Upper Pocahontas Community Cooperative Contemplates Tannery Museum
Several members of the Upper Pocahontas Community Cooperative, along with County Commissioner Walt Helmick had toured the old Howes Tannery Office Building in Frank last November. After viewing the extensive water damage to the rear portion of the interior of the building, everyone seemed to agree that restoring the building to be repurposed as a museum dedicated to the tannery was not financially viable. Instead, Commissioner Helmick said the County Commission, which owns the building and surrounding property, would likely demolish it for safety reasons, but the Cooperative could help themselves to artifacts and historical materials from the building to include in a smaller replica museum building they could build on the property.
As a follow-up, the members of the Cooperative decided they needed community involvement in any decision about this, and held a meeting on Monday, December 14th. Several people who had worked in the tannery building came to the meeting. Those included David Burner; William Vandevander; Daniel Vandevander; Ronald Sheets; and John Simmons. Commissioner Helmick also attended, along with Upper Pocahontas Community Cooperative members Jason Bauserman; Julia Bauserman; Judy Fuller, and Nancy Egan.
Jason Bauserman opened the meeting, speaking about creating a museum dedicated to not only the Howe Tannery, but also to the Marlinton Tannery as well as to the West Virginia tannery industry in general. Bauserman mentioned that the building appears to be in such poor shape that it needs to be torn down but a smaller replica building could be built as a museum utilizing salvageable portions of the original office building, its artifacts and fixtures. At that point, the entire group of former tannery workers objected to tearing the original building down, believing it could be restored. When shown pictures showing some of the extensive damage to the rear interior of the building, a consensus of those former workers seemed to feel that perhaps the front half of the building could be restored and the damaged portions torn down.
Faced with these very personal feelings of the former workers, Commissioner Helmick seemed willing to explore options other then demolishing the building, but wanted to tour the building with interested community members, former workers, and a construction expert so that whether the building could be restored, partially restored or still demolished would not be solely a County Commission decision, but would involve a consensus decision agreeable to the community.
Likewise, the members of the cooperative seemed surprised by the opposition to demolishing the building, and also agreed that all interested parties should take the tour of the building and reach a consensus decision on what to do with that original building.
A date of Saturday, January 9th at one p.m. was set for any interested members of the public to come and check out the condition of the building to determine what is or is not possible in the way of restoration.
Either way, the Upper Pocahontas Community Cooperative still wants there to be a tannery museum on the property to preserve the history of West Virginia Tanneries. Jason Bauserman later told us that the Howes Tannery opened in the early 1900’s with the office building being added in 1942. Bauserman noted that the Howes Tannery was perhaps the major producer of leather Army boots during World War Two, as well as the major manufacturer of leather mail pouches used during that time period, and that the Howes office building was likely built using funds from those large government contracts. The Tannery closed its doors in 1994.