By John McVey
MARTINSBURG -- Construction of the "for the kids, by George" children's museum is progressing, and the arrival of exhibits continues.
Earlier this month, an eerily lifelike statue of George Washington at 19 years old and an exact replica of a circa 1700s canoe were delivered to the museum in the Caperton Train Station on East Martin Street in Martinsburg.
The image of Washington at 19 was selected because that is about how old he was when surveying this area, Lisa Dall'Olio said.
Washington was hired by Lord Thomas Fairfax of Cameron to survey Fairfax's land grant west of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. Called the Northern Neck Proprietary, it included the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and the northern Shenandoah Valley.
A member of the Martinsburg architectural firm of Grove and Dall'Olio, she designed the interactive museum and is supervising its development.
The children's museum is part of the George Washington Heritage Trail, a 136-mile course that loops through Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties, tying together historic sites and tourist attractions. It is a state- and federal-designated scenic byway.
The wax statue was created by StudioEIS of Brooklyn, N.Y. The image originally was produced for Mt. Vernon as part of a progression of ages display showing Washington as he got older, Dall'Olio said.
According to published reports, a team of researchers studied a statue of Washington at age 53 by French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdons, who was known for his realistic style. Houdons spent several weeks with Washington at Mount Vernon.
A life-size statue and bust of Washington by Houdons was laser scanned and a computer program was written to manipulate the image to depict different ages of the man. It was from these digital images that StudioEIS created the sculptures of Washington at age 19, 45 and 57.
The about 12-foot-long basswood canoe was built by Scott Barkdoll, of Skywoods Canoe Co. in Shoreham, Vt., Dall'Olio said. He is originally from Shepherdstown and was very interested in being part of the children's museum, she said.
Washington is kneeling in the canoe with paddle in hand looking earnestly up river.
The figures will be hoisted above the centerpiece of the entrance to the museum, which simulates the flowing Potomac River.
Work on rooms depicting different historic eras of the region also is under way. A crew from Explus Inc., of Dulles, Va., was working on the frontier exhibit, which portrays life in a log cabin.
Primary funding for the museum is through a National Scenic Byways grant program for $362,500, of which $72,500 is an in-kind matching grant. The city, which owns the Caperton Train Station, is the grant sponsor and fiscal agent for the grant.
Focus of the museum is on George Washington's adventures and other historic features of the area, such as the B&O Railroad and its roundhouse complex in Martinsburg.
The museum won a $50,000 grant from the North American Railway Foundation to install a Working on the Railroad exhibit. The museum has been awarded other grants to develop the museum, also.
City and WHT officials hope the facility will become a major tourist destination for downtown Martinsburg and the region, especially for school groups. Officials hope it will become a catalyst for further commercial tourist development as well as enhance existing historical and cultural attractions in the city and the area.
An opening date for the museum has not yet been determined, Dall'Olio said.