By Michael, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
My name is Michael Burk and I am a native West Virginian who is very excited about being able to serve as a Preserve West Virginia AmeriCorps member. I am serving at the National Coal Heritage Area office in Oak Hill and am very excited to be here. After originally receiving a BS in Healthcare Administration from West Virginia University Institute of Technology, I decided to return to school and follow my true passion, history. I graduated with Honors from American Public University with an MA in American History. I currently live in Fayetteville, WV with my wife and 13 year old son.
I am really looking forward to serving with both PAWV and the National Coal Heritage Area. I think that preserving the coal heritage of West Virginia is long overdue and hope to do my part in making it happen. While here I will be working on multiple projects including interpretive signage, National Register nominations, as well as other projects aimed at promoting Heritage Tourism in the 13 southern West Virginia counties that make up the NCHA. One of the major tasks I will take part in is composing a complete inventory of all National Register places in the Coal Heritage Area that are related to the coal industry. This inventory will include current and past photographs as well as a brief history of each site.
I have been here for a short time, but I have developed a very deep passion for the preservation of the past here in the area. The sites that were so prominent during the coal boom era are slowly crumbling away. That is bad enough, but the fact that so much of the history is being forgotten is just as bad. If changes are not made, soon the sacrifices and hard work of the miners and their families will be forgotten. I hope to be able to change that as I serve the people of this area. My roots run deep in southern West Virginia, and I want to make sure that the true story, both good and bad, is told for generations to come.
To describe how it felt to witness this destruction in person is impossible. It was AWFUL. I cried. Ninety-one pictures later and I was ready to show the city of Charleston the wretched state of this “beloved”and “iconic”structure.
Constructed in 1968 by local architect and engineer Henry Elden, Top-O-Rock is a magnificent 10,000 square foot structure of steel and glass that functioned as both working and living environment under the same roof. An unconventional combination of industrial and organic principles, it was designed to incorporate the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. Elden referred to it as “A glass jeweled box set in a hillside without disturbing the beauty of the natural terrain”. This terrain being a steep twenty-seven foot sandstone cliff with panoramic vies of the city. It consisted of 8500 square feet of solar plated tinted glass that was held together by an intricate framework of 90 tons of steel and 880,000 pounds of concrete that engaged the heavily wooded landscape that surrounded it. The structure itself was adapted into its’natural surroundings. Charleston residents had never seen anything like Top-O-Rock. It was considered Elden’s architectural masterpiece. And he joyfully shared this with the community, opening the doors to anyone that wanted to see its grandeur in person. He hosted a variety of galas, parties and other functions. It became known as one of Charleston’s most iconic houses and remained that way until Mr. Elden’s death in 2009. It remained vacant until it was purchased in 2011.
An advocate is defined as a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy and offers support to the interest of another. In a nutshell, an advocate becomes the voice for an entity that is unable to speak for itself.
To say that I was upset was an understatement. I was sad. And I was VERY angry. The house had been abandoned and neglected and left alone to defend itself against the elements of nature as well as vandals and thieves. How could this have happened? How did the condition get the this point? Who was responsible? And what could be done? I wanted answers. AND I wanted everyone in Charleston to see what collective ignorance had done to a once magnificent place.
Naturally, sharing the pictures on Facebook was the quickest way to reach a large audience. Combined with numerous emails to the local media, word spread quickly that Top-O-Rock was in dire need of help. I posted on Sunday evening. The response was overwhelming. By Monday morning, requests to the City of Charleston were made and the necessary steps to determine what was needed to secure the structure began. A violation order was issued to the owners with 21 days to meet the requirements. A collective sigh of relief was felt in the community. Until a local contracting firm said it had been approached to possibly demolish the house. That single word: DEMOLISH was completely unacceptable to me. I knew at that moment, I was going to do anything and everything to save Top-O-Rock.
On Tuesday morning, I started a Facebook group and page called “Save Top-O-Rock”and shared it with my friends. Within 30 minutes I had 150 members. By the end of the day, I had 500 members. It was amazing. Membership requests along with offers of assistance, advice, financial donations, resources to utilize and volunteers was OVERWHELMING. I was relieved that there were so many other people out there willing to lend a voice and become an advocate. Today, we are 1400 members strong. TOGETHER we continue to fight for our beloved Top-O-Rock. It has been an emotional and tough few weeks but to date, the owners have secured the house and are working with the community to save it. For now, demolition is off the table. And we ARE continuing to make, albeit slow, progress.
So the next time you find yourself driving down MacCorkle Avenue, remember to take a look up at the glass jeweled box on the hillside peeking out the trees, where it sits patiently waiting for another chance to speak for ITSELF.
Each Preserve WV AmeriCorps member is required to submit a “Great Story”, which is about the people we serve. This Great Story comes to us from Rodney, PAWV’s Preserve WV AmeriCorps member.
I am eight months into my AmeriCorps service term with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia (PAWV). Many of our days involve traveling into rural communities where historic gems are tucked away around every bend and just over the next hill. Our goal is to promote preservation efforts throughout the state; no projects are too small or big.
A large part of my position involves assisting with windows restoration workshops. I was surprised to learn of the importance of preserving windows to maintain a building’s historic integrity. But look at any building, and the size and arrangement of windows is entirely evident and inheritably important. Each historic window is a piece of artistic and careful woodworking. What is equally surprising to me is the feasibility of preserving these pieces, even for an average home owner or property steward. Through our workshops, we seek to instill confidence in Do-It-Yourselfers to follow through with their own windows project.
