Museum volunteers are tapped as History Heroes

WELLSBURG – Phil and Mary Greathouse want to make sure everyone knows the new Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center was a team effort.

That’s why the pair, particularly Mary, was hesitant to accept the West Virginia Division of Culture and History’s History Heroes award, which was given in recognition of their efforts in moving the county museum to its new location in the former G.C. Murphy building at 704 Charles St. and incorporating its artifacts into a variety of displays recreating a one-room schoolhouse, kitchens, dining rooms and other scenes from the county’s 200-year past.

Mary said she wished the whole board could have accepted the award, as fellow board members and volunteers as well as public officials had a hand in creating the new museum, which will be the site of a grand opening at 10 a.m. Saturday.

A representative of the West Virginia State Glass Museum will be on hand to join them in celebrating the 200th anniversary of glass production in the state, which began at Duvall Glass in Wellsburg.

The Greathouses were among 48 residents from throughout the state named History Heroes by the W.Va. Division of Culture and History for efforts to preserve and promote state and local history. John George Pandelios of Weirton also received the honor for the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center.

Vickey Gallagher, board president, said the Greathouses went above and beyond, putting in easily more than 1,000 hours each.

“You would think they were on the payroll. They would be a lot richer if they were paid, and we’re richer for their efforts,” Gallagher said.

She noted over the last several months the two were at the site almost daily, often accompanied by their dog Max, whom the museum board considers its mascot.

Gallagher said Phil was involved in construction, plumbing and electrical work needed to bring the new location up to code. She added Mary assisted in arranging various historical items donated to the museum over the years.

Mary also selected background wallpaper or paneling suited for the period and setting of the exhibits as a 1920s kitchen or 1890s dining room. With the help of her daughter, Tammy Withers, she also created photo guides detailing the once common household items.

Withers and her daughter, Amanda, are using a computer to catalogue the museum’s many artifacts.

Mary said the wallpaper has been a particularly fun aspect of the project, saying the intricate pink and green flowered wallpaper for the 1890s dining room is her favorite background.

The hard work hasn’t dimmed the Greathouses’ excitement about the new site.

Phil said the new building provides more display space and everything currently is on the first floor and more accessible to people in wheelchairs.

At the old museum, a chairlift was used to transport handicapped visitors to the second floor.

She’s also pleased with the idea of making the museum a cultural center where musical performances and student art exhibits may be held, an idea suggested by state Commissioner of Culture and History Randall Reid-Smith, who helped the museum to secure a $90,000 state grant to purchase the building.

The Greathouses said also contributing in various ways were fellow board members Gallagher; Ruby Greathouse, Phil’s sister and the museum’s unofficial curator for many years: Leonard and Delores Ginier; Joan Beck; Luella Tokas; Chuck Hawkins; and Withers.

They added teens in the Brooke Hills Free Methodist Church youth group tore out portions of 75 cubicles once used by a telemarketing firm at the site and widened to serve as display areas.

And staff and volunteers with Brooke Hills Park transported hundreds of artifacts from the old museum at Sixth and Main streets to its present site.

“Brooke Hills Park saved us because they had all of these kids working out there one day last summer. They came in at 7 p.m. and I don’t think they stopped until after 11 p.m.,” Mary recalled.

She said even at its new, larger location, the museum continues to grow. A military room containing uniforms, memorabilia and other items dating from the American Revolution to the present has been expanded to two.

In addition, signs from the former G.C. Murphy Store were found upstairs and incorporated, with a display case containing assorted goods that would have been found in the five-and-dime store, into a section paying homage to the building’s earlier use.