The Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center is looking for a new home.
The old museum building was damaged in a fire on July 1, 2018. Most of the contents that were salvaged from the building were relocated to temporary offices a couple of blocks up the street in downtown Point Pleasant, W.Va.
Legal challenges to razing the old building and erecting a new one on the site would drag the process out too long, so museum officials are negotiating to buy two separate sites in downtown Point Pleasant, said Jack Fowler, the museum’s executive director.
One site is the temporary office. The building would be razed and replaced with a one-story building 80 feet wide and 140 feet deep, Fowler said. The other is near the floodwall entrance to the city’s riverfront park. The building was formerly occupied by a bar. It, too, would be demolished and replaced by an 80-by 140-foot building, Fowler said.
That building was originally a movie theater built in the 1930s, Fowler said.
“As a side note, I watched the ‘Wizard of Oz’ in in 1939 when it came out” in that theater, Fowler said.
“That’s the busiest block in town anyway, so if we were there, we would get a whole lot more walk-in traffic,” he added. “I’d be satisfied with either right now.”
The museum housed river-related artwork, steamboat models and other artifacts relating to navigation on the Ohio and Kanawha rivers in the Point Pleasant area. It also had a library that, in addition to books, contained riverboat photos. Some materials were damaged by fire or water, but many of the building’s contents were saved.
A newer section of the building, the one that housed an aquarium and two towboat pilot simulators, was not damaged in the fire.
The museum also housed equipment used in radar training and certification for towboat pilots.
The museum’s former building is owned by the city of Point Pleasant. The museum’s governing board originally planned to rebuild the museum on the site of the original building. A lawsuit was filed by the director of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society to prevent demolition, contending that demolition would damage the integrity of the city’s historic district. A judge dismissed that suit at the end of June, but the plaintiff filed notice of appeal with the state Supreme Court.
With the prospect of months passing without a decision, the museum board decided to relocate, Fowler said. Thus the negotiations on two different sites to determine which would be best, he said.
“Whichever way we go, we’re three months away from getting things resolved,” he said. “It’s frustrating, but there’s nothing to do but keep working it.”
Plans are now for the museum board to buy the property and turn it over to the city, which will build the new building. The earliest the new building would be ready to occupy would be September of next year, Fowler said.
Caption for photo: The July 1, 2018, fire at the Point Pleasant River Museum and Learning Center was fought by firefighters from eight communities in West Virginia and Ohio. (WJ file photo by Mark Kincaid)