Bellaire Businessman Hopes to Build His Community

LEGO BuildingBelmont County resident Dan Brown is many things: a recycler, an Adult Fan of Legos, a local businessman, a would-be councilperson and the self-proclaimed Donald Trump of the Village of Bellaire.

As a businessman, Brown owns a recycling company and the popular Toy and Plastic Brick Museum–a large collection of Legos, as well as many other toys. Located on the banks of the Ohio River, the museum is a quirky, larger-than-life tribute to innovation and a lifelong love of Legos.

With life-sized Lego cartoon characters, animatronic Lego musicians and 20 different themed rooms, the museum has a little something for everyone. And unlike your typical museum, the staff at The Toy and Plastic Brick Museum encourage young patrons to touch and explore their Lego collection–and build their own creations.

Brick by Brick

Brown has been collecting Lego-themed items for years, from Lego carpet that once decorated the company’s U.S. headquarters to Legoland models that have since been retired. Brown said auctions, both online and offline, were great resources for putting the museum together.

“Once we started putting it together, people would come to me with what they had,” Brown says. “Plus, I’m a recycler by trade, so we recycle everything.”

The museum’s unorthodox location also helps promote its mission of exploration and creativity. Located in a 100-year-old school on the banks of the Ohio River, the Toy and Plastic Brick Museum is a sight to see.

“It was called the Gravel Hill School and it was built in 1914, I believe,” Brown says. Already the owner of another old school building, Brown says when Gravel Hill School came up for sale he decided to purchase it and see if he could make it work for the museum.

One of the museum’s biggest claims to fame is their 2007 accolade for Largest Lego Image from the Guinness Book of World Records. The image, located in the school’s gymnasium, features a large tractor-trailer. The image is inscribed with the names of the project’s builders.

With all of the support and attention the museum has gotten since its opening in 2007, Brown is hoping to keep the museum growing. Each year, the museum has added something new and different.

“We’re adding two more themed rooms soon and another build room,” Brown says. “Soon, the museum will have two different places to build.”

Brown says their focus from the beginning has been to provide a hands-on experience that can not be found at other toy museums.

“It’s very interactive. When you press a button, things happen,” Brown says. “Our focus is just fun and play. That’s what it’s all about.”

Community response

For Museum patron and local resident Stacie Duffey, the museum represents a great family-friendly environment and a chance to spend time with her kids. And there really is something for everyone, she says.

“The sculptures are amazing, from Scooby Doo and Spiderman, as well as Darth Vader and Yoda.” Duffey says. “It’s as much fun for adults as for kids.”
Overall, the response to Brown’s museum has been positive, although not everyone is a fan of the man behind the museum. Brown has made waves in the small village of Bellaire through his vocal criticism of the town’s practices. Operating an attraction in a town turned against him is a challenge, but Brown says the museum is thriving despite challenges from local authorities.

“The community supports the museum, but they don’t really like me,” Brown says. “But outside of Bellaire, even just 10 or 20 miles, it’s been huge support, just huge.”

The Man Behind the Museum

Brown was recently elected to Bellaire’s city council. As the first elected write-in candidate in the Village’s history, Brown says he has faced a lot of pushback from the established city council.

Brown was surprised to have won the seat over his predecessor, but understands why citizens may have wanted to see some new faces in the council.

“The people were sick of the establishment,” Brown says. “They wanted a clean sweep of the entire council and mayor. Bellaire’s not in great shape and a lot of it is due to mismanagement, lack of resources and getting blacklisted by grants for not following up with correct paperwork. It’s sad, but at the same time it’s like ‘Guys, we need to buckle up and do things correctly.’ When you’re dealing with the EPA and organizations like that, you have to know what you’re doing.”

Duffey agrees with Brown’s assessment and believes in him to improve Bellaire.

“Dan has done more for Bellaire than most of those sitting in council seats,” Duffey says. “But he gets blocked for taking a seat he legally won.”

Current councilman Jerry Fisher is aware of the comments Brown has made regarding the council, but says although their opinions differ, it does not affect his patronage of the museum.

“As a matter of fact, I take my grandson up there,” Fisher says. “It has nothing to do with [my patronage]. It’s a separate issue.”

Brown says the museum’s attendance has not suffered, in spite of his standing in the community.

“We don’t rely on Bellaire for attendance. Most of our attendance is from outside the area.”

Additionally, Brown clarifies that it is not necessarily the citizens of Bellaire who do not like him. After all, he was elected by write-in votes.

“I’m just not well-liked by the establishment. I’m the local Donald Trump,” he says. “But my boast has always been that the museum was built by Bellaire people. The local people came out and they helped me build it from the beginning.”