The Old Time Office: window to the past, gifts from the present
The Pocahontas Times moved from its century-old home on Second Avenue more than a year ago, but the lights are still on in the simple grey building that sits behind Marlinton Presbyterian Church.
Step inside and you'll find that the old office has a new lease on life. Jane Sharp Sharp, the grand-daughter of the late editor Calvin Price, has transformed the historic building into The Old Times Office Museum and Store.
In the front of the shop-where Price worked for more than 50 years at his roll-top desk-you will find the extensive collection of Native American artifacts that Price collected, along with wooden kegs full of local geological specimens. Some of the shelves are home to several mounted animals nearly as old as the building itself. On the opposite wall are photos of Price and black-and-white scenes of Pocahontas County from the turn of the last century.
In a display case is an assortment of arrowheads and spear points.
"My Grandfather bought them during the depression for five cents apiece," Sharp says. "By the 1950s, he was paying 25 cents apiece for arrowheads. He had several kegs full of arrowheads."
"People would bring in artifacts and things for my grandfather to identify," she says.
Sharp says Fairley Workman, of Slaty Fork, is classifying the arrowheads, labeling them and organizing them into glass cases.
"Some of them are 8,000 to 9,000 years old," Sharp adds. "It's amazing, the variety of stones used and the shapes."
Pam Sharpes has volunteered to identify the rocks that also fill up several old wooden kegs, says Sharp.
Among the specimens are pieces of coral some 355 million years old, from a time before the Appalachian Mountains rose from the ocean floor.
Sharp said the rocks and arrowheads were among myriad artifacts that filled the front room of the office, prior to the flood of 1985. When the water receded, Sharp says many other artifacts that her grandfather had accumulated had been ruined by the floodwaters. But the stone tools, arrowheads and spear points have remained.
The museum in the front of the office is complemented by another at the rear, centered around the long-lived handset type era of The Pocahontas Times and the giant 1911 Babcock printing press. The newspaper was the last known news publication in the United States to use handset type until the 1985 flood silenced the press and left the collection of type coated with a film of mud.
Sharp has fond childhood memories of helping catch and straighten the papers as they came off the noisy, black iron beast of a machine.
"It made a wonderful noise, and it had a nice rhythm to it," Sharp recalls.
"Back in the 50s I was child labor here," she continues. "The first side was printed flat, and the kids would catch the papers and keep them straight."
When the second side was printed, the papers would go through a folding machine attached to the press. From there, Sharp says, the late Evelyn Withers-an employee of the Times for more than 60 years-would stamp the addresses on each of the 4,000 or so papers that were mailed to subscribers.
"This press would print about 1,000 an hour, so it was a four-hour run for each side of the paper," Sharp recalls. "If you had more than four pages, then we had to stuff them, so the kids would stuff."
Sharp says the days of printing a handset paper were laborious.
"When you printed the paper, you were only half through," she explains. "You then had to take out the letters, clean them up and throw them back into the right box and get started again."
The wooden typecases line the back walls of the shop, full of the individual letters of lead type. Sharp is in the process of removing the mud left behind by the 1985 and 1996 floods and cleaning up some of the type for display.
"It's kind of like cement, but I find that if you let it soak for a couple of weeks, then the mud washes off quite easily," Sharp explains. "But it takes a couple of weeks to get that flood mud soaked through."
Off to one side is the smaller job press. While it has sat mostly idle for many years, Sharp says it, too, may have a new lease on life.
"Somebody sent us some ink from Pittsburgh," she says. "We will soon, I hope, be able to get the type cleaned up and do a little setting."
In its later years, the job press was used with offset printing ink, but Sharp says the results were never satisfactory.
"The friends from Pittsburgh said, 'you need rubber-based ink,'" says Sharp. "So they found some in a warehouse and sent us some rubber-based ink."
Between the museum at the front and rear of The Old Times Office is the shop that Sharp says with a laugh "helps pay for the museum."
"I try to specialize in West Virginia and local items," Sharp says. "I just have local books."
Local and state musicians are featured on the display of CDs, with locally grown music from brothers Bill and Richard Hefner, as well as the music of Senator Robert C. Byrd, who recorded his Mountain Fiddler album in 1978 with Doyle Lawson, James Bailey and Spider Gilliam.
Visitors to the old Times Office will also find an extensive collection of Fiestaware, as well as candles, sauces, jams, preserves, maple syrup, woolen blankets and more, all sourced from within the Mountain State, if not Pocahontas County itself.
In particular, Sharp recommends the Bluegrass Barbeque sauce.
"The most popular is the blueberry," she says "Once you have the blueberry, you won't want any other."
Sharp also has a personal connection to one of the crafters featured in The Old Times Office. Her husband, Lewis Sharp, makes colorful cutting boards with strips of walnut, cherry and maple. The wood is harvested and milled on the land of their Jerico Road home.
Near the entrance to the shop are shelves of books that reach nearly to the top of the tall ceilings. Many of the volumes are from local authors, such as W.E. Blackhurst. First editions and autographed copies of long-out-of-print Blackhurst titles such as Sawdust in Your Eyes and Of Men and Mighty Mountain can be found here. Titles by Roy B. Clarkson and Louise McNeill are also available.
Sharp says she was able down some of the older books from a bookseller in North Carolina.
Cards, necklaces and earrings around the shop's counter are all made by Pocahontas County craftspeople.
It's the kind of place where people come to reminisce about the history of The Pocahontas Times and Pocahontas County. Sharp says she enjoys hearing people's perspectives on a place where so many of her own childhood memories were formed.
"I've heard several other kids say that when they came in they were scared to death of the stuffed animals out front," she says. "We just grew up with them."
"Same thing with the arrowheads-we never thought about them being old or important; they were just always there," she adds. "So, getting them classified and identified is really exciting-learning that they're valuable and that there's a big history behind them. People have been here for 10,000 years. Now we'll have to get some books and learn about those people."
The Old Times Office Store and Museum is open 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Those who come on Saturdays can enjoy free popcorn made on the spot.