A very recent and successful workshop occurred at the Shepherdstown University. The workshop was attended by students and open to the public for free due to two grants. In total we had around 35 attendees for the two day workshop. Many expressed their own takeaways and similar revelations to when I started learning about windows restoration. To that end, they left excited and more comfortable regarding their own windows projects.
Each of these workshops continues to spread information on historic preservation throughout West Virginia. Each of the participants, whether they have a project of their own or just have an interest in old things, takes something away from the presentation. Hopefully they view preservation as valuable to their own communities. As word spreads, it is my wish that West Virginians continue to recognize the range of historic resources and the need for preservation in the Mountain State. And upon seeing how even windows can be restored with a couple of tips and tricks, realize that even tackling the larger projects is doable and help is always within reach.
Every year, the McGrew House has a weeklong photo contest and exhibit that is designed to raise funds and engage the community. We helped the Society set-up for the contest and acted as docents during viewing hours. We also helped clean-up after the event.
We had the opportunity to meet new people, learn more about local history, and share ideas with other individuals that worked in similar environments.
This post comes to you from Sami, Preserve WV AmeriCorps, serving at Main Street Morgantown and gives a glimpse into her duties as an AmeriCorps member.
While Chocolate Lovers’ Day is well known in Morgantown as a one-day chocolate extravaganza that invites the public to indulge themselves in an array of chocolate creations, it serves a deeper purpose for Morgantown’s community. The goal of Main Street Morgantown’s annual Chocolate Lovers’ Day is to foster downtown revitalization.
Now in its 15th year, Chocolate Lovers’ Day has become a staple downtown event. It’s one of the few events where people call us rather than waiting for us to post the event on our website or Facebook page.
With $5 buying them more chocolate than they could possibly eat in one day and the opportunity to win four tickets to Hershey Park in Pennsylvania if they visit enough businesses, the only limiting factors participants face are time and sugar tolerance. This is what makes this event so effective.
While participants are purposefully visiting businesses to collect chocolate treats and hole punches on their brochures, they are also inadvertently witnessing two things:
With 981 registered participants and 63 participating businesses, Chocolate Lovers’ Day 2014 was the biggest event Main Street Morgantown has ever hosted, creating what we hope was the biggest impact ever on our downtown.
In the words of David Bruffy, a photographer whose businesses is tucked in the back of a local arts center and is often unknown by the general public: “It was a GREAT event….I had more than 250 visitors, sold some prints and gave out a lot of portrait info. To have an event that brings that many people into my embedded business is truly fantastic and a success. Best marketing dollars I’ve spent in 2 years of operation.”
Similar sentiments were espoused by several other downtown businesses, with many reporting an increase in sales of 20% or more that day. Thus, this cross between a scavenger hunt and a chocolate buffet has over the years become one of downtown Morgantown’s most successful downtown revitalization efforts.
Top O Rock is a distinctive house sitting atop a rocky outcrop which provides 360° view of Charleston and the Kanawha River. The building was designed by Henry Elden, an industrious and award winning architect whose works are known throughout the area. Due to recent vandalism and deferred maintenance, the Charleston Building Commission last week sent the current owners a notice to submit a development or demolition plan within three weeks or face possible fines.
The current owner purchased the house in 2011. Since the transaction, the house has remained vacant. Due to the ongoing vandalism, the property owners have hired a security guard. On May 7th, the WV MetroNews reported Rodney Loftis and Sons Contractor, “has a contract to tear down the house and is going through the normal process of asbestos assessment and other pre-demolition requirements. He said the demolition could start in three to four weeks.” It is not clear if the contract has been signed and the contractor is not speaking publicly on the subject.
If you are interested in keeping up with any developments or voicing your concern, click on the Save Top O Rock Facebook group page and ask to join.
WBOY Channel 12 traveled to Belington, WV to visit the Golden Rule and learn about the historic significance of the site and adaptive re-use efforts. Learn more at the video.
In honor of Preservation Month, volunteers gathered at the Golden Rule in Belington, WV for a clean-up day.
The historic store building was added to the WV Endangered Properties List in 2014, and has since benefited from a cosmetic cleaning. There’s clearly still a lot of work that needs to be done, but it’s amazing what a little bit of weed-eating and landscaping can do for any site.
The Belington Revitalization Committee and Belington OnTRAC are on their way to making this site a downtown staple again. Look through the gallery for before and after shots.
Email us an firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in volunteering for clean-up days or looking for information on how to help.
Preservation Alliance has teamed up with WBOY Channel 12 on a 12 week news series about WV Endangered Properties in north-central West Virginia. The first news story is about Woodlawn Cemetery & Caretaker’s Home in Fairmont, Marion County, WV. Our very own field services representative, Lynn Stasick, was interviewed about this property. Lynn has been helping with the rehabilitation of the historic windows in the residence.
Enjoy this short video and look for more over the next 11 weeks!
There will be a public meeting to discuss next steps for the historic Golden Rule building in Philippi on 5/15.
All are encouraged to attend to help plan for the re-use of this downtown staple. Show your love for this building during historic preservation month by supporting this 2014 WV Endangered Property.
News and Notes
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