Mount Pleasant Glass Museum focuses on glass history

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Author Cassandra Vivian of Mt. Pleasant Township was pursuing her interest in the region's coal mining history when she heard a descendant of former glass factory owners talk about the area's glass heritage.

"Glass was one of the major industries of southwestern Pennsylvania but mostly ignored because we tend to focus on steel and coal,'' Ms. Vivian said. "It became obvious to me this area had to have a glass museum."

Over the next years, she and a group of glass aficionados worked toward preserving the legacies of the Mount Pleasant Borough and Mt. Pleasant Township's former renowned glass factories which made significant contributions to the history of glass in America: Lenox Crystal, L.E. Smith Glass and Bryce Brothers Glass -- some dating back to the 1890s.

Today through Sunday, the newly incorporated and nonprofit Mount Pleasant Glass Museum, with nearly 600 pieces of glass, will celebrate its grand opening at its permanent location at 402 E. Main St., Suite 600, Mt. Pleasant Township.

Some by-invitation events are scheduled, but an open house will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

The grand opening will feature punch served in bowls made by L.E. Smith. Former glass factory workers, managers, union representatives and others will serve as volunteer docents in describing glass pieces, how they were made, the number produced in a day and more.

"You will be getting a full education,'' Ms. Vivian said.

Ms. Vivian is president of the museum's board of directors and is the author of a number of books, including "The Western Desert of Egypt: An Explorer's Handbook," "The National Road in Pennsylvania," and "A Tuscan-American Kitchen."

So far, all revenue to establish the museum -- about $20,000 -- has come from memberships and donations, with no public funding.

Among the museum's treasures are the first headlight lenses made for the Model T and blown and cut crystal glassware used in the White House from the 1920s to today.

The museum is in the Mt. Pleasant Glass Center, home of the former Lenox Crystal plant, which closed in 2002.

The Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corp. operates the site, which also houses a Lenox outlet: Glassautomatic Inc., a wholesale glass cutter and engraver; O'Rourke Crystal and Antique Glass, and other glass-related entities.

Master glass cutter Peter O'Rourke, owner of O'Rourke Crystal, rents half of the shop's 2,400-square-feet to the museum.

"We have the front half, and he has the back," Ms. Vivian said.

At 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Nov. 23, Mr. O'Rourke will demonstrate the art of cutting glass in the museum demonstration area, with hands-on participation by attendees who may keep the holiday-themed item they create. Cost is $15, and registration is required.

Ms. Vivian said the museum plans to offer classes and seminars and host bus tours and more in its inaugural year.

Quarterly newsletters will be published.

Future events will include showcasing glass from factories outside the township and borough but within Laurel Highlands. Funding also will be sought for oral history presentations.

Ms. Vivian said the success of the project so far has been a mixed bag.

"I am excited and afraid,'' she said. "I'm afraid because we have come so far so fast and been accepted by the glass clubs and communities -- but now we need to find someone to run the everyday activities of the museum."

The museum will be open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

Admission is free, but donations will be accepted. Annual memberships range from $15 to $50.

To register for the Nov. 23 program or for information: 724-542-4949.

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:

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