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CB Museum celebrates 15 years

CB Museum Curator Mitzi Saffos and Mayor Mike Ham both shake hands with Art Buswell while honoring him for his dedication and generous support for the Colonial Beach Museum.

A large crowd accompanied the three in unveiling the new museum sign created by collaborating artists Kathy Waltermire, Doris Barbee and Velia Jacobo. The event was hosted by the Colonial Beach Historical Society on July 3, 2014.

The building that houses the museum was originally built around 1892 by William Billingsley, a colorful town figure who was a builder, the Chief of Police and the town’s fifteenth Mayor. Billingsley could hardly have imagined the many purposes the building would serve over the next century and beyond.   

Originally a business office, it became the town’s first school in 1898, but by 1905, it was the home of the town’s first newspaper, the Colonial Beach Progress. A printing shop also operated in the building at this time. In 1918, it became a clothing store, and by 1924, it was a drug store, and the town’s doctor had his office in the building. In 1928, the East Coast Utilities Company had an office in the building and remained until the 1940s. They were eventually to merge into Dominion Electric Power. It also had a barbershop and became a grocery store, a lunchroom and a bakery. During the 1940s, it also housed the telephone company with the main switchboard located on the second floor. The telephone company went through a series of mergers and is now a part of the Verizon network. One of the only two payphones in town was on the first floor and was open to the public. The many carvings made by people waiting to use the payphone can be seen on the walls.

During World War II, it also housed the telegraph office, and it was here that the telegrams from the War Department were delivered to local residents informing them of the fate of their loved ones. During the 1950s, it became the Hoffman-Cooper Gas Company headquarters, and its final use was as an antique and collectible shop with an upstairs apartment. The original porch was removed in the 1920s to give it a more modern appearance, and a store window was installed.  

During the 1980s, the building fell into disrepair, and it was purchased by the town and scheduled for demolition. The Colonial Beach Historical Society and civic-minded citizens convinced the Town Council to preserve the building, and the Town leased the building to the Historical Society with the understanding they would use it as a museum. In 1998, the Historical Society launched a fundraising campaign and obtained the funds necessary to restore the building to its original configuration.

A picture of the building, taken by the Colonial Beach Progress newspaper in 1905, was used to obtain the measurements of the original porch, balcony, pickets, windows and door, so the restoration was accurate. The measurements were so accurate that when the new support columns were placed, the footings of the original porch were found. The work was completed in the spring of 1999, and the interior of the building was restored to include making the doors wider and a handicap-accessible ramp was installed to accommodate disabled access requirements.

Residents were asked to search for memorabilia from Colonial Beach’s past to create exhibits for the Museum, and the response from the community was extraordinary. Enough exhibits were secured to fill the cases and floor space of the front and center rooms. It included artifacts from the 1890s through the 1960s, with many pertaining to the town’s infamous gambling days.

On July 3, 1999, the Museum of Colonial Beach was dedicated and officially opened its doors to the public. In a lasting acknowledgment of its place in the history of Colonial Beach, the Town Council designated the site “as one of  Colonial Beach’s most historic buildings.”  The “Waterman’s Room” was opened in December of that year, completing the restoration.
The Colonial Beach Historical Society commemorated the 15th Anniversary of the Museum’s opening and honored its outgoing President Arthur Buswell, who has served in that capacity for twelve years. During his tenure, a new addition was put on the building, as well as other renovations.

Linda Farneth

 

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