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Pieces of the past unearthed in Wellsburg

HIDDEN HISTORY — Marvin Six, acting director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, Tuesday presented to the Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center items found in a cement block of the section of the former Brooke Glass factory being demolished. With Six, seated far left, are Ruby Greathouse, seated, the museum’s curator; and back: David Rithner, whose family owned the business; museum volunteer Bobbi Elliott and Brooke County Commissioner A.J. Thomas. Behind them are some of the many locally produced glass displayed at the museum. -- Warren Scott

WELLSBURG — As crews proceeded to raze the front portion of the former Brooke Glass factory, they made an unusual find: Hidden in a cement block at the southwest corner were a small ceramic container, a small glass jar, a thin tin box and what appeared to be two thick rolls of papers.

Marvin Six, acting director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, said after learning of them, he had to find out what was inside and he had to share them with the Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center.

It’s not the first time the economic development group has passed items found in the 140-year-old building on to the museum.

After acquiring the Eighth Street structure several years ago and pursuing environmental rehabilitation of the site, the BDC donated molds for several glass pieces produced by the company and a briefcase containing business cards and samples belonging to former president Henry Rithner III.

And that was where Six and museum volunteers Ruby Greathouse and Bobbi Elliott Tuesday set about investigating the newfound items with help from David Rithner, the last vice president of Brooke Glass, and Brooke County Commissioner A.J. Thomas.

One of the rolled papers was found to be the Feb. 2, 1904, issue of the Pan-Handle News, a Wellsburg newspaper that covered local, national and international news. On the front page is a large photo of Henry Gassaway Davis with a caption noting his recent nomination as vice president.

Details of the nomination are concealed by dirt and dust embedded in the yellowed paper.

But an Internet search reveals Davis was a millionaire and senator from West Virginia named the National Democratic Party’s candidate for U.S. vice president.

Davis and presidential hopeful Alton B. Parker, a New York judge, would lose to Charles W. Fairbanks and Theodore Roosevelt, respectively, but Davis would go on to help establish Davis & Elkins College.

Elliott slowly opened another roll to reveal a 1904 catalog of merchandise sold by Riverside Glass, the company that built the factory in 1878.

Within the catalog’s pages was a separate, smaller booklet listing prices for Riverside’s products.

Six noted many of the pages were stained by water and asked whether the building had taken in water during the city’s various floods.

Rithner said he’s been told water reached the second floor in 1936 but during floods in his lifetime, it did not rise very high.

“A couple of times it came in this much,” he said, holding two fingers apart to indicate about 2 inches, then adding, “just enough to be a pain, to make us clean everything.”

Dye from the catalog’s red cover had leaked onto the ceramic container, giving a pink cast to the small replica of a traveling trunk, complete with a keyhole and handles.

Into the ceramic container had been placed a neatly folded, small sheet of paper. Yellow but clean, the paper appeared to have been protected by its loosely fitting lid.

The museum volunteers still are working to decipher the writing, which appears to refer to Thomas Carlton, apparently a manager at the factory. Within the cracked glass jar was a small card. Folded in half but still stiff, it bears the name Miss Jessie Anne Charlton in italic print.

Greathouse said such cards often were used for graduation announcements.

The contents of the tin box didn’t fare as well, as one end of the rusted container came off, leaving the folded pieces of newsprint inside crumbling scraps of paper.

Six said the combination of items seems to reflect an effort, as with many time capsules, to present items of national, local and personal importance.

Rithner said he’s curious about the occasion for it, noting the factory had been built years before.

But he noted it was purchased in 1911 by his great-grandfather, Henry Rithner I, and a business partner after their bottle-making plant on the city’s north end was destroyed by fire.

Rithner said staff at Riverside may have foreseen their company’s closing before planting the time capsule.

Later redubbed Brooke Glass, Crescent Glass added the front section and a rear section, which was razed years ago after a portion fell onto the adjacent paved trail.

The BDC had planned to demolish the entire building before it was advised the center section could be preserved. The group hopes to restore the building and attract a new occupant.

(Scott can be contacted at wscott@heraldstaronline.com.)

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