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Show and tell: Local history brought to life at Weatherford College

By Paris Walther | Published Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An aged movie projector stands beneath the stairs, a stark historical contrast against the fresh tile and pristine walls of the still-new college building.

A line of cordless phones sits in progressive order, starting with a large bag phone and ending with a sleek, thin cellphone.

These pieces and several others welcome students and visitors entering the Weatherford College campus on U.S. 380 between Decatur and Bridgeport.

A Bit of History

A BIT OF HISTORY – Thanks to donations from Wise County and Bridgeport historical societies, Weatherford College Wise County boasts a communications-themed display under a stairwell in the west end of its facility on U.S 380. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“This started with a generous gift from the Wise County Historical Commission from Decatur,” Weatherford College professor Catherine Johnson said. “Kerry Clower contacted me and said they were inventorying some of the museum and had some duplicates. These were big items that they didn’t have the space for and were wondering if we would be interested in them.”

Johnson, along with Weatherford College’s Dean Matt Joiner, made a trip to see the duplicate pieces and came back impressed and excited.

“The items got brought up to the college and Dean Joiner decided to use the space under the stairs to display them because it’s kind of empty,” she said.

As they got ready to construct an exhibit, they decided to include the Bridgeport Historical Society.

“The idea of a real display is to make it a joint effort,” Johnson said. “We invited Ken Sprecher of the Bridgeport Society and so Kerry and Ken, with much assistance from their organizations, designed the layout down there.”

They decided to go with a communications theme.

“The societies got there and thoughtfully listened to what we were hoping to do as far as the overall building design, artistic art installations and how we wanted to decorate the building,” Johnson said.

With a blueprint in mind, the organizations went to work and created a progressive communications display beneath the stairs on first floor. The exhibit includes a telephone exchange switchboard, the old Alvord movie projector and movie reels, an early computer and other local historical pieces.

“It was very exciting because they didn’t just talk about doing it,” Johnson said. “They did it.”

Foam boards were added to explain the background on each item.

“They really listened and paid attention to what we wanted,” she said. “They also did a lot of the background, giving us a lot of the information that really makes the history come alive for our students.”

Excited to help contribute to the display, Wise County Historical Commission president Kerry Clower wanted to provide living learning material for students attending the college.

“The display is concerning communications from sound boards to old movie reels to telephones and the progression of communication today,” he said.

Just as it was intended, the mini-exhibit has sparked discussion and learning in classes.

“I walked in one day after it was finished and saw students were beginning to respond to the items and talking to one another,” Johnson said. “Myself and the other history professor, Dr. Flannigan, had started working the exhibit into our lectures because it is part of what we teach both in history and government. Communication is one of those evolving aspects of life that changes people’s relationship to their society.”

“We reference the display and instead of it just being an abstract concept or maybe something we had a photograph of in our PowerPoint slides, this is something the students could go and tangibly see and look at,” she said.

Johnson hopes the display will educate her students and help them make connections they would not normally make.

“You know when I first moved into Wise County, which was 30 years ago, I had a party line,” she said. “But to say that to students today, they just don’t know what you’re talking about because they have grown up with cellphones. The history of the cellphone that’s down there is something students can see come to life.”

The exhibit will switch out items periodically so students can see a variety of historical objects.

“The movie projector is my favorite because it’s really a fascinating contraption,” Johnson said. “It’s cast metal and really beautifully constructed.”

Feeling that the communcations exhibit was successful, the college plans to continue adding other themed displays consistent with the different wings of the building.

“They even gave us an old wheelchair,” Johnson said. “It’s a wooden and iron wheelchair they are planning to put in the second installation at the other end of the building. It will focus on healthcare.”

Johnson recognizes that without the assistance of both historical societies, this project could not have been done easily.

“They did everything from getting the blowups of the photographs to writing the descriptions and of course, doing the legwork,” she said. “We just can’t thank them enough. It is a great example of a community working with us as a community institution.”

Believing the exhibit is the start of something larger, Johnson hopes it will inspire the community to find an interest in local history.

“We’re hoping that this will inspire people to visit their respective museums in Bridgeport and Decatur,” Johnson said. “We hope they will go and visit those in person and especially in the summer when parents are thinking of something to do with their children.

“It’s a great afternoon – you can get lost up there. I would encourage everyone to utilize both of these resources.”

2 Responses to “Show and tell: Local history brought to life at Weatherford College”

  1. Matt Joiner says:

    Thanks so much, WCM friends, for this article. We truly appreciate you!

  2. Cindy Berry says:

    I was out there just today and saw the exhibit. Very interesting; and thanks for a great story Paris.

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