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Connellsville Canteen to open in May

| Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 12:33 a.m.
Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
The original Connellsville Canteen building was recreated within this massive train display, designed and built by Harry Clark (in photo, center being held by Michael Edwards.) Clark began the display as a way to relax following his tour in the service. The train display is currently being cleaned for a grand opening to be held when the Connellsville Canteen opens in May.
Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
Local families have been loaning letters, photographs, uniforms and telegrams to decorate the walls of the Connellsville Canteen. In some cases, several brothers were members of the military and away from home at the same time. A telegraph from a soldier asking for money for the trip home arrived several days before that soldier was killed. It hangs framed next to the soldier's photo along with his brothers.
Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
A booth which houses a rotary pay phone has found a home in the Connellsville Canteen. Widely remembered as a way to call home when away, phone booths were used by soldiers to make private calls home as well as figuring out how many people can be stuffed into a booth at one time.
Lori C. Padilla | for the Daily Courier
Album covers and a well-played trombone adorn a wall of the Canteen, honoring the long career of Connellsville native Harold Betters.

While the snowflakes fly, plans are heating up for the grand opening of Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop.

“Things are coming together,” Fayette County Cultural Trust President Michael Edwards said.

A new trust committee is chugging along planning the event, which will be held on May 10 — National Train Day. It's the perfect date, because the coffee shop's main feature is an enormous model train display constructed by the late Harry Clark of Normalville, organizers said.

Harry's son, Greg Clark, is one member of the committee that is overseeing the building's completion in time for the spring gala.

“Greg is working on the train display, so that it's up and running by May,” Edwards said.

Assisting Clark is John Hamman, a longtime model railroad hobbyist who is also serving on the new committee. Other members are Todd Reagan, Clayton Gregg, Marilyn Weaver, Sandra Bolish, Nancy Jacobyansky, John Lypson and Ceane O'Hanlon-Lincoln.

Fundraisers to continue

Edwards said it looks good that several grants — as well as local donations — will net the $100,000 needed to finish the coffee shop/museum.

“Some people have already followed up on our requests for funding,” he said.

Most of the cash will be used to pay down the mortgage. Additional funds will be needed to complete the commercial kitchen.

Among the groups assisting the project was Connellsville Industrial Enterprises, which donated two grants totaling $15,000. CIE successfully oversaw development of a Bullskin Township industrial park, which is working at full capacity. CIE disbanded and has donated more than $200,000 to various community causes.

The Connellsville Canteen Coffee Shop will offer more than a meal and a model train display; it's a World War II treasure trove. The inside is full of the military memories of servicemen and women of the era — all local.

“People have been very generous in providing us with things to display,” Edwards said, adding that the Cultural Trust welcomes additional donations.

Canteen workers lauded

The Connellsville Canteen is given its rightful due at the coffee shop. There are many rare photos of the canteen workers, who fed 500,000 service personnel from 1944 to 1946. Hot coffee, sandwiches and home-baked goodies were supplied by the volunteers. The canteen was located on Water Street across from the B&O train station. Central Fellowship Church stands there today, and there is a historical plaque honoring the Connellsville Canteen's contributions to the war effort.

It made sense to combine the model railroad display with World War II because of Connellsville's railroad heritage, Edwards said. Hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women passed through the city via B&O Railroad during the war years.

Local entrepreneur Terry “Tuffy” Shallenberger purchased Clark's model railroad several years ago and donated it to Fayette County Cultural Trust in 2012. He constructed the building to resemble the original B&O station. He also provided financing for the project.

Periodic entertainment

In keeping with its goal to enrich the quality of life for local residents, the Cultural Trust will offer periodic entertainment along with food and model train tours.

The Stage Door Canteen is located in the main dining area. The small stage will provide a venue for budding entertainers. Fittingly, one wall of the room is dedicated to local brass jazz musician Harold Betters — displaying one of Betters' famous trombones.

“We felt the stage would be something else to draw people to town,” Edwards said. “Many coffee shops offer entertainment by local talent.”

At a special Christmas event, local children visited Santa at the coffee shop — a sneak peek of what awaits Connellsville at the Train Day celebration.

“The Christmas turnout was excellent,” Edwards noted.

National Train Day is sponsored by Amtrak. More than 200 train stations nationwide participated in 2013's event, according to Amtrak's website.

Laura Szepesi is a contributing writer.

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