Library presents major show of objects in Wheeling's history

This Thursday Jan. 17, 2019 photo shows Ohio County Public Library staff members, from left, Erin Rothenbuehler, Dottie Thomas and Sean Duffy examine a new exhibit, "Wheeling in 250 Objects," at the library in Wheeling W.Va.. The major exhibit coincides with Wheeling 250, a year-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of the city's founding. (Linda Cumins/The Intelligencer via AP)

By LINDA COMINS, The Intelligencer
WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — The Wheeling 250 observance is providing a perfect opportunity for the Ohio County Public Library to showcase many treasures from its large archival collections.
Wheeling 250 is a year-long celebration of the 250th anniversary of the city’s founding. City leaders and community groups are organizing events and exhibits to mark the occasion.
As part of that venture, the library is presenting a major exhibit, “Wheeling in 250 Objects,” in a new open exhibit area on its main floor. The display space was created last year as part of extensive renovations and upgrades to the facility.
Library Director Dottie Thomas said, “The board, when they did the renovations, really wanted to increase the display space because of the quality of the displays we’ve been having.”
The open design of the display space -situated between the library’s main desk, reference desk and computer section — allows for an exhibit to be shown “over a long period of time. It can stay there for a while,” Thomas said.
A total of 16-18 display cases are being placed in the exhibit area, said Erin Rothenbuehler, the library’s graphic designer who also works in archives and special collections.
The first part of “Wheeling in 250 Objects,” now on display, features artifacts related to the indigenous people of the Wheeling area. Other artifacts, documents and memorabilia will be added for each part of the multi-faceted exhibit.
Parts of the exhibit will remain on display throughout the year. “We’ll end up with far more than 250 objects,” Rothenbuehler said.
From that number, 250 items will be selected “as representative of Wheeling’s history,” said Sean Duffy, the library’s programming director who also works in archives.
“Many of these objects will be on loan from various heritage partners and community members,” he explained. “Many more will come from the library’s own archives and special collections.”
Identified as Object No. 1 is a replicated skull on a stick to symbolize the area’s designation as the Place of the Skull, Rothenbuehler said.
The exhibit corresponds to the five symbolic stars on the city of Wheeling’s new flag, which was designed by Rothenbuehler. Blue lights are being used in the display area to represent Wheeling Creek.
A display case is filled with items that illustrate the five points “to help people understand the symbols on the flag,” Duffy said.
The first installment, representing the flag’s indigenous star, examines the history of native peoples of the Upper Ohio Valley, who lived in the region for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. Most of these artifacts are on loan from the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex’s research facility in Moundsville. Hank Lutton, curator of the archaeological complex, has provided a selection of items from that facility.
Displays relate to both the indigenous period (pre-contact with Europeans) and the time after European explorers and settlers came to the region, Duffy said. The later period represented a time of transition for Native Americans and their trading with Europeans.
For instance, he said, the display includes two kinds of projectile points: ones made of stone or bone, which were more ancient, and ones crafted from European copper, which “obviously were trade items.”
Also shown are glass beads, copper beads, decorative necklace, shell pendant, fish hooks, spear heads and “iron trade tomahawks that Europeans would have,” he said.
Of practical use was a ceramic bowl found near Wheeling Creek. “They (Native Americans) would have ground up shells to mix with clay to keep the bowl from cracking during firing,” Rothenbuehler said.
Duffy said the display includes a nutting stone, a large rock with eight holes, that could have been used for food grinding, starting fires or making weapons.
Also displayed are realistic-looking facsimiles of some real artifacts, Rothenbuehler pointed out. The re-creations include the skull, a lead plate that French explorer Celeron de Bienville placed at the mouth of Wheeling Creek, a page from explorer Christopher Gist’s diary that mentions Wealin Creek and a map drawn from surveyors’ documents that show Scalp Creek.
The next segment of the display will examine life on the frontier, focusing on the Zanes, Fort Henry and Fort Fincastle and extending into the era of slavery, Duffy said. Other phases of the installation will relate to transportation, tracing development of the National Road and the B&O Railroad, and the statehood movement.
An examination of Wheeling’s industrial era will constitute the biggest and final portion of the exhibit, he said, adding, “We have a lot of stuff from 1900 to the present.”
The exhibit may be viewed, free of charge, during regular hours of operation. The library, located at 52 16th St., is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday.
Displays such as “Wheeling in 250 Objects” are designed “to bring awareness to the library’s archives,” Rothenbuehler commented. “We’re trying to make it as accessible to people as possible.”
Thomas noted, “Our archival collections are catalogued. Anyone can see what we have.”
In addition, Duffy said articles and stories written and shared on the library’s Archiving Wheeling blog provide context to artifacts featured in the various displays.
Several years ago, the board decided that one of a library’s main purposes is “to preserve that community’s history and culture,” the director said. Louis Horacek, a former assistant director, began collecting historical documents and other archival material.
As the collection grew, the library made a commitment to preserve the materials professionally. An archives room was created, utilizing part of a large storage room on the building’s lower level. “We have been able to expand that room,” Thomas said.
“These displays are part of making that (archives) more accessible to the public and drawing attention to Wheeling and all of Ohio County,” the director commented. “We do have some things from other communities in the archival collection, and we hope to expand that in the future, too.”
A catalog of the collection is posted on the library’s website. The online resources allow people to conduct searches “to see what might be included in the archives,” she said.
“In the future, we hope to draw researchers here,” she said, adding, “We’ve already done that. We had a man from Australia here working on his doctorate.”
The Archiving Wheeling blog also serves as “an organ to connect what we have with what is out there,” Duffy remarked. “As a library archives, it has been well received and has led to people donating things because they saw a story on there.”
Library officials think the archival collections and exhibits would complement a proposed Wheeling museum.
“We’ll work in cooperation with the new museum when it comes,” Rothenbuehler said.
Thomas foresees occasions when the museum could mount special displays at the library to draw attention to its holdings and to reach a wider audience. Noting that the library is open 67 hours a week, she said, “It’s hard to rival that.”
Rothenbuehler noted that the library attracts considerable foot traffic from patrons borrowing books, using computer resources and attending programs and classes.
Duffy thinks the library’s display area could offer additional exhibit space for the museum to utilize. “Most museums can display only 20 percent of their collections at one time,” he related.
Information from: The Intelligencer,