Raymond F. Ratcliffe
Pulaski’s commercial and industrial era parallels the life of its thirteenth mayor. Raymond F. Ratcliffe, whose name the Museum bears. Mayor Ratcliffe knew well, first-hand, this industrial town. Born in 1908, his first job was at General Chemical when he was quite young. Subsequently, he worked at
Virginia Maid, and during World War II he worked for Hercules at the “bagging plant” operation in Dublin. After the War he supervised workers at Jefferson Mills and then retired from a supervisory position at the Pulaski facility, later known as Magnox, at the site of Pulaski’s founding industry, Bertha Iron and Zinc. His breadth of industrial experience led him to understand working people, cementing his relationship with Town citizens who elected him for nineteen years of public service.
He demonstrated his leadership far beyond the town’s boundaries, however. The Mayor understood that Pulaski town must play a role in shaping the future of the New River Valley, thus his leadership roles on regional boards and commissions. He manifested an equal interest in the Commonwealth by serving on the executive committee and finally as president of the Virginia Municipal League. In 1976, the Mayor traveled to the then Soviet Union for a joint mayors meeting. Those who worked with Raymond were of a common chorus about him: “warm, affectionate, a pleasure to be with.”
The Mayor planted an important seed among community members about the building which now stands as a remembrance of and celebration in the history of Pulaski town and its region. During his 76 years, he experienced much of the town’s vibrant history, and he dreamed that one day there would be a place to tell the story, images by which people could better understand the challenges and the changes, and special artifacts of the town’s commercial and industrial past. Today that dream is fulfilled.
On the Tuesday night following his death on September 14, 1985, Town Council voted to establish the Ratcliffe Memorial Museum Fund and to accept donations and items that could create a museum in the Municipal Building. In only five months, at ceremonies connected with the town’s Centennial, Mayor Gary Hancock commented on the opening of the Raymond F. Ratcliffe Memorial Museum on Sunday, February 23, 1986. He called it “a showplace for some of Pulaski’s treasures and preserving Pulaski’s heritage.”
A Brief History of “The Ratcliffe”
The Museum had an auspicious beginning, dedicated during the town’s Centennial, though the first location in the basement of the Municipal Building left much to be desired. Limited space, poor lighting, and dank conditions were far from ideal. In 1994, however, the town and private supporters fulfilled an additional dream: they restored the historic, stone Depot of 1888. Our Museum moved to the Depot and had a new, more visible, brand-spanking new home. Unfortunately having to share quarters with others, the space still was limited. Storage was virtually non-existent. Almost immediately there were conversations about “an expansion” especially with the promise of relocating the exquisite Brockmeyer train diorama and other important artifacts to the Museum.
Mayor Andrew Graham gathered supporters together and planning began. Town staff members assisted the Committee with an application to Virginia Department of Transportation for funds, and leaders made successful overtures to the Legislature and to the C.E. Richardson Foundation. Those were “heady” days of optimism. The town was able to purchase the former Maple Shade Shopping Center, in part through the beneficence of Tom McCarthy, Jr., and the dream expanded to demolishing the Center and building a combination Museum and Fine Arts Center on the site of the marvelous Maple Shade Inn (1884). In 2000, leaders applied funds to plans and drawings, but the price tag for such a dream was staggering. In addition, the town was approaching its most serious industrial and financial transition since 1920. As difficult as it was, the resilient leaders sounded retreat.
Eventually the Museum and the Fine Arts Center determined to go their own ways. In the intervening years, leaders considered the use of an existing portion of the shopping center or the construction of an independent building. At its meeting on September 9, 2008, Town Council determined to move ahead with building an independent building (the one we are in!). Yet, the biggest hurdle was yet to come.
On November 17, 2008, the Depot housing the existing Museum burned and fire, water, and smoke destroyed much of the collection or seriously damaged portions in spite of heroic efforts by fire fighters to save objects. The building was virtually a total loss.
In retrospect, the fire was a catalyst. Ty Kirkner, grandson of Raymond Ratcliffe and builder, encouraged a design for the new Museum that took its identity from the industrial town itself: an industrial style metal building. One of our newest industries, James Hardie Building Products, donated Hardie Siding for the exterior. Funding for “The Ratcliffe” has come in part from the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the C.E. Richardson Benevolent Foundation, and from private citizens.
– Thank you all!