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National Packard Museum linked to Chester, WV

July 29, 2014 - Paul Giannamore
Regular visitors to this spot know my vacations usually consist of travels organized by The Boss (at Home). We get in the car (we being me and my brother, the Home Office of Wichita, Kan.) and don’t really know where The Boss (at Home) is taking us, other than that it will be within a couple hours drive at most.

Today was one I’ve wanted to see for a long time: The National Packard Museum in Warren. And it’s about more than just the cars, though the cars are just beautiful. It’s about the Packard brothers, and Packard Electric and capitalism and industrialism and all the good stuff that brought the City of Warren for most of the 20th century.

And, for local folks, it’s about Chester, W.Va.

No, the brothers Packard never put a plant there, but the pretty and detailed little museum in Warren is the result of the work of a man named Terry Martin, who grew up in Chester before moving to Warren in the early 1960s to take a job as a cabinetmaker for a kitchen contractor. He wondered why everything in Warren seemed to be named Packard-this and Packard-that.

The Packards actually made their first few hundred cars in Warren between 1899 and their move to Detroit shortly after the turn of the 20th century. Did I mention that Martin was a car collector?

No single person in Warren could answer his queston, so he set off to do some research of his own, especially piqued after a visit to the Hershey, Pa., antique car show back in 1968.

Over the years, after accumulating information and research and being asked to put together the first few chapters of a book about the Packard company, he led the effort to organize the museum, which eventually led to the fund drive to build the museum that stands today behind a glass facade that resembles the distinctive classic Packard radiator shell.

It’s a must-visit if you’re into cars, engines, early automotive design, industrialism and capitalism, oh, and electronics. Packard was a leader, right into the last decade as Delphi, in engineering and design and automotive electronics systems.

I couldn't stop photographing the 1956 Packard Caribbeans. Beautiful. Ditto the classics of the 1930s, and the special display of Al Capone's beautiful 1947 sedan.

It’s at 1899 Mahoning Ave., NW, Warren. Go see.

And if you do, The Boss (At Home) took us to a very neat restaurant, the Saratoga Restaurant, 129 E. Market St., Downtown Warren, just up the block from the EGCC building at Market and Park Avenue. It’s 98 years old, quaint in that Art Deco stainless steel and wood way that evokes another era, and it’s genuine. The food is honest, tasty and makes no excuses for not being “modern.” You are not eating yogurt. You’re eating like a true American from the days when downtown restaurants with local owners were the norm and food was hearty and good and didn’t bring worries of bad imports in fast food chains.

And it’s not something that can be bottled, replicated or canned and repeated as a franchise. The Saratoga is what the Green Mill or Alexander’s used to be to downtown Steubenville. The owner was at the counter chatting with everyone who came through the door into the restaurant with its high-backed leather-booth and wood-lined restaurant with the little wall sconces and a coat tree by every booth. (I loved Pete’s Special sandwich…)

Downtown Warren is clean and nice and lacks only more people walking around its streets. It’s what could be downtown Steubenville should the Grand Theater truly spark something in the near future. I hope it does.

Or maybe a Steubenville Pottery collector will want to open a museum somewhere. Could be nice.


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