Providing an illuminating illustration of the area's glassmaking heritage, a Wheeling-made Hobbs, Brockunier chandelier has a new home, enhancing the newly-established Wheeling Room of West Virginia Independence Hall.
The story of how the historic lighting fixture made its way to the National Historic Landmark is a testament to the determination and dedication of several civic-minded citizens who undertand and value prominent pieces of Wheeling's heritage.
This particular Hobbs, Brockunier chandelier, dating from 1882, had hung in the Mount de Chantal Room at Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy in Wheeling from 1952 until 2010. After the closure of the private school, the chandelier was sold at auction last summer to a group led by Wheeling historian Margaret Brennan for the express purpose of having the cut-glass crystal lighting fixture moved to West Virginia Independence Hall in downtown Wheeling.
A larger Hobbs, Brockunier chandelier, that had hung in Mount de Chantal's Music Hall for many years, was sold to the Corning (N.Y.) Glass Museum. However, the ornate fixture has not been displayed at the prestigious museum.
Brennan, who is president of the Wheeling Area Historical Society and a former member of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation, solicited contributions from area residents to purchase the chandelier at auction and to have it transported and reassembled at the state's birthplace. After electrical service was established to the center of the Wheeling Room's ceiling, a crew from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History performed the delicate task of installing the six-light fixture in the second-floor room.
The Hobbs, Brockunier chandelier was unveiled during a reception at the hall Tuesday evening, Feb. 15, and dedicated to the memory of the late Beverly Fluty, a Wheeling historian and leading force in the efforts to restore West Virginia Independence Hall to its place of historic significance. Fluty, a member of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation, championed the cause of preserving the hall (a former U.S. Custom House) and the Wheeling Suspension Bridge; through her efforts, both sites were restored and were named National Historic Landmarks, the highest federal designation that can be given to a structure.
Fluty's daughter, Wendy Fluty Hinerman, and granddaughter, Katie Hinerman, of Wheeling flipped the switch Tuesday evening to illuminate the chandelier officially.
Travis Henline, site manager of West Virginia Independence Hall, noted that he never knew Fluty, but has learned much about her - and about the facility that he manages - through the voluminous written record that she left detailing the preservation and restoration of the hall.
"The more that I learned about this building," Henline said, the more he realized that "I stand upon Beverly's shoulders."
The documentation from Fluty's research and her work includes the record of an interview with Fluty, in which "she walked around the building and talked for a long time about the restoration and how they did it," Henline said.
"Her ( Fluty's) heart was in this building and she was a leading force in saving this building," the current site manager commented.
During the dedicatory ceremony, Henline also paid tribute to Brennan, noting that it was "a very tenacious little lady, Margaret Brennan, who championed the saving of this chandelier."
Brennan said that close to $10,000 was donated to the project, with contributions from 19 "chandelier angels." She mentioned two major contributors, the late Chris Hess and the late Frances "Pinkie" Williams, both of whom died before the chandelier was reinstalled.
Prior to the auction, Brennan, a self-described auction novice, received coaching from Wheeling collector and auction expert Betty June Wymer. On the day of the auction, Brennan said she asked Rebekah Karelis of the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corp. to stay by her side to guide her through the bidding process. Brennan also expressed thanks to Hydie Friend, former executive director of WNHAC, for her expertise and for allowing the agency to serve as the financial agent for the contributions that Brennan and her group generated.
"This is the kind of people we have in the community," Brennan commented, referring to the contributors and to others who aided the cause. "It's just magnificent," she added.
Brennan said she worked with Fluty over the years, and now finds herself asking often, "What would Beverly do?" in various situations.
Speaking to guests at the reception in the hall, Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie thanked Randall Reid-Smith, state commissioner of culture and history, for being a person "who loves Wheeling and who loves this facility." McKenzie also applauded the donors who kept "this great chandelier" in the city and thanked Brennan and the other contributors "for always standing up and saving things in Wheeling."
Reid-Smith, in turn, thanked the people of Wheeling, the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation and McKenzie for supporting the hall. "We're so grateful for all your help," he said.
The commissioner noted that McKinley and Associates of Wheeling has been the state's partner in the restorative work at the hall over the past three years. He remarked that special thanks goes to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who, during his time as governor, secured $3.1 million in funding for projects at West Virginia Independence Hall. Reid-Smith said additional funding has been secured to restore the two remaining unfinished rooms at the hall and to recreate murals in the third-floor courtroom.
During the program, Wheeling attorney Landers P. Bonenberger, a descendant of the chandelier's original owners, shared the history of the lighting fixture. He related that his great-grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Joachum Beuter, purchased the chandelier in 1882 from Hobbs, Brockunier & Co., which was located at 36th and McColloch streets. After the Beuters' death, ownership of the chandelier was passed to their daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Peter R. Bonenberger (the lawyer's grandparents).
The beautiful Hobbs, Brockunier chandelier was installed in the family home at 1118 Market St. in downtown Wheeling, Bonenberger said. Several members of the extended Bonenberger family lived in the residence, which is no longer standing, he added.
Bonenberger said he and his family moved out of the house at 1118 Market St. in 1948; his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Leo J. Bonenberger, donated the chandelier to Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy in 1952. Bonenberger said he was unsure of the chandelier's whereabouts in that four-year time span, but surmised that his maiden aunts may have stayed on at the residence and that probably the chandelier reamined in place until being presented to the Mount.
Standing in the corridor adjacent to the hall's Wheeling Room, Bonenberger remarked, "It's a privilege to be here and a privilege to see this fine chandelier in a room where I think it was meant to be."
An original plaque from Mount de Chantal, commemorating the gift from Mr. and Mrs. Leo J. Bonenberger in honor of Mr. and Mrs. Peter R. Bonenberger, also was presented to West Virginia Independence Hall to designate the chandelier's provenance.
A description of the cut-glass crystal chandelier, provided by the Bonenberger family, stated that the fixture has six lights, formerly illuminated by gas, but wired now for electric lights. The chandelier has a 56-inch spread and its length is 73 inches.
Wheeling resident Bruce Clarke, a glass enthusiast who advocated moving the Hobbs, Brockunier chandelier to West Virginia Independence Hall, said that John L. Hobbs; his son, John H. Hobbs; and Charles W. Brockunier established Hobbs, Brockunier & Co. in 1863. The plant employed 350 people, had $350,000 in sales and made an amazing array of products.
The firm, which held about 100 patents for machines and patterns, hired salesmen and established a distribution network. Hobbs, Brockunier & Co. sold colored glassware and colored tableware in Australia, South America, Europe, China and Japan, Clarke said.
In the Wheeling Room, the Hobbs, Brockunier chandelier joins another treasure from Mount de Chantal, an enormous full-length mirror that belonged to U.S. Sen. Waitman T. Willey in the 19th century. Willey (1811-1900) had the distinction of serving both Virginia and West Virginia in the U.S. Senate. He was instrumental in the formation of the new state of West Virginia and was one of the state's first two U.S. senators.
Also featured in the Wheeling Room is a piano that belonged to Julia Pierpont, wife of Francis H. Pierpont, who was governor of the Restored Government of Virginia, which used the hall (then known as the Custom House) as its capitol from 1861-63. Additions to the room include a large antique rug donated recently by Willey's descendants from their house in Weirton and a display of Wheeling-made glass on loan from Oglebay Institute's Glass Museum.