Connellsville's Canteen Coffee Shop in the mood for World War II memorabilia
Connellsville's railroad display museum and canteen is in the mood, stepping back to the Big Band era of World War II.
The building, constructed as a replica of the old B&O train station, is being completed slowly but surely.
“When you walk in the front door, you feel like you've stepped into the 1940s,” said Daniel Cocks, vice president of Fayette County Cultural Trust, the group overseeing the project.
With the help of antique shops and local donations, the interior of the soon-to-be Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop is flavored with World War II memorabilia.
“The ceiling fans look like airplane propellers, and there's an old-fashioned phone booth, to name a few things,” said Cocks, who noted that a gunnery sergeant's uniform jacket on display was donated by Alvin Sheetz, who served in Burma during the war.
War photos sought
Black-and-white photos from the war are hung on the walls. The cultural trust invites local residents with artifacts or pictures from World War II to share them at the museum to honor their family members who served.
“We especially need 8- by 10- (inch) photos, along with personal information, to tell the local story of the war,” Cocks said.
The full title of the project is the Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop/Harry W. Clark Indian Creek Valley Railroad Display. The coffee shop takes its name from the Connellsville Canteen, a group of 500 local women who met and fed a half million servicemen at the B&O Railroad station from 1944 to 1946. The railroad display was the lifetime creation of Harry W. Clark of Normalville — a 25- by 50-foot scene featuring model trains and landscapes.
Purchased by local contractor Terry “Tuffy” Shallenberger after Clark's death, the display had been at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington. When Nemacolin needed the space to construct its Lady Luck Casino, Shallenberger brought the display home to Connellsville. Last September, it was trucked to West Crawford Avenue, and a building was constructed around it. Since then, the display has been kept safe and is now being fine-tuned for its public debut.
“We still don't have an opening date, as much work remains to be done,” said Cocks.
The coffee shop's kitchen has not been installed yet, as well as cosmetic touches such as baseboards, etc.
Stage door canteen
Cocks was happy to report that the coffee shop will have a small stage on which plays and musical groups can perform.
“It will be like the stage door canteens that were so big during World War II,” he said.
The cultural trust board, led by its president, Michael Edwards, is continuing to seek funding for the project via grants, foundations and donations.
Speaking of fundraisers, Cocks said the sale of Connellsville Canteen commemorative dog tags has gone well.
“We still have the tags for anyone who's interested,” he noted.
Tags can be purchased at ArtWorks Connellsville, next door to the coffee shop/railroad display building, at 139 W. Crawford Ave., downtown. The prices range from $25 to $500, depending on the tag's color.
ArtWorks is a nonprofit gallery and learning center that sells the creations of regional artists. All proceeds are put back into ArtWorks' programs, workshops and seminars, which are open to the public.
For more information about the gallery and the Connellsville Canteen dog tags, visit www.artworksconnellsville.org.
Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.