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PRINCETON — Princeton is working toward making its mark with history, with plans advancing to add another museum to its growing attractions in the Historic East End.

Lori McKinney, Executive Director of the RiffRaff Arts Collective (RRAC), said the non-profit organization has secured and intends to develop three properties in the East End to establish the Lonnie Gunter Jr. Center for Culture & History (LGC).

The late Gunter was “a brilliant mind and an avid collector. He collected a treasure trove of culturally significant artifacts which help preserve the industrial and cultural history of our state and nation,” she said.

“The Lonnie Gunter, Jr. Center for Culture & History is a legacy project, curated and intended to preserve and celebrate our state and nation’s industrial heritage,” she said. “The development of The LGC is the next chapter of our work, and we are thrilled to be planting roots in the Historic District along with others; it is an exciting time for Historic East End

Princeton.”

“My father’s collection encompasses an incredible body of artifacts including steam engines, early vehicles, agricultural machinery and equipment, antique toys and memorabilia,” said Marcie Gabor, daughter and curator of Gunter’s collection, “Dad collected these items throughout his lifetime in Southern West Virginia. His dream was to preserve the past to share with future generations.”

“The LGC will be a destination full of wonder and inspiration where friends, families, students, educators, makers, enthusiasts, tourists and children of all ages will want to visit again and again,” said Robert Blankenship, grandson of Gunter, Creative/Technical Director of RRAC and husband of McKinney.

McKinney said the LGC, along with the Railroad Museum, an Agricultural Museum and the recently announced Mythical Collectors Unauthorized Vehicle Museum, will “firmly establish Princeton’s Museum District – the designation that will anchor the community in West Virginia’s heritage and tourism industry.”

“It’s a significant collection. It’s well worth the investment if the city can make it as far as creating the multi-complex museum that we’re looking at,” City Manager Mike Webb said when the plan was initiated early last year. “You’re going to have a historic community at that point. It could be an all-day adventure really for families. It will tie in from one end to the other of Mercer Street.”

McKinney said the lots where the museum will be located are adjacent to the Princeton Railroad Museum in the Mercer Street Historic District of downtown Princeton. One of the lots includes the Wheby’s Grocery building – a landmark in Princeton, built in 1925.

Proposed programming includes extensive exhibit space, a restoration workshop with an immersive STEAM education and workforce training program, a West Virginia artists’ gallery, event venue and a period soda fountain ice cream parlor, she said, adding that the Center is “one of many exciting projects currently in development within the dynamic renaissance of downtown Princeton.”

The LGC will be locally driven by the RiffRaff Arts Collective with support from the City of Princeton and the Lonnie Gunter Center Development Committee.

Members of that committee include: Christy Bailey, National Coal Heritage Area Authority; Blankenship; Gabor: Princeton Mayor David Graham; Kate Greene, Redevelopment Director, Atlas Community Studios; as well as McKinney and Webb.

Supporters include: The H.P. & Anne S. Hunnicutt Foundation, Inc., West Virginia Division of Culture and History, National Coal Heritage Area Authority and the WVU Center for Resilient Communities.

McKinney said the LGC will begin in phases and a timeline and budget are under development.

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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