Upper Pocahontas Community Co-op Checks out Tannery Office in Frank
Recently, several members of the Upper Pocahontas Community Co-op, including Jason Bauserman, Nancy Egan, and Jimmy Harmon, met with County Commissioner Walt Helmick and this reporter at the former office building of the Howes Tannery in Frank, WV.
The Co-op was looking for a location in the Frank/Durbin area to possibly locate a future historical museum, and the now county-owned office building located in the former East Fork Industrial Park in Frank seemed like a possible site. They said that the history of the former Howes Leather Tannery, which at one time was one of the largest tanneries of shoe sole leather in the country, would be featured prominently at the museum, along with Durbin native and former West Virginia University and NFL football star Bruce Bosley.
Bosley was selected in 1955 as an All-American Lineman and was later an NFL star with the San Francisco Forty-Niners, playing for fourteen years with the Forty-Niners, with multiple Pro-Bowl appearances. Bosley is also one of only three WVU football players whose jersey (Number 77) has been retired by WVU. Bosley was also elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982. According to Commissioner Helmick, Bosley worked for a time at the Howe Leather Tannery in Frank.
Helmick unlocked the doors to the tannery office building and we all took a tour of the building. Long after the tannery closed, the building in 2011, housed an office for the Pocahontas County Sheriff’s Department as well as Department of Natural Resources Offices. The Sheriff’s Department had to do quite a number of repairs to the building which had been vacant for years before they moved in. After those agencies moved out of the building, it once again fell into dis-repair, with a leaky roof causing extensive damages to the back half of the building, which was quite evident as we walked through it.
Commissioner Helmick said that the County Commission will quite likely demolish the building in the near future, but suggested that the Co-op consider salvaging a lot of the historic artifacts -lights, cherry doors, iron stair railings, etc. and use these to build a scaled-down version of the tannery offices on the grounds for use as their museum. Most of the Co-op members seemed to agree that restoring the existing building would be too expensive due to the structural water damage the leaky roof had caused to the building.
Helmick also said he envisions the site be restored to lawn once the building has been torn down, and that he would possibly like to see a new manufacturing building be build at the rear of the property, to make finished hardwood products, such as caskets. Helmick feels such a business would be practical since it would be located so close to Interstate Hardwoods, which could supply the hardwood.
Only time will tell if there will eventually be a historic museum at the front of the former North Fork Industrial Park, near where the Howes Leather Tannery office building now looms like a ghost from the past, and whether Helmick’s vision of a hardwood product manufacturing company ever becomes a reality in the rear of the property.