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January 21, 2014

Mining artifacts on the move

WINDBER — Volunteers worked Tuesday to pack up the culturally significant mementos that furnished the former Windber Heritage Coal Center along 15th Street. Museum operators announced Monday that the historical building would close its doors permanently, citing waning interest and few visitors.

Many of the artifacts that illustrated the history of the coal industry in Somerset County will be packed off to the Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation’s visitors center, according to William Arnold, the foundation’s executive director.

“Windber has done an amazing job over the years amassing some incredible collections both on the Quecreek Mine rescue and mining in general,” he said, as volunteers milled around him, cataloguing, detaching and boxing up the exhibits.

“It’s an incredible gift for us to not only receive these artifacts as a donation but to continue the heritage of our local area,” he said.

Arnold said the timing couldn’t be better as the new Quecreek visitors center was unveiled in July 2012. With an estimated 10,000 visitors annually, according to Arnold, the historical pieces won’t go unenjoyed.

While many of the artifacts are owned by the museum, Arnold said some are on loan from local families. He said an “overwhelming majority” of the families have taken the foundation up on an offer to extend that loan to the foundation’s exhibit.

John Garcia, in charge of business development with museum owner Rosebud Mining Co., said the company’s president, Cliff Forrest, wanted to make sure the cultural treasures “didn’t end up on eBay.”

“This building here has a great deal of mining history,” he said. “In one way, obviously, you’re sorry to see that leave the area. ... With the artifacts going to Somerset and being held by the Quecreek foundation down there and the building staying intact for the community through Windber (Medical Center), we feel it’s, in the best case, a win-win.”

A spokesperson for Windber Medical Center, which has struck a deal with Rosebud to provide a new use for the building, said there are “no finalized plans” on its role and no timetable for a decision to be made.

But Arnold said the building, which has been meticulously maintained since it was purchased by Rosebud in 2009, would be a fair deal for future operators.

Garcia said a roof renovation completed last summer was a roughly $150,000 project. The roof tiles, which date back to the turn of the 20th century, were specially restored.

Rosebud also installed new windows and refreshed the paint.

But who can say how much value is held in the relics the Quecreek volunteers will be sorting and transporting in the coming weeks?

“Bill has a lot of work to do over the course of the next 30 days – and obviously the transition from the museum to the hospital,” he said. “It’s a new chapter, and I think it’s going to be a great opportunity for the community.”

Justin Dennis is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JustinDennis.

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