The State Journal covers Glass Pickers event co-organized by Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center

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Glass Pickers gather to finish Wellsburg, WV, factory mural

May 8, 2015 by LInda Harris, Legal Reporter, The State Journal.
Story printed with permission.
Original link here.

Several community members participated in the first-ever Brooke Glass Pickers event, by painting scenes of Wellsburg’s glass making history on a mural that will be hung at the old Brooke Glass Factory site. Photo: The State Journal

Several community members participated in the first-ever Brooke Glass Pickers event, by painting scenes of Wellsburg’s glass making history on a mural that will be hung at the old Brooke Glass Factory site. Photo: The State Journal

You didn’t have to be a master artist to pick up a paint brush at the first-ever Brooke Glass Pickers event April 25 in Wellsburg.

Organizers encouraged anyone who was willing to brave the gloomy skies and below-normal temperatures to help them add the finishing touches to a three-panel mural celebrating the city’s glassmaking heritage. Eventually, it will hang at the Yankee Trail head next to the old Brooke Glass Factory site.

The idea, graphic arts major and Wellsburg native Austin Isinghood said, “is just to have the community involved in it.”

“The mural shows the factory, the West Virginia hills, the sunset, whatever,” said Isinghood, who helped design it. “There’s a train going through and a barge — that’s how they used to ship things in and out — and glassblowers showing how they made glass.

“The third panel shows some of the products they made; all three panels are going to be connected.”

The glass factory sat idle for years before being acquired in April 2014 by the Business Development Corporation of the Northern Panhandle, which tasked a new community-based group, the Brooke Glass Grants & Opportunities Team, with gathering input on how the site can best be reused. That process is continuing.

“We had a good crowd, despite the chilly temperature,” said organizer Carrie Stanton, redevelopment research and collaborations manager for the Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center, of the Pickers event. “Probably a dozen kids helped us get a lot of the mural completed, Marvin Six (BDC assistant director) didn’t stop giving tours all afternoon and (we) got some great interviews for the oral history mini-documentary.”

In addition to the mural, volunteers also collected oral histories from former glassworkers.

West Virginia University students Alex Jebbia of Wheeling and Alex Villaseran of Walnut Creek, California, said the interviews gave them “a better sense of the history of Brooke Glass and Crescent Glass.” Both are pursuing master’s degrees in public history.

“It’s a way to preserve the legacy of Brooke Glass since the building is not going to be here,” Jebbia said. “We’re saving stories — saving the history.”

Villaseran said one man who’d blown glass for more than 30 years “showed us all his glass-blowing scars and the calluses on his hands because he’d worked there for such a long time.”

Built in 1879, the building had originally housed Riverside Glass Works. Over the years it also housed National Glass Company, Crescent Glass and Variety Glass in addition to Brooke Glass.

“I haven’t been in that factory since I was a kid,” said Roger Clem, a Wellsburg resident. “I didn’t work at that one, I worked at Erskine Glass, but I’ve been in it.”

Another resident recalled her father, the late Thurman “Red” Speece, worked in the factory for 48 years. He always “had good guys he worked with,” said Speece’s daughter, Goldie. “He loved his job — he had to love it to do it for 48 years.

Mayor Sue Simonetti said the project was “really important” to the community.

“History brings people together, it’s what we are,” she said. “We’re a small community, family-oriented.

BDC Executive Director Pat Ford said they’ve applied for a $240,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cleanup grant for funding to raze the two buildings on the site, though they figure the total price tag for removing hazardous substances from the building, infrastructure and ground and demolish the structures could go as high as $400,000.

“We feel good about our chances of getting this grant,” Ford said. “EPA awarded us a $70,000 Targeted Brownfield Assessment grant to identify hazardous substances in the soil and in the building. But if for any reason we don’t get the grant or we get a grant but it’s not enough, we’re seeking alternative financing to close that gap, that’s $100,000 to $150,000 we may need.”

Ford said large-scale commercial and industrial properties are becoming hard to find, particularly with infrastructure already in place.

“We don’t want to miss this window, prospects are out there looking for sites where they can put their flag in the ground and be ready for the oil and gas industry to rebound next year,” he said.

Industry experts are looking for an oil and gas rebound in 2016.

“They’re doing major improvements upstream, so they need infrastructure to be in place downstream here in West Virginia,” he said. “People are investing upstream, that means demands are going be made downstream. Right now I’m juggling 38 prospects looking for a home in the Ohio Valley and they just can’t find sites, even as small as a 40,000-square-foot building — that’s not speculation, we’re being hammered with prospects.”

-NRCCE-

CONTACT: Carrie Staton; Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center
304.293.7071; Carrie.Staton@mail.wvu.edu

The Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center is a program of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at West Virginia University.

About Brownfields
Brownfields include all property, which is hindered from redevelopment, or reuse due to the presence or perceived presence of a hazardous substance, or contaminant.  The West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Centers were created in 2005 by the West Virginia Legislature to empower communities to plan and implement redevelopment projects.  

About the West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Centers
The Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center is a program of the West Virginia Water Research Institute housed at the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at West Virginia University and serves the northern 33 counties in West Virginia.  The West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center at Marshall University, located in Huntington, West Virginia is housed within the Center for Environmental, Geotechnical, and Applied Sciences (CEGAS) and serves the southern 22 counties in West Virginia.