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Bringing Dunbar's heritage to light

| Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006

The Dunbar Historical Society and borough council are working on restoring the borough's past beauty, with a modern twist.

The society is converting the old Dunbar Post Office into an educational center, to tie in with the adjacent Coke Oven Park and Atlas coke ovens the borough owns. The borough may acquire the Hotel Central and renovate it into a community center.

The county's Sheepskin Trail will come through the borough, Dunbar Creek draws hundreds of anglers each trout season, and the Fayette Central Railroad Tourist Train has been running since this summer.

Visitors to the fifth annual Dunbar Community Fest will experience some of these changes.

The tourist train will run all afternoon. The old post office, decorated with bunting in the windows, will be open with collections of Dunbar photographs.

Boy Scout Troop 180 built benches for Coke Oven Park and planted grass.

Although a recreated coke oven for the park lies in the future, the borough has cleared ground around the Atlas Coke Company ovens it owns so the ovens are easily visible. The borough will refurbish some of these ovens.

The recreated oven will be built with original plans from the H.C. Frick Coal Company on file at the Coal and Coke Heritage Center at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus.

Building the oven will be doubly challenging, said Donna Myers, Dunbar Historical Society secretary. In addition to funding, the historical society has to locate something not commonly used in decades. "We're having trouble locating the curved fire brick for the top." But she's confident that the society will locate fire brick or a reasonable substitute.

The society will sell glass coke oven banks from 1969 at the festival. This year's fest mug features the Atlas coke ovens.

"Dunbar is unique," said Myers. "We're marketing the whole area, the coke ovens, the trail, the tourist train, the Sheepskin Trail. The borough recently renovated the playground. All these will bring people to Dunbar."

The society is seeking grants to purchase a computer for the educational center. "We want people to be able to research their ancestry. This will also bring them to Dunbar," Myers said.

Dunbar's historical heritage continues to grow. Jarrod Whoric located, cleaned and cataloged the Johns-Liston Cemetery on Kingen Hill near the old Liston School. Whoric found 80 graves. Previously, only 20 graves had been known.

"We've been working hard to bring Dunbar's heritage to light," Myers said.

Borough council is also very committed to the town's heritage.

Depending on whether it can acquire adequate funding, the borough may take over the former Hotel Central.

Councilwoman Kathy Dynes said that the D'Amico family has signed it over to the borough, but council has not yet voted to accept the building.

"Sullivan D'Amico was going to give it to the borough for a community center, then his health failed and the building continued to deteriorate."

Dynes said the building, which could qualify for the National Register of Historic Places, is "in dire straits, but as far as architecture, it's a shame to tear it down. What's there is beautiful." She said the Dunbar train station was torn down in the 1970s. "We don't want that to happen again if we can prevent it."

The hotel contains its original copper ceilings and other fixtures. It does need a new roof and a great deal of work. Glenn Wolfe, an engineer with Widmer Engineering, told Dynes that the building was "worth putting back together."

Renovations will cost at least $500,000 and the borough will wait until funding is available before taking over the structure. "It would be a shame to take it, just to have to tear it down," Dynes said.

Should the borough receive grants, Dynes envisions the Hotel Central used for the same purpose as D'Amico wanted -- a community center. "It has three floors, and could house an after-school program, a day-care center and senior housing on the upper floor. These things are needed by the community."

Dynes is also excited about the Sheepskin Trail, which may be built next year. "It's getting us motivated. It will bring people to the borough and increase community pride. There are a lot of dedicated people with the historical society and their work is really contributing to the sense of pride we have."

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