Fenton Celebrates 100 Years Of Glassmaking

While the big celebrations took place more than a year ago, Fenton Art Glass and the city of Williamstown celebrated 100 years of the family-owned business Tuesday.

In early January 1907, Fenton Art Glass began producing glassware in Williamstown, and today the company celebrates 100 years of the family-owned business.

"We've been a significant employer here for those 100 years," said company President George Fenton. "In addition, I believe we have become a major tourist draw for the area."

Fenton has grown to become a landmark company for the town and West Virginia, drawing national and international attention.

"Fenton has helped the community, county and state immensely," said Keith Burdette, director of the Wood County Development Authority and the Area Roundtable. "They are a landmark company that identifies the Williamstown community and the state for the nation and the world."

Williamstown Mayor Jean Ford said the city has been built up around the factory, which has employed hundreds of local residents over the years.

"It is 100 years of gratitude from the city," she said. Fenton "has been a mainstay of many families in the town and the surrounding area."

Founded by brothers Frank L. and John Fenton in 1905 in Martins Ferry, Ohio, the decision was ultimately made to build an independent glass operation and locate it in Williamstown.

When it started, Fenton purchased glass from other companies and painted it, but did not produce glass products.

On Jan. 2, 1907, the first piece of handmade Fenton Art Glass was made at the new factory. It is believed to be a crystal cream pitcher, featuring a water lily and cattail pattern.

USA Today named Fenton among the Top 10 factory tours in America. In any given year, 30,000 to 40,000 people take the glassmaking tour. Thousands visit the gift shop in Williamstown, adjacent to the factory.

"Most of our visitors on the factory tours are from out of town," George Fenton said. "We are seasonally driven, with most visitors here during the summer and fall months."

Williamstown City Councilman Marty Seufer said Fenton is the main reason visitors come to Williamstown.

"Fenton is probably the sole reason people come to our community," he said.

"The city is known throughout the world simply because of Fenton," Ford said. "It has been a major draw for tourism in this area. We are just blessed they are located in our town."

The company plans to celebrate its 100th anniversary of production from Aug. 3-5. The celebration will include glassmaking demonstrations, custom decorating by Fenton artists, glassmaking school, special tours and family signing events.

The Marietta Fenton Gift Shop, 104 Front St., closed Saturday. The Marietta store opened two years ago on a trial basis, Fenton said, and was closed from January through May last year.

"We've done a lot of work here at the Williamstown location and would now like to focus our resources here," George Fenton said.

Burdette said that while the company is a draw for tourists, it is also one of the largest employers in Wood County.

"They are a huge economic force by their employment and sales," Burdette said.

While Fenton Art Glass helps with the economy, the family-owned business also works for the community.

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