Event, mural to preserve history of glass firm

WELLSBURG – While plans call for the former Brooke Glass building to be demolished to make room for potential development, officials behind that effort also want to preserve the 100-year-old business. To do that, they are teaming with staff and students at West Virginia University and others to interview people who worked there or have another connection to the glass factory and pursue a mural and special event commemorating the business' history. On Wednesday Carrie Staton of the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center introduced WVU graduate public history students Alex Jebbia and Alex Villaseran, who will be conducting interviews with former employees of Brooke Glass and others with ties to the company, such as a relative who worked there. Jebbia and Villaseran are students of WVU history professor Jenny Bouleware, who toured the building with her students in October. Those interested in being interviewed may contact Staton at (304) 293-7071, Jebbia at ajebbia@mix.wvu.edu or Villaseran at avillase@mix.wvu.edu. They should indicate if they were employed by Brooke Glass or have a relative who was or some other connection to the factory. Staton said there also are plans to hold an event where people with items from Brooke Glass would be invited to show them and share stories about them. She said the event, tentatively slated for April 24, could have a festival atmosphere, with food and other activities, such as face painting. She said Austin Isinghood, a Brooke High School graduate studying graphic design at WVU; and Michelle Sloane, a WVU public administration student with a background in art; have been recruited to plan and create a mural reflecting Brooke Glass' history. Wellsburg Mayor Sue Simonetti said a local business is willing to donate materials for the mural. Tentative plans call for the mural to include panels that may be painted by the public, including local youth, and for it to be displayed during the April event. Staton said the mural will be mobile so it can be moved to another site to accommodate development there. Citing deteriorating conditions, the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle has announced plans to demolish the building and has applied for a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to remove benzopyrene and arsenic, both used in the production of glass; and asbestos from the walls and grounds there. Marvin Six, assistant director of the BDC, said he and BDC Director Pat Ford also found something else in the factory: many small, circular pieces of glass left over from production that organizers have suggested could be used to form a mosaic. Six suggested that because many of the pieces are red, they may be used to form an apple, tying in to the city's Applefest and connection to Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman. Staton voiced support for the project but said it probably won't be possible for the mosaic to be created in time for the April event. The group heard from Carol Lynn, a local resident and glass collector, who asked it also to in some way preserve the history of Riverside Glass and Crescent Glass, two companies that operated at the site before Brooke Glass. Lynn noted Wellsburg had the first recorded hot glass factory in West Virginia and once had the largest number of glass factories in the state. Ruby Greathouse, curator of the Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center, noted there once were 37 glass companies in the city as well as one in Follansbee. Many samples from some of the glass companies, including items recovered by the BDC from the Brooke Glass factory, are displayed at the museum. Greathouse said another company used the name Brooke Glass, operating from 1891 to 1899 at another location. A picture reprinted in Dean Six's book “West Virginia Glass Towns” depicts the Brooke Glass factory as being located near Pleasant Avenue on a street then known as Fleet Street. Wednesday's meeting was one of a series held by the BDC and brownfields assistance center to encourage public involvement. The next is slated for 6 p.m. April 2 at the Brooke County Salvation Army headquarters.

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