Friday, August 1, 2014

Traveling West Virginia: The Mountaineer Military Museum

I saw a sign one day, pointing the way to the military museum in Weston, WV. That day I was traveling with my sisters, exploring the Museum of American Glass in Weston, but I made a mental note to seek out the museum sometime when Larry was with me. Last month I was telling stories at the library in Weston and we decided this was the day to find the museum.

Originally built as the Weston Colored School, a school for black children built in 1882 during segregation and in use until 1954 in ,the Lewis County School Board donated use of the building for the Mountaineer Military Museum.

The building looks deceptively small from the outside but it houses a fascinating and sobering collection.

The museum is a work of remembrance for founder Ron McVaney and his wife Barbara. McVaney and several of his friends went into the military together during the Vietnam war. McVaney was sent to Germany, while his friends were sent to Vietnam. McVaney was the only one to come home alive, and he made a vow then that his friends would never be forgotten. The museum, begun after his retirement, is his way of keeping that promise.

The museum was not actually open the day we visited but Mrs. McVaney was there doing some work and graciously allowed us to enter. Inside the door, a visitor is immediately met but a corridor lined with portraits.

Mrs. McVaney explained that this is their Hall of Fame, and that any family in West Virginia can send in pictures of military family members to be displayed in the museum. The number of portraits quickly filled the hall and the display has spread to other places in the building as more arrive almost daily.

We were amazed at how professionally and creatively the museum was arranged. Many of the items were the Mcvaneys personal collection, but as word got out donations poured in from West Virginians around the state, and even from out of state.

She must have been a very special teacher; many soldiers wrote to Miss Darnall
during their time of service in WWII
The school board built on a new room as the collection grew, and the new space allowed the McVaneys to bring in an old Army Jeep,

and to build a little hut (they call it the "hooch") where veterans and others can spend quiet time in meditation.

A beaded curtain covers the entrance to the hooch. The beads were recommended by vets
who remembered the hooches in Vietnam--a place to relax and maybe party.
A video runs in the room, a moving tribute to veterans of all wars.

The displays are organized by time periods and wars/conflicts, from the Civil War to the present. The Civil War display is no larger than any of the others; in fact it might be smaller but that seemed all right to me, since that war is well covered by other museums, while later conflicts like Korea get little attention.

I was pleased to see that women vets were not overlooked. Almost every war display included something about the females who were part of the armed forces.

Uniformed mannequins stood with each display.

I was surprised to see that even Desert Storm and the Iraq War were included, and are continuing to be developed.

The museum continues to grow as donations continue to be made for the various displays. I know we're already looking around our house and thinking about what we have that might be better used by the museum.

I highly recommend the Mountaineer Military Museum as a place to visit: it reminds us of the toll of war, the sacrifice made by many, and of the responsibility we all have to remember those who defend our country. It's a humbling experience, and I left thankful that there are people like the McVaneys who give so much that we might all benefit.

The museum has limited hours as it is staff by volunteers. Call ahead if you would like to visit when the museum is closed and a tour might be possible. Located at 345 Center Avenue, Weston WV 26452, the museums hours are Friday and Saturday from 10am-4pm in the summer, and in winter on Saturdays only from 10am-4pm.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Traveling West Virginia: Henderson Hall

I had been promising myself for months that we would stop at Henderson Hall on day on our way to our Marietta booth. This past week I made it a plan instead of a promise and it was certainly worth taking the time to visit.

The Henderson family arrived in the Ohio Valley in the late 1700's and promptly established themselves as a primary force in the settlement communities along the river. With connections to many in power in the relatively new United States government, it stands to reason that this family would play a prominent role in the government of the frontier. they must have recognized that fact early on, for they saved every letter, receipt, diary, broken cup, school book, chair, and much more--all put away in a third floor attic room for the enjoyment, wonderment and edification of future generations
The exterior is imposing but not overly ostentatious. Larry, the retired bricklayer, enjoyed seeing the fine masonry work,
and we were both impressed by the carved sandstone columns and corners of the front entry porch.

The interior was like stepping back in time. This family, as I said, did not throw much away, and took good care of the things they owned so the decor is a mixture of eras and styles, but all tastefully blended and interesting as can be to anyone interested in antiques.

We went upstairs to the find...

and bedrooms...

and more bedrooms,

and even a wedding gown.

This is the third floor storage room, which I'm betting they called they "lumber room" since that was the English term and the USA was only recently separated from the mother country at the time Henderson Hall was built. Lots of treasures here!

