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The crossroads: Williamstown

 

January 4-10, 2006

By CONNIE DALE

Graffiti, Parkersburg, WV
 

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.

 


Williamstown 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 the company.

 

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 frontier.

 

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 worldwide.

 

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 should miss.

 

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 is complete.

 

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.
 

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Fenton Factory Tours

Visitors to Fenton Art Glass will find a spacious Gift Shop and a pleasant museum. Free factory tours (M-F 8:15am to 4:00pm) take small groups of guests right out to the factory floor to see glassmaking "up close and personal." Friendly, knowledgeable tour guides explain all aspects of the operation. The Fenton tour has been ranked among the "top 10" factory tours nationwide by USA Today. In addition we have been named Rand McNally Best of the Road for 2006. For a factory tour schedule, click here. For a map, click here.

 

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