CHESTER, W.Va. — It may be the “World’s Largest Teapot,” but size isn’t always the most important thing.
In the case of Chester’s most famous landmark, unmistakable at the junction of Carolina Avenue and U.S. Route 30, it’s condition that counts.
“My goal is to get this all fixed,” said Susan Badgley Hineman, who is spearheading a community-wide effort to renovate the teapot. “It really needs attention.”
Make that, tender-loving care.
Exposed to the elements, exhaust fumes and the passage of time, the teapot has sustained more than its fair share of damage.
On Tuesday, Hineman, Chester Mayor Larry Forsythe and Councilmen Mike Dotson and Steve Shuman did an assessment of the teapot, agreeing that it needs significant repairs on the inside and outside.
Hineman sought the blessing of Chester City Council in September to pursue the project and begin making plans for an annual Teapot Day once improvements are made in the spring. Council has since established a Historic Restoration Fund for the teapot renovation and other projects.
“It’s a team effort,” Forsythe said, “but we appreciate everything that Sue’s done.”
Hineman estimates it will take $15,000 to restore the teapot and provide for its continuing maintenance. That’s about how much was spent on its renovation in 2007, when a grant from Hampton Hotels helped the city celebrate its centennial.
This time, the work will be more extensive.
The landmark needs to be recentered on its concrete pad; the interior wood needs to be replaced or repaired; the window frames need to be replaced or repaired; the galvanized siding needs to be power-washed, primed and painted; and the handle needs to be removed and repaired, Hineman said.
The teapot also will require a new breaker panel, new wiring on the inside (for lights and outlets), and new underground wiring (for floodlights on the teapot and the American flag), she said.
Dotson said the work will be worth it. “It’s got a lot of history to it,” he said.
The teapot, which sits on state right-of-way where Rock Springs Park used to be, started out as an advertising barrel for Hires Root Beer in the early 1900s.
Chester native Joseph A. Comm, author of a book on Rock Springs Park, learned more about the teapot’s origins while researching a new book on his adoptive hometown of Latrobe, Pa.
Comm discovered a picture of the teapot in a historical society file on Latrobe notable David Strickler, who is widely recognized as the inventor of the banana split.
Strickler, a pharmacist in Latrobe, bought the Hires barrel and developed it into a clubhouse for a miniature golf course. “He was kind of a renaissance man,” Comm said in a 2013 interview. “He used this barrel to sell root beer and hot dogs out of. He must have purchased it from Hires, who used it for roadside advertising.”
Strickler cut windows and doors out of the barrel and used it as a concession stand through the 1920s, including, for a time, on his own property, Comm said. With the onset of the Depression and a downturn in business, Strickler sold the barrel to Chester businessman William “Babe” Devon.
Devon is credited with adding teapot accoutrements to the structure and setting it up on Carolina Avenue for the sale of locally-made pottery, hot dogs and souvenirs, and as a Lincoln Highway roadside attraction, Comm said. The teapot was used for that purpose through the early 1970s but fell into disrepair when the store went out of business.
Chester residents rallied to save the structure and relocate it, making necessary renovations and repairs in 1990 and moving it to its current location. The last time work was done on the teapot was in 2011, when a local Boy Scout gave it a fresh coat of paint for his Eagle Scout project, Hineman said.
In addition to necessary repairs, Hineman wants to spruce up the teapot with lettering similar to when it was a snack and souvenir stand on Carolina Avenue – with designations above the windows such as “souvenirs,” “post cards,” “novelties” and “gifts.”
“We’re going back to the old days,” she said.
Monetary donations can be sent to: Chester Municipal Building, 600 Indiana Ave., Chester, WV 26034. Checks may be made payable to: Historical Restoration Fund/Teapot.