Knocking Off the Cobwebs: Bringing Life Back to Waldomore

By Edward Pride, Preserve WV AmeriCorps

With its doors closed, contents in storage, and contractors walking the halls; the antebellum mansion known as Waldomore, located in Clarksburg, has temporarily closed for an extensive renovation. This renovation is part of a revitalization of Waldomore and its collections. The staff has turned their attention to several crucial matters: developing guidelines for new donations, bringing organization and order to the building’s contents, and reviving the building’s museum function.

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Permanence requires adaptation.

Waldomore was built in 1842 to be the residence of Waldo P. Goff, a successful investor and businessman. The building was enlarged in the 1890s by his daughter, May and her husband Richard Lowndes. Childless and in possession of a landmark property with no clear future, May gave the mansion to the city of Clarksburg in 1930 for use as a library and museum. In the spring of 1931, the mansion underwent a series of modifications before opening as the Clarksburg Public Library’s new home.

In 1975, the Library moved to its present building next door and Waldomore took on a new role. The ground floor became a meeting and performance space, with antique furnishing and display cases. The second floor would become home to the library’s regional history and genealogy department.  In 1990, an archival collection, the papers and publications of UFO writer and publisher Gray Barker, would be added to Waldomore’s holdings.  As the collections grew deterioration of the aging building set in, the charm of the building combatted the sense that things were amiss.

Renovation and Opportunity

A leaking roof and an outdated electrical system were the largest issues plaguing the building. A new roof in 2013 brought an end to the continual shifting of materials to avoid damaging leaks. Roof replacement prevented further damage but Waldomore still had extensive plaster and paint damage throughout the second floor as well as the electrical system. But a new issue arose: organization of the materials on the second floor. The various moves had overwhelmed the improvised system used to organize the materials.

In October 2015, Clarksburg was awarded a grant by the WV Division of Culture and History and the National Endowment for the Arts, with approval by the WV Commission on the Arts, to replace the electrical system, repair plaster damage, paint, and install new carpeting. This grant provided a unique opportunity to reorganize Waldomore as the complete removal of all contents was necessary for the renovation. Past plans to reorganize the collection had not envisioned the scale of working on the entire contents at one time.

 Hidden Gems: Collection Material

Over the course of the packing process, a large number of the materials discovered were expected such as the wealth of photographs featuring people and locations across North Central West Virginia, negatives from a local photography studio, and numerous artifacts including a box of plant fossils.

One of the unexpected discoveries was a large quantity of fine china, including sets from England, France, Bavaria, and beyond. A few pieces had been on display, but significant portions of each set were stored throughout the building wherever space was available. Each time the staff thought they had packed the last piece china, another location would produce more.

The most meaningful discoveries were made along the way. The staff uncovered a group of Harpers’ Weeklies and Harpers’ Illustrated Histories of the War of the Rebellion, both of predated 1900. The staff also discovered items that belonged to Richard and May Lowndes, the previous owners of the mansion. From May, a large Staffordshire soup tureen, and from Richard, a group of books complete with bookplates featuring Waldomore.

Moving Forward

The staff has a new appreciation for the diversity of Waldomore’s holdings. When this process began, we believed that most of the materials would be books, family histories, and genealogy files. We did not anticipate the amount of artifacts and archival materials that were uncovered. Our original plan to create a strong regional history/genealogy library with a few artifacts and 2 archival special collections would need to be altered to include a much larger archival storage area.

This has led to a complete redesign of the collection storage areas on the second floor. We have been designing the new areas to maximize their usability and capacity. As the redesign continued, they staff had to identify the appropriate storage conditions for various materials and ensure that they are met.  The most visible additions are the two map cabinets to properly store and protect oversize posters and maps.

As we have been working on the physical space in Waldomore, we are also revising and evaluating the policies and procedures for Waldomore’s collection. We have reviewed Waldomore’s mission, geographic range of the collection, and the collecting policy to update and streamline these to reflect the current and future nature of the materials in the Collection.

Lastly, the staff has developed a system for arranging and organizing collection materials as they return to the building. All incoming materials must be verified against the library’s catalog. Materials that exist in the catalog will be given new labels; uncatalogued materials will be processed, cataloged, and given a label. Once complete, Waldomore will have its first uniform arrangement system; which can be maintained as the collection grows.

As the renovation draws to a close, Waldomore finds itself entering a new chapter. With freshly renovated spaces, redesigned storage areas, and cataloged materials, when Waldomore reopens its doors, it will be with a new appreciation of its collection and a revitalized mission. If you would like to see the transformation, please visit Waldomore’s blog, www.waldomore.wordpress.com, or our Facebook page, Historic Waldomore.

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