BUCKHANNON – From a closed-up, run-down bar in 2016 to a bustling community arts center in 2023, the building located at 48 East Main Street in Buckhannon – originally constructed as the historic Colonial Theatre – has come full circle.
Approximately seven years after the City of Buckhannon purchased the then-dilapidated structure from the former property owner for $60,000, the renovated Colonial Arts Center made its official debut with an Oct. 21 grand opening event that included tours of the space, meet-and-greets with Halloween-themed-villains and a special ribbon-cutting and reception.
City officials, Colonial Arts Center Board members, Buckhannon Community Theatre members, donors and community members were on hand to celebrate the occasion.
According to the city’s website, the building was originally constructed in 1924 and remained a theater under various owners, including UFO hobbyist and author Gray Barker, until it was transformed into a bar in the early 1980s.
A string of bars – including The Stage Coach, The Bobcat Lounge and Tric – subsequently occupied the space, but when it fell into increasing disrepair, in 2016, then-mayor David McCauley convinced Buckhannon City Council to purchase and undertake a major overhaul of the structure.
In May 2022, Buckhannon City Council hired West Virginia Wesleyan College alumni Anne Wilson as manager of the Colonial Arts Center. Wilson said the CAC is a a vital connection between youth and adults who live in small towns with multiple art mediums.
“The grand opening of the Colonial Arts Center celebrates community arts in all its endeavors –through visual arts, performing arts, music arts, and so much more to come,” Wilson said following the Oct. 21 event. “As a young adult that grew up in a small town of rural West Virginia, having access to affordable arts opportunities was something that my mom and I looked for as I picked my after-school and summer activities.”
Wilson thanked the CAC Board, city officials and community stakeholders for the part they played in transforming the center to its current state.
“The CAC board of directors and I have done extensive research, planning and development [regarding] both the building renovations and administrative/strategic planning,” she said. “This project has truly been a team effort through the six of us, along with our finance director for the city, Amby Jenkins. Just this week, the seven of us have had to make some rather quick decisions together to put the final pieces of our project in place.”
Community support for the CAC’s programming has also been key, Wilson said.
“We would not be where we are with the CAC project without the support from this community,” she said. “Our list of donors continues to grow extensively, and more people are signing up to receive the Colonial Arts Column newsletter each month, and folks are signing up for our programs in advance.”
(Keep up-to-date with happenings at the CAC by visiting its website.)
“The technical support that we receive from our partnership with West Virginia Wesleyan College has also been vital,” Wilson added. “Former Technical Director of theatre, Keith Saine and current director, David Hartley, have provided vital knowledge, assistance, labor and materials to create our visions.”
John Waltz, chairperson of the CAC Board, said members of the board are thrilled to see the project come to fruition.
“This has been a labor of love for so many volunteers, city employees and organizations and the support of the City of Buckhannon and generous donors has been beyond expectation,” Waltz said. “We look forward to upcoming programming and opportunities for our youth to provide low-cost or no-cost experiences in all areas of creative and performing arts.”
Buckhannon Community Theatre, which has already put on a number of performances there – including “Clue,” “The Red Velvet Cake War” and “Death by Dessert” – has partnered with the city on the project, enabling the organization to finally establish a home base.
“We are so excited that after 52 years, Buckhannon Community Theatre finally has a home!” Hanifan said. “We are looking forward to ‘A Christmas Story’ this December and all the shows we have planned at the Colonial Arts Center for our 2024 Season. Many thanks to the City of Buckhannon and ART26201 for their vision and this wonderful opportunity to provide more creative opportunities to our community.”
McCauley, who pushed for the city to acquire the property from prior property owner Catherine Cuppari when he was mayor in 2016, acknowledged the role former city architect Bryson VanNostrand and Cuppari played in the acquisition and subsequent overhaul.
“This project could not have happened without Bryson VanNostrand and Catherine Cuppari,” McCauley said. “It could not have happened without the building, which is where Mrs. Cuppari comes in, and you could not have had it without Bryson providing the design.”
Standing in the arts center Saturday was a highlight for McCauley, despite the project costing significantly more than anticipated.
“It was very gratifying to see such an important project come to near completion,” he said. “The concept that we identified back in the fall of 2016, as we were moving toward the purchase, seeing it actually being used is just very, very gratifying, and it’s frankly one of the reasons that I ran for council in 2022; I wanted to see that and the Stockert (SYCC building addition) projects both through.”
McCauley said the CAC has reignited a vibrancy on that downtown city block.
“That block – with the Colonial, the Dairy Queen, the arts stuff across the street with Bryson’s building and Traders Alley – is almost as vibrant as the block where CJ Maggie’s is now,” he said. “It kind of redistributes in that three-block downtown area that ‘hustle-bustle’ feel to it because there’s people at the Colonial almost constantly … it’s just really cool to see it being used.”
Sanders, city recorder and a CAC board member said Saturday’s grand opening went splendidly.
“The grand opening of the Colonial Arts Center was magnificent with a great turnout of supporters of the project who look forward to the expansion of arts, culture and entertainment for Buckhannon,” Sanders said. “We all eagerly anticipate the continued growth of downtown Buckhannon and the success of the CAC.”
Below are a variety of photos from Saturday’s grand opening: