Mountaineer Military Museum, Previously Weston Colored School, 1882-1954
Since 2006, this historic building has been home to the Mountaineer Military Museum. The museum offers exhibits drawn from the collection of museum founder Ron McVaney. The museum is supported by the Lewis County Board of Education that offered this space to McVaney for the purpose of maintaining a museum.The building was previously home to Weston Colored School, the first and only public school for African Americans in Weston from 1882 through May 1954. The school included eight grades and taught children ranging in age from six to sixteen. The building includes a marker and information about the school.
Backstory and Context
When Ron McVaney and his three friends were shipped overseas during the Vietnam War, he made a promise to them that he would never let anyone forget them. With Ron being the only survivor out of the four soldiers, he decided to begin gathering military artifacts. In 2005, with the help of the Lewis County Board of Education he was given the lease of the historic Weston Colored School. The museum made its debut to the public in 2006.
Originally black communities created and maintained numerous schools with private funds dating back to the early 1860s. The Weston School was only the fourth school building for African American children supported by public funds in West Virginia. In the fall of 1869, English immigrant Benjamin Owen, who was the founder of the Weston Sentinel, started a school open to African American children. Although the state legislature passed a law establishing public schools for African Americans in 1866 and revised the West Virginia Constitution in 1872 to require separate schools for white and black students, many black children in the state still had no local school.
At the time the state law mandated that a school for black students must be built only if there were at least 30 black children between the ages of six and twenty-one within a certain district. In 1880, the black population of the Lewis County reached 383, with 180 African Americans living in the boundaries of Weston Independent School District. (The rest of the county's black population was scattered, with many working as farm laborers, farm owners, or working at a tannery in Jane Lew. Blacks in Weston were employed as laborers or domestics.) There were sixteen children attending a church school in 1880. In 1881, the legislature revised their school statutes and lowered the number of children required for a black public school to fifteen.
The revised law required the Weston Independent Schools Board to build a public school for black children. Board member William G. Bennett acquired a lot on June 18, 1881 and construction began. G. W. Lawson, superintendent of Lewis County schools, reported in a letter to the Weston Democrat during the spring of 1883 that, "the board of education erected a very neat brick school building for the colored children the past year."1 The building was not as large as it is now. It had three windows and a wooden front porch. The roof was slate. There was an outdoor toilet to the rear and a hand-dug well on the side. Heat came from a coal or wood stove that was vented right there.
Sometime in the 1940s a hot lunch program was initiated. The first cook, Sally Perkins, prepared the meals in a curtained-off area where the copier was. In the late 40's, indoor plumbing was installed and the cafeteria was moved to the cement block building in the rear. When the school closed in 1954, after the Brown vs Board of Education decision, there were only two students - Frieda Perkins and Mary Queen. The teacher was Perry Arters.
The Weston Colored School was not unlike most of the 103 one-room schools in Lewis County. Eight grades were taught to children ranging in age from six to fifteen or sixteen. Reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, history and geography were frequently learned by rote and example. There were spelling bees, field trips and programs for parents and friends. When the school closed, its students were accepted at St. Patrick Catholic School because Weston's public schools were not integrated until 1956.
After the school closed, the building was used as a storage unit and was later utilized as a vocational agricultural classroom for Lewis County High School. The building later became an educational facility that taught vocational skills for the mentally challenged students of the Lewis County school system.
Today the building is home to the Mountaineer Military Museum thanks to the efforts and personal collection of museum creator Ron McVaney. Utilizing artifacts he collected over four decades, McVaney designed this museum to honor veterans and serve as a tribute to his childhood friends who were killed in Vietnam. He collected military artifacts for many years and received support from the Lewis County Board of Education who leased this historic building to him in 2005. The museum opened its doors in 2006.
The museum offers the popular "VET-TOGETHER" program each Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. This event allows area veterans and the community to come together for fellowship and to honor those who gave their lives in the service of their country.
Weston Colored School, RootsWeb Accessed August 27, 2016. http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~hcpd/Tour/school.htm.
Gilchrist, Joy G. "Weston Colored School NRHP Nomination Form." December 14, 1992. Accessed August 27, 2016. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/lewis/93000224.pdf. "Weston Colored School.” August 27, 2016. Accessed August 28, 2016. http://www.wvcommerce.org/travel/travelplanner/listing/Weston-Colored-School/5708/default.aspx.
African-American Heritage Trail of WV. West Virginia Division of Tourism. "Mountaineer Military Museum Weston, Wv l the Story.” 2010. Accessed August 28, 2016. http://www.mountaineermilitarymuseum.com/story.html.
Citizen's Spotlight: The Mountaineer Military Museum - Owners Ron & Barbara McVaney. The Miley Legal Group. Accessed February 20, 2017. http://www.mileylegal.com/library/citizens-spotlight-the-mountaineer-military-museum-owners-ron-barb....
The Promise Made, That Would Not Die. Mountaineer Military Museum. Accessed February 20, 2017. http://mountaineermilitarymuseum.com/story.html.