January 4-10, 2006
By CONNIE DALE
It is always good to look at a
community through the eyes of a native.
It was great to see the pride on
my editor's face as we drove through the streets of Williamstown and he told
stories of going to the local grocery store and playground as a kid. Matt
Burdette is a young man with old-time values, who at 29 can tell more
stories of the area's history than many of its elder residents. Why? Because
he loves history and the area in which he was raised.
remains a quiet and safe community where kids can play in Tomlinson Park and
parents can boast of its claim to fame - Fenton Art Glass.
Fenton recently celebrated its
100th anniversary and was recognized on the floor of the United States
Congress. Its rich heritage and highly collected hand-blown art glass is
shared within the Burdette family as Matt's late father, Paul, was a glass
blower and finisher at Fenton and his uncles Sonny and Larry still work for
What weighs heavily on the minds
of locals is globalization and countries who mass produce and cut into the
profits of Fenton. The town wants to keep its glass factory and heritage
alive. While founding brothers Frank, John and Charles Fenton are deceased,
the second, third and fourth generation of the family are taking the company
into the future.
This entire state benefits from
their dedication and the employees hard work. Let's all help in keeping this
- one of the last glass factories in the state - alive and well.
Williamstown, as many of the Ohio
River cities, has a wonderful, colorful beginning with stories of Indian
wars, frontiersmen and the women who kept the family together. The story of
the Tomlinsons and the Williams could become a wonderful pioneer saga
centered around Rebecca Tomlinson. Tomlinson was widowed at sixteen by the
Indians and remarried Isaac Williams, a frontiersman and surveyor who was
the founder of which the town was named, and they moved about the Ohio River
Williamstown was fortunate in
that its early settlers found wealth in its natural resources and in the
Ohio and Muskingum Rivers. Many fortunes were built in trading and shipping
goods to the four corners of the young America.
The area was a crossroads for
goods and services going east and west by wagon train and north and south by
river boat. It remains much that way today.
Long-time barber Claire Orem is a
native of the area and has watched as the city continues to grow. Claire
started cutting hair in 1948 and for Matt, there is no one else he would
rather have cutting his hair. Claire cut Matt's grandfather and father's
hair and when his grandfather was unable to come to the shop, Claire went to
his grandfather's house.
Claire said Williamstown is
growing and there is evidence all around. The city's population is up to
around 3,100. The recent addition of the West Virginia Welcome Center just
off Interstate 77 has really helped many of the local businesses and is
helping bring further economic development to the city.
Williamstown is unique in that it
has very strong portals in and out of the city. The I-77 exchange has a
hotel, restaurant and recently remodeled convenience store. The promise of
more business to that area is coming.
Williamstown is the center of
crossroads leading to very important locations. The bridge across the Ohio
River brings commerce in and out of the city as well as W.Va. 14.
One very unique business at this
crossroads is D-Whittlin's by David W. Ferguson. His distinctive wood
sculptures begin in his shop in Williamstown. His extensive collection,
available in all sizes of bears, totems, Indians and life-size figures,
shows his enormous talent and skill in working with a chain saw to create
unique wooden heirlooms. His work is witnessed throughout the region and
Another must-stop off the
interstate is the welcome center itself. Donna Briggs and the staff are the
most energized bunnies of information on the state and the area that no one
The knowledge from these gals is
amazing about the state, but if someone is in need these gals will help you
to the right spot. They direct people to the best hot dogs in town at the
Farm Fresh Market, to the best antique stops, gift shopping and of course on
over to Fenton.
Briggs enthusiasm is known
throughout the state and she can make the grumpiest traveler want to learn
more about the area. This newest of the state's welcome centers is a
beautiful structure, but I have one problem.
There are no signs around the
place to let anyone know what it is. Dear governor, please name the
building. At first glance, the structure could be a beautiful cathedral or
one of the state's newest gaming locations. Who would know.
Briggs and her staff have
assembled some of the best arts and crafts from the area and have it on
display. And, with "old Two Toes" a 525 pound bear shot in Raleigh County by
owner Dan Willis strategically placed in the center of the display, the room
Briggs is very proud that she has
developed a center that is both welcoming and imparts knowledge. She also
tried very hard to assemble displays interesting to both men and women.
Williamstown is expanding and the
latest residential construction areas such as Painters Crossing and Hunters
Run are great examples. And, along with new housing comes a need for
expansion of the high school. What a wonderful sight.
Matt's mother was in the last
graduating class at what is now the elementary school. The building has also
had some new additions. It is obvious that this community is forward
thinking and is taking care of its youth.
Congratulations to matt and the
other residents of a community that is staying in touch with its past, but
is more concerned with its present and future.
[CAPTION ABOVE] Fenton Art Glass,
which celebrated its 100th anniversary, was recognized on the floor of the
United States Congress. Photo by Connie Dale.