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Museum readies for another season

By Staff | Apr 22, 2009

MADE IN TYLER COUNTY — This walnut cupboard was made by the Tallman family around the time of the Civil War. The Tallmans were well known for their carpentry skills. This piece was donated by Elizabeth Leonard.

When the Tyler County Museum re-opens for the season May 1, area residents and history enthusiasts will again have access to a wealth of information on rural living.

Founded in 1995, the Tyler County Museum is three stories and dozens of rooms full of unique and historical artifacts, books, and living history. The museum is located inside the former Tyler County High School, West Virginia’s first county high school open from 1908 to 1993.

The museum recently benefited from the will of Elizabeth Leonard. Leonard, a long-time supporter of the museum and the Tyler County Heritage and Historical Society, donated several items, including an antique dresser, bed, and a Civil War-era cupboard that was handcrafted locally.

Museum Director Ruth Moore knew Leonard for several years. It was while they were putting together the first edition of the Tyler County History Book that Leonard told Moore about the cupboard.

“When we did that book back in 1980 she had told me about the cupboard,” explained Moore. “She died at 90 years old. They called me from Wood County saying the museum had been mentioned in her will. She spelled out what she wanted us to have. We were supposed to get some Civil War letters, but they never found those.”

SLEEP TIGHT — Tyler County Museum Director Ruth Moore shows the ropes that hold the straw-tack mattress in the frame of an antique bed. The museum re-opens for the season Sunday, May 1, at 1 p.m.

The items arrived at the museum two months ago and have been prepared for display. Of all the items, the cupboard is the most unique. The cupboard has been traced back to the Tallman Family, either by James or his son, Lemuel.

“(Leonard) had told me that this Tallman was the grandfather and he had four granddaughters,” said Moore. “He made each of them one of these cupboards. The Tallman family was known for their carpentry skill. A great majority of the fine quality furniture found in the general vicinity of Josephs Mills was likely made by them.”

The cupboard is made of walnut and has two sets of doors. The second level was hand-grooved in order to display the plates. The doors include handmade wooden locks to keep the doors shut.

“I was really tickled to get that because it is a piece of history of local carpentry,” exclaimed Moore. “We don’t have another that’s been handmade by somebody.”

The Tallman’s were also known for construction.

“I think they built the Church of Christ as it originally stood there at Pursley, plus Archers Chapel Church, lots of barns, and things like that,” remarked Moore.

The cupboard is just a small part of the collection of artifacts at the Tyler County Museum. The items displayed at the museum take visitors back in time to what it was like to live on the frontier.

One such item is the bed. Many are accustomed to the comfort of spring mattresses or sleep-number beds. Tyler County pioneers had no such luxuries; only rope beds and straw tick mattresses.

In order for a mattress to rest on a bed frame, ropes were zig-zagged to and fro from a foundation for the mattress. These ropes had to be tighten frequently.

“They had no springs, so they put these ropes in,” described Moore. “That’s how the saying ‘sleep tight’ started. If you tightened these up, you didn’t sag down.”

People slept on straw-tack mattresses, stuffed with straw or hay. Sometimes these mattresses had other surprises inside.

“They stuffed it with straw and put it in every year,” said Moore. “One lady was telling me she got her bed all stuffed and at night she felt something moving under her. It was a black snake stuffed in it.”

The rope bed and straw-tick mattress are the oldest items in the museum. Originally owned by Tyler County native Mahalin Anderson of Muddy Creek, the bed was given to Elmer and Eva Weekley. After moving around the area, the couple settled in Paden City, where they opened a drug store. The bed and mattress were donated in tribute to Elmer and Eva by their daughter, Wanda Lee Price of Elkins.

Sitting at the foot of the bed donated by Leonard are several antique coverlets. Moore explains there is a striking difference between antique coverlets and the modern coverlets.

“You can tell a handmade coverlet by it having a division in it where it’s sewn together,” said Moore. “The looms were only 54 inches wide, so they made two (coverlets) and sewed them together. If you’re an antiquer, that’s how you know it’s authentic.”

In order to raise much needed funds for the museum, tourists can check out the museum’s book store in the basement. Local businessman Walker Boyd donated over 12,000 books from his used book store on Wells Street in Sistersville. The collection includes newer books as well as used and antique books.

“Anybody who knows antique books needs to come and look through them,” said Moore. “I’ve been sorting through some of them because some of the old ones I wanted to save for the museum.”

The museum officially opens Sunday, May 1. The hours of operation are every Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The season ends in October. Anyone interested in taking group tours can call the museum at 304-758-4733 or 304-758-4288.