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Former Fenton Art Glass workers say last farewell to Williamstown factory


The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

WILLIAMSTOWN, W.Va.  — Nearly 200 former employees of Fenton Art Glass Co. gathered for a final time at the century-old family business to talk together, tour the factory and remember the work they did there and the people they worked with.

More than 200 former employees toured the factory floor at Fenton Art Glass Co. in Williamstown on Saturday. After three auctions scheduled in May and June for tools, fixtures and other items, the factory will be demolished later this year to make room for a new school.
(Photo by Wayne Towner)

Company president George Fenton said 193 employees signed up at Saturday’s event at the Fenton Gift Shop and factory facility in Williamstown. A number also brought spouses and family members to see their former workplace.

Cake and punch were being served in one of the rooms above the gift shop, while groups of employees and family members toured the idled factory area and other locations in the sprawling building.

The plant and surrounding property are in the process of being bought by Wood County Schools to serve as the location for the Williamstown-Waverly Elementary School, which is expected to open in 2020.

Fenton said the idea for the reunion had been under discussion for several months.

“We invited any employee from the glass factory and the gift shop,” he said. “We heard they wanted to see the site and the plant before the demolition.”

Fenton doesn’t have a definite timeline for the property’s transfer and said the company is still working with the final contract with the school district. Auctions for a large variety of items ranging from office equipment to tools to other things from the plant are scheduled for May 6, May 20 and June 3.

“We will be ready after those things are removed for demolition to start. Whether it begins right then in the middle of June or it gets delayed for a little bit is something we’re still working out with the demolition contractor,” Fenton said.

Fenton Glass was founded in 1905 and employed 725 local residents at its peak as pressers, blowers, finishers, glass mixers, melters, in mold maintenance, as inspectors, decorators and finishers, in shipping, customer service, sales and product development. The company saw a rapid decline in sales beginning in 2000, and in 2011 the plant closed.

The Fenton Gift Shop, which has continued to operate Wednesdays through Saturdays since that time, is looking at the possibility of moving to a new location once the demolition work on the facility begins, he said.

Fenton said the Fenton Art Glass Co. is no longer active.

“We’re in the wind-down situation so I would expect we’ve got some business things we’ve got to clean up and once that’s done it will probably be finished,” he said.

Glass molds used for years to make the company’s products will still be owned by the gift shop and he doesn’t expect to see those auctioned or sold off, he said.

Don Theobald, of Williamstown, worked for 33 years at Fenton, primarily in the finishing department. He was involved helping process the glass, through sand-blasting and a variety of other methods.

He began when he was 22 years old in 1974 and worked through November 2007 when work began go shut down the factory.

“I enjoyed the people. The work was OK, but I really enjoyed the people. I had a lot of friends here over the years,” he said.

Theobald said that was what he liked most about Saturday’s event, the chance to meet and talk with many former co-workers and friends. The Fenton company has always been a big part of the Williamstown community, he said.

Charles “Chuck” Camden, of Williamstown, started in 1993 and said he worked in nearly every department in the plant through his departure in 2009. He is still active with the company, serving as groundskeeper for the property.

“It wasn’t bad, it was pretty cool,” he said of the years he spent working at the glass factory.

Camden said there were a lot of memories while touring the factory floor on Saturday morning. A lot of his family also had connections with the plant over the years and he was glad to see so many people turn out for the final reunion visit.

“It was nice to at least have a farewell,” he said of the event.

Camden said he was also glad to see that the site will serve as a new home for the community’s elementary school students.

“It’s nice to see that it’s not just going to be an empty building forever,”he said.

Nancy Bobbitt, of Williamstown, began working in the late 1990s, beginning in quality control before becoming assistant to the president and QVC coordinator.

“I think it’s great,” she said of Saturday’s reunion. “I think it’s a good thing for employees to get back and to look at it one last time, to be able to see people they worked with for ages and grew very close to as a family.”

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