a new feature: photos that show Brooke County places as they appeared then and now.

Gaston has returned to the sites of the museum's black and white photos of historic Brooke County events and places and shot new color photos to offer today's residents a perspective of where those scenes took place.

The task sometimes was a challenge. For example, Gaston and others did a little detective work while determining the location of a scene of three men riding a rowboat down a city street during the 1936 flood.

Behind the trio was a portion of the former Wellsburg City Hall, which was destroyed by fire in 1939 and replaced by the current one at the same site; and a railroad crossing sign along a section of track since replaced by the Wellsburg Yankee Trail.

Gaston said she made an effort to shoot every site from the same angle in the old photos.

But for many of the flood photos, "I realized the people who took them were in a boat in the middle of the street and often at a higher level," she said.

Gaston said her photo-taking activities sometimes caught the attention of curious passerby, including Wellsburg City Manager Mark Henne.

Greathouse said she'd like to incorporate Gaston's photos into the new museum and possibly a website promoting it.

"It's really been a godsend having Klair involved with our activities," she said.

A 2008 Brooke High School graduate, Gaston admitted until recently she was among many Brooke County residents who aren't aware of the museum. She was photographing a dinner celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Wellsburg Kiwanis Club, of which her mother, Jacie Ridgley, was president, when she met Greathouse, who had brought several Wellsburg Kiwanis items for display.

A freelance photographer, she had shot photos of Matewan, Blair Mountain and other sites for Coal Country Tours.

Gaston said by working at the museum, she's "seeing Brooke County with a different eye."

She also has learned about her own family, becoming one of many to seek out parents, grandparents and others among the photos of graduating classes of Wellsburg High School dating from 1930 to 1969 and discovering a cigarette tin used by her great-uncle, Robert Carte, while serving in World War II.

While she soon will be returning to school, Gaston said she will continue working at the museum.

"I've already gotten so far into it, I'm not going to stop now," she said.

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