And a view looking down the stairwell,

which is very similar to this view at the Louis Bennett house, built in 1875 in Weston, WV, which now house the public library. Henderson Hall (the new section) was built in 1836, but the style is certainly comparable.

 Wonder of wonders, you can even go up into the widow's walk on top of the mansion to see the view! I tried to imagine what it looked like in the early 1800's when the Hendersons were farming the fields around their home. What a sight it must have been.

Back to the second floor landing, where it was much cooler than the windowed widow's walk,

and then to the first floor to view the lovely parlor (can't imagine calling it a living room!),

and the gorgeous dining room, with the table set for ten guests,

and into the kitchen, where the last Henderson to live in the house uncovered and restored the original fireplace:

There is much more to see in Henderson Hall than what I have shown here. So many antiques, photos, artifacts that it boggles the mind, truly. The Hall is funded by the Oil and Gas Museum in Parkersburg, WV, and volunteers from that group do upkeep and are docents at the hall. A labor of love, certainly.

Our guide told us that the letters and other ephemera were currently being sorted and placed into archival boxes. I hope that these will be made available to researchers and historians, as 200 years of letters is really a treasure trove and a perfect insight into the way of life in bygone days.

This photo shows the original house at the rear and the later addition of the "hall." It's apparent that the family's fortunes continued to do well in the valley.

Henderson Hall is located at 517 River Rd, Williamstown, WV (Off WV 14 north of Parkersburg)

Call 304-375-2129 for information about group tours, hours, etc. Admission is $5.00 per person, and they usually open Noon to 5:00pm daily.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Traveling West Virginia: The Belle of Cincinnati

It was windy on board! My hair flew around so much
I probably looked like a wild woman. But who cared?
We've been doing a lot of sight-seeing in the past few weeks, and intentionally so. We have a lot of places on our bucket lists and it's time to start marking some of them off the list.

I have always wanted to take a trip on a riverboat. Not one of the smaller steamers but one of those big boats from the heyday of river travel when theaters, bands and other entertainment floated from town to town, bringing new shows and experiences to the rural population. Most such trips, like those offered on the American Queen or the Delta Queen, are out of our financial reach, but then I read about a dinner cruise being offered by the River Museum of Point Pleasant (WV) aboard the Belle of Cincinnati. Now this was something we could do! So I called, bought tickets, and we waited for the big day.

We drove down to Point Pleasant Monday evening, and had no trouble finding where the boat was loading. Those tall stacks gave away the location pretty easily, as did the droves of people heading toward the levee. (The Point Pleasant levee, by the way, is worth a visit all by itself with its stunning, long mural that depicts the history of the area. You can see a bit of it here, in an earlier post.)

We ran into friends as soon as we arrived. Poet Kirk Judd and his wife were taking the trip too, as was old-time musician, author and square dance caller Mack Samples and his wife. West Virginia really is just one small town--we almost always see someone we know wherever we go. There were hundreds of people boarding, a good sign, I thought, for the River Museum since they put on the cruise as a fundraiser.

Boarding was relaxed and casual, and dinner was served buffet-style on two levels of the boat, so we had choices of places to sit. Every table had a view of the river. Dinner was leisurely and as the wait staff began to clear the boat left the dock, heading downriver.

The Ohio deserves her name, "beautiful river." This night she was in showcase form, with light clouds scudding in the sky, the water rippling gently and the sun's last rays sending gentle gold across the scene.

We identified landmarks we recognized,

and I particularly enjoyed seeing bridges from a new perspective--the underside. It was surprisingly rusty under there. Hmmm. I wondered if this was cause for alarm, particularly since this bridge is the replacement for the doomed Silver Bridge that collapsed into the icy river in December 1967.

It surprised me how loud the bridges were. The smokestacks were lowered as we passed under. Pretty cool.

There was even royalty on board--Miss Tourism, I believe her banner said. I was delighted to see a red-haired queen; it seems to me that redheads get short shrift in beauty contests, something that really puzzles me. This young lady was stunning and gracious.

It was almost full dark by the time we returned. I'd explored pretty much every inch of the boat during the trip.

We did not partake of the offered dancing--the singer was the typical lounge singer, doing 60's and 70's numbers but I was more interested in the water, the scenery and the boat.

All in all, it was a fine trip, and I'd like to go again. I hope the museum continues to offer this opportunity to travel the river in the old-time way. It was a real treat.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.
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