Exhibit explores river commerce
Morgantown Dominion Post
2 December 2012
By Jim Bissett
IF YOU’RE A carpenter or craftsman who would be interested in
helping build a re-creation of a Colonial flatboat, call
304-319-1800 or email email@example.com.
Tim Terman has a polite request of you the next time you’re
walking, running or pedaling along one of Morgantown’s
Provided that you’re also watching out for others sharing the same
space as you, Terman would like you to turn your head in the
direction of the Monongahela River for a bit ... just so you can
take it in.
He wants you to remember the river’s role in Morgantown’s history
“The Mon was everything to us,” Terman said on a mellow Friday
afternoon at the Morgantown History Museum, where he serves on the
board of directors. “It was our gateway to the West.”
The “West,” as in the Ohio and Mississippi rivers: Two aquatic
arteries that Terman, who now handles public relations and
communications for WVU’s College of Business & Economics,
chugged up and down for 11 years as a deckhand for a barge company
before college and a degree.
An enterprising guy in the 1700s, Terman said, could get a real
flow going just by dipping in an oar. Guys like Michael Kerns,
whom Terman refers to as Morgantown’s original entrepreneur.
Kerns operated a gristmill on Deckers Creek and also made
flatboats to transport his goods to those western climes where
river traffic was the only traffic.
Morgantown’s history as a river town in Colonial times is the
subject of a new exhibit, “Flatboats: Morgantown’s First
Entrepreneurial Venture,” the museum is debuting Dec. 15. The idea
is to showcase flatboat design and Kerns’ contributions to his
The exhibit will be open from 7-9 p.m. that evening at the museum
on Kirk Street.
Pamela Ball, the museum’s director, said the exhibit will float a
lot of history, with a mix of archival photographs, excerpts from
river guidebooks of the day, and recordings of period “river”
tunes performed by Pete Seeger and a host of other folk
Refreshments and other live music will also be offered up, she
Morgantown then, Ball said, was just as much a frontier town as it
was a river town. The two designations meshed, she said, because
they had to — for the sake of survival.
“The river is why people stayed here,” she said. “Building boats
to sell their goods downriver was an expression of their
selfreliance and confidence.”
Historically speaking, the museum wants to return the favor.
The museum also wants to build a permanent, nonfloating flatboat
model similar to those that Kerns used to hammer together, using
period tools and kindred carpenters and artisans — in costume —
who also like building history with their hands.
“It’s heritage tourism,” Ball said.
“And people can see what it was really like,” Terman said of the
model that will be at the Wharf District, which bumps the banks of
the Mon. “We want people walking on the trail to stop and say,
‘What is that?’ while people are building it.”
Michael Mackert, a researcher at the museum, has a favorite piece
related to the upcoming exhibit. He gets a chuckle every time he
It’s an empty bottle from the Monongahela Rye Whiskey Co., of
Pittsburgh, that he says dates back at least to the 1800s, meaning
it could have only gotten here on a boat, by way of its namesake
“The person who donated it found it when he was remodeling his
house,” Mackert said. “It was in between the walls.”