After being closed for over three years, the Wetzel County Museum on Main Street hopes to open its doors July 20, during the Festival of Memories.
Denise Tackett, acting director of the museum and member of the Wetzel County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the work that has gone on behind the closed doors of the museum has been a labor of love.
She said that while the group of older gentlemen in New Martinsville that operated the museum previously had good intentions, they did not treat the facility like a true museum.
Denise Tackett, acting director of the Wetzel County Museum, shows off some of the displays the Wetzel County Convention and Visitors Bureau purchased. They were previously part of a Red Cross Exhibit and are in the process of being refurbished. (Photo by Amy Witschey)
There was no attempt to record or conserve the building's contents. Tackett said the vast majority of items in the museum had no records-particularly of where they came from. Only a few items had notes with them. "If we just continued to let things sit the way they were, they would just deteriorate," said Tackett.
While pursuing her Master's degree in Public History at West Virginia University, Tackett took many cultural resource management classes. "The more classes I took, the more I found out if you're a museum-a real museum-you have a fiduciary duty to keep the items in trust for perpetuity." She added that when people donate an item to a museum, they expect it to be taken care of.
Tackett's first order of business in the museum was to create an inventory. Protocol is to create a provenance, or record, of each item that comes into the collection. That record includes a history, description, and more, along with an assigned number on the record that is also inscribed on the item. "It's so time consuming," said Tackett. "There just so much involved."
The next order of business was to rehabilitate the building that houses the museum-the old Wells Hardware on Main Street, beside RCS Printing/BMS. "The building was in terrible shape," said Tackett.
Swiss Valley Associates of Hannibal is completely rehabilitating the structure. "They're doing an absolutely wonderful job," commented Tackett.
The first step was to insulate the building. Changes in temperature and humidity deteriorate items, which they couldn't let happen. "It has made a huge difference-huge," exclaimed Tackett of the insulation project.
The front part of the building is a welcome center and office area. The middle of the first floor is for general displays and the back room will be an industrial gallery with rotating exhibits. For now the second floor is storage, but they hope to one day have it open for more display.
Having many items in storage is not unusual for a museum. Tackett says that a typical museum has less than 10 percent of their resources on display at any one time. Not only does a rotation keep the display fresh for viewers, but it limits the exposure of archived items to elements like light.
The CVB has purchased exhibit pieces that were originally part of a traveling Red Cross exhibit. Originally valued at $200,000, the displays will be a tremendous asset to the museum.
"What that means is we have these great bones that need to be redone," said Tackett. The heavy eight-foot square displays will be rebuilt and spruced up to meet the local museum's needs.
"It's going to be a true museum," said Tackett. She hopes the museum will be something the community can be proud of and make them feel good.
Of course all of this work comes with a fairly hefty price tag.
The CVB is a 501(c)6 corporation, meaning donations to them cannot be claimed as an income tax deduction. Tackett said they have applied to be a credit-qualifying 501(c)3, but the government is behind in processing those applications.
Despite that hurdle, the CVB has been able to raise a little over $8,000 in donations. Also, their major form of funding is from half of the city's hotel/motel tax income.
Donations of time are also needed. They will be looking for volunteers to help keep the doors open as they get closer to the opening.
The CVB officially took over the museum in January 2010 from the Wetzel County Historical Society. "I feel like for the past three years I've been living in this building," said Tackett.
"Even though it doesn't look like we're doing anything, I'm working just as fast as I can, really I am," said Tackett.