POINT PLEASANT, W.Va. — Construction of the Point Pleasant River Museum and Lakin Ray Learning Center’s new location continues to move forward after a slow start.
“[It] started a little bit slow, but we’ve been doing pretty good. We’re working up to the second level,” James McCormick, director of the museum, said.
The original location, a 135-year-old structure, located on the same road as the new building – Main Street – a few blocks down, was destroyed due to an electrical fire that started in the third-floor attic in 2018.
Despite fire and water damage, McCormick said several artifacts were able to be salvaged, something he said was a miracle with the conditions. The items are currently stored with a continuous dehumidifier system for protection.
“One bad rainstorm can ruin 200 years’ worth of history. We were blessed,” McCormick said.
McCormick said the building is just one small piece of the project.
“Building the building is one thing. We really want to make this a draw,” McCormick said. “We want to be able to explain the river and how important it is to [history] and to this day.”
McCormick said the museum is one of 22 in the nation, making it a unique experience.
The reconstruction plan – one McCormick said is only possible with community support – is one the museum team hopes will display a story that attracts everyone, as well as educates.
“It’s our hope to spur the interest of locals, especially youth. Everyone’s support of making this an interesting museum [has been great],” McCormick said. “This thing is an education center; a lot of river boat employees got their training with us.”
The rebuild plans include interactive exhibits, two simulators, a large aquarium with native fish, several displays of artifacts, a library and more.
“It’s going to be an attractive museum when we put it all back together,” stated the late Jack Fowler, McCormick’s predecessor, during a previous interview with the Register prior to his passing. “I just hope we can build something the community can be proud of.”
Fowler was the museum’s director from 1999 until his death in 2020. McCormick said it is important to make sure the museum is something that would have made Fowler proud. He said there are various plans to honor Fowler and ensure he is a part of the museum, including a special memorial.
“It’s very important to the community not to forget Jack,” McCormick said.
McCormick said river cities are vital parts of history and he hopes through the museum people will be able to “take a walk into history” through the exhibits and “artifacts [that] go back thousands of years” to see what brought people to Point Pleasant.
“The river is what really attracted the industry,” McCormick said. “It’s a shame that people, even some that live in this community, don’t know how busy Point Pleasant was.”
McCormick said the team is working with an organization that works with artifact displays for several Smithsonian museums. He referenced different military museums’ attractions.
“Every base has a museum, what’s cool is when you go in it’s an experience,” McCormick said. “What continues to draw people is the experience.”
He said the plan is to be able to take visitors through the town’s history over different time periods.
“Our area was an occupied town. We have a Civil War history that’s rarely been told,” McCormick said.
The museum’s building is owned by the City of Point Pleasant. The insurance settlement helped get the rebuild moving.
As previously reported by the Register, the budget for the physical construction of the structure was estimated at around $1.89 million.
The museum interior and equipment are being funded through donations and fundraisers, something McCormick said has slowed down.
“[We are] still a little tight on funds,” McCormick said. “We are working on an extremely tight budget, reduced hours to four days a week. We are trying very hard. [A] sacrifice we’re going to make, because we and everyone agreed to it because we love the museum.”
McCormick said funding was short by approximately $450,000 when he was contacted by a generous out-of-state donor who had planned to leave money in his will for the museum and decided he wanted to be able to see it.
With experience of donations vocalized but unfulfilled, McCormick said he was afraid to get his hopes up, but then a check appeared. The currently-anonymous donor is donating $250,000 over a three-year-period, covering half of the needed costs.
Staff have been rebuilding the museum’s website to keep things as up to date as possible McCormick said. There has also been a monthly donor option added.
“We’re hoping that local people and people who love history, in general, can realize they can afford just five dollars a month,” McCormick said. “Most importantly, they can come in [the museum] and realize they helped build [this].”
McCormick did not give an exact opening date in fear of getting too much hope built, including his own, and the date end up getting pushed back, he said.
McCormick and fellow board members have plans to continue collecting stories from different periods of history, including a future to dive and pull ship pieces to preserve and display.
“[There is] so much potential,” McCormick said. “We want their [visitors and donors] kids, grandkids and generations to come, to enjoy.”
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Brittany Hively is a freelance writer and graduate of Marshall University, with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and journalism.