Belpre marks founding at dinner

BELPRE – History lovers gathered Tuesday evening to celebrate the 225th anniversary of the settlement of “Belle Prairie” during the annual Founders Day Dinner.

More than 80 community members, including Mayor Mike Lorentz, Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks and all three Washington County commissioners – Ronald Feathers, David White and Tim Irvine – enjoyed dinner and a history lesson.

“This is the celebration of our history,” said historical society president Nancy Sams. “Belpre has had a nice, long life and we look forward to another 225 years.”

The dinner was held at the Belpre Church of Christ Fellowship Hall, 2932 Washington Blvd., and was followed by a living history presentation by local historical re-enactor Patty Cooper, who portrayed former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Cooper appeared as Roosevelt in costume, including a fur wrap and blue felt hat, and told of the Homestead Communities created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, specifically Arthurdale, the first homestead community, which is in Preston County, West Virginia.

Arthurdale was created in 1934 to give displaced coal miners a chance for a new life. Roosevelt herself was the driving force behind the project and visited the community many times with the last visit having been in 1960, two years before her death.

Cooper is the Eleanor Roosevelt in residence for Arthurdale Heritage, which is now a living history community.

“Eleanor loved spending time in Arthurdale because there she was not treated as the first lady,” said Cooper. “There, she was just Mrs. Roosevelt and was able to dance, talk and have fun without a care.”

This was not Cooper’s first time speaking at the society’s annual dinner. She portrayed author and rights activist Harriet Beecher Stowe during the historical society’s 216th anniversary event.

Volunteers who have “gone the extra mile” for the historical society were recognized, including Mary Deem and Dee Baker.

Proceeds from the dinner will be applied to the fund for the new Collections Preservation building, a 50-by-50 foot building to complement the existing facility and provide more space for educational presentations, workshops and programs.

Ground was broken on the building on April 11, 2013, and Sams said work is nearly complete.

“Within the next two weeks, work should be finished and ready for inspection,” she said. “I think it is fantastic for our group to have raised $250,000 to build this annex and we are grateful for the support of the community.

“There is no museum in the world that can exist without volunteers, donations and visitors, which we are lucky to have,” Sams said.