Shining Marmet star has its own story
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Shining like a beacon in the night over eastern Kanawha County, a large lighted star has sat perched on a hillside above Marmet for more than 60 years.
The five-pointed star, which measures about 46 feet from point to point, glows brightly from about the first of December until just after Christmas. It's a tradition that started with an idea and carpenters from across the Kanawha River at DuPont's Belle Plant.
The star seen now is the fifth of its kind. Erected in 1991, the current star is made of aluminum and mounted to a wheel so that city maintenance workers can easily turn the star when they need to change one of its 200 light bulbs.
But Paul Meadows, 78, said can remember the wooden star his father, Lawrence, helped build and put up with his friends back in the late 1940s.
Meadows said the star was the idea of Carter Ballard, a politician from Madison who would later serve on Marmet's town council.
"Ol' Carter always wanted to help people," Meadows said. "He was big into getting our veterans memorial and he was the one who got our cannon over at the park."
Ballard first wanted to put a sign up on another mountain nearby called "Old Baldy Mountain" by locals because the top of the mountain is bare of vegetation. He wanted the sign to celebrate the "Chemical Valley of the World," Meadows said. But the land was privately owned, and Ballard couldn't get enough support for the sign.
There was, however, support for a Christmas star.
Meadows said Ballard called on the Marmet Lions Club and a group of carpenters from Dupont's Belle Plant, one of whom was his father Lawrence Meadows, to build and erect the star. Made of wood, it was lashed to trees on the side of the mountain.
It stood for only a few years and was taken down when the West Virginia Turnpike came through Marmet in the late 50s and early 60s, Meadows said. Years later, when Meadows returned to the area after serving in the Army, he joined the American Legion at Thomas Marshall Post 130 and was tasked again with star duty.
"They got us to put the thing back up," he said.
That star was put up in 1968. Made of creosoted 2x4's, the star was 40-feet from point to point and lit by 188 40-watt bulbs, according to Daily Mail archives.
Many stars have been erected and downed over the years. One star that had been lashed to the town's old water tank was washed down the hill and destroyed when the tank burst. Another star was destroyed in high winds, but year after year the star shines over the valley.
"It's an icon," Meadows said.
The latest star was built to withstand the elements, but fell victim to vandals this year.
It's not the first time the star has been the target of Grinches. Meadows said teens used the star for target practice in years past. But this year when city workers went up to check on the star in late November and to clear some of the trees around it they found some wiring and the meter box missing.
Marmet Mayor Bill Pauley said Appalachian Power donated a meter box to the town, which now handles the star's maintenance and upkeep, to get the star shining again.
"It's a landmark for Marmet," Pauley said. "It's always been special to the people in Marmet."
Pauley, who has been the town's mayor for more than 30 years, has lived in the eastern Kanawha County town most of his adult life and always remembers the star being there. He said when he sees the star he thinks of what it represents.
The star is part of the Christmas story and was said to be shining brightly over Bethlehem, where Jesus was born in a manger.
"When I see the star I think of that," Pauley said.
Police Chief Fred Maynard said he's proud of the town star. He's heard positive comments from out-of-towners and residents who have moved away but come back to visit family.
The chief said this year many town residents were shocked to learn about the vandalism at the star. He doesn't keep track of when the star is lit, but he hears about it if it's not turned on by the first of the month.
"I've been here long enough now that if it's not turned on we certainly hear about it," Maynard said. "If it's not on December 1st or December 2nd, I will be stopped three or four times around town and asked why the star's not on.
"People have come to expect it now."
Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4850.