By Malina, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
In my two terms of AmeriCorps, one of the most exciting aspects of the program, for me, has been meeting new people who are taking on meaningful projects and networking with them. There are so many venues for AmeriCorps members to help each other with their projects and initiatives. Simply being in such a cooperative atmosphere can rub off on your other networks as well, and like-minded advocates and go-getters can be found in the most surprising places.
Before I began my service with PAWV’s Preserve WV program, I had started working with Paula R. Curtis on Carving Community: The Landis and Hiroi Collection as a favor to friend, and as a fun side project during my job search. When we started the project, we had no idea how far it would take us.
Paula is an incredibly impressive and smart person who was my sister’s roommate in college and is currently a PhD candidate in History at the University of Michigan and a Fulbright scholar. She runs a widely read blog entitled “What Can I Do with a BA in Japanese Studies?” That blog was the way a woman named Jane Heald first got in contact with Paula on behalf of her neighbor, Janell Landis. Janell is a former missionary who spent over thirty years living in Japan and teaching English at a women’s university in the region of Sendai. In 1981, after she had already been in Japan for nearly three decades, Janell met a local artisan who makes edo-goma(traditional spinning-tops) and began learning his craft. Janell gets such joy from these little wooden art-pieces that she has amassed a collection of nearly two hundred distinct tops.
At 87, she began to think of the future of these precious items and wanted to find a museum to which she could donate them. She turned to Jane and Jane, after a simple Google search, turned to Paula. Paula was so intrigued by Janell’s story that she turned to me. As a graduate student in Public History, I gained some experience with oral history. Thus, Paula’s idea was to interview Janell as a kind of PR for the collection. We toyed with the idea of writing a journal article with the information from the interview, but decided that the publishing process would likely take too long and there could be no assurance that we would be printed at all. I turned to my advisor from graduate school who gave us the idea of an online “exhibit” website of our findings in the interview. The project never would have begun without the incredible network of each person involved.
In October, Paula and I travelled to Janell’s home in Tennessee and conducted the interview over three days. There was much to discuss including her life in the US during World War II, her decision to become a missionary, her training, her life in Japan, how she met her sensei and what his work meant to her. She demonstrated the workings of the tops and introduced us to some of the people in her community who had also spent time in Japan. She asked us if we would be willing to travel with her to Japan when she planned to visit for the last time in May. We were evasive: how could we afford to?
But the idea was planted in our minds, and it opened up the possibility of filling in the gaps of the narrative we started. If we could interview her sensei, Hiroi Michiaki, we could understand his intent in creating each piece and his history with his only American and first female pupil. Thus, instead of transcribing the interview we had and posting the video we had taken in Tennessee, we devoted our time to writing grants and promoting a successful Kickstarter campaign aimed at buying the AV equipment we would need to take with us. With a generous grant from Paula’s department at Michigan and a little more money from the Kickstarter than our original goal, we both joined Janell in her journey from Nashville to Sendai, Japan.
This was a project that started with nothing: an email from a retired woman on behalf of her friend that resulted in an international journey and a museum home for Janell’s collection. Thanks to another member of Paula’s University network, the Morikami Museum in Delray Beach, Florida will be adding Hiroi’s tops to their collection of traditional Japanese art works. Janell is overjoyed that people from all over the country will be able to view and appreciate the work of her teacher and friend.
In Part 2, I will discuss my impressions of Japan, our interview with Hiroi-sensei, and some surprising preservation work going on in the town of Akiu, Japan.
By Rodney, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
During the week of June 16th to the 20th, I set out to participate in a hands on preservation project in the Monongahela National Forest. The project was focused on rehabilitating a historic shelter on the top of a high, overlooking mountain. I was joined by one other PreserveWV AmeriCorps member, Sami, as well as the Preservation Alliance’s VISTA, Alex. We experienced various levels of accomplishment throughout the week. Undeniable however, we found the work was honest and progress was evident, but in real life projects, there is no telling what surprises you’ll find.
The site chosen for this project was a historic Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built shelter. The cabin is located on the top of a high ridge point giving 360 degree views of the surrounding forest. Because of this location, the shelter was used by forest fire patrols surveying the area from above in the nearby fire tower. The cabin was built by the CCC around 1931. It is made up of one main room, a small front porch, and attic area above the living space. There is evidence of wood stoves but due to vandalism, all that remained inside were a cabinet and limited shelving.
We began cleaning up trim pieces and wood window pieces. To our surprise, we found the new wooden windows ordered by the park service were much too big for the frame. Project supervisor, John Rossi, led me through the process to measure and cut down the sashes. I learned to assemble to rail system and eventually installed all three windows.
The historic Entler-Weltzheimer House is believed to be the oldest log structure in Shepherdstown. Built in the 1790s, the structure is the last remaining example of vernacular architecture in that part of Shepherdstown. The university obtained the house in 1926, converting it to a sorority house and domestic science classroom.
The follow-up workshop will be held due in part to the remaining funding which the Historic Preservation and Public History Program received from the Two Rivers Giving Circle and a matching grant from the Historic Shepherdstown Commission.
By Rodney, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
Preservation Alliance of West Virginia carried out a workshop to help put the finishing touches on windows at the Old Traveler’s Rest near Burlington, WV. This was the final step of the restoration project which began back in 2012. PAWV staff were accompanied by three volunteers to support the efforts.
Thursday, June 26th was the first day of the two-day workshop. The day began with an educational session by Statewide Field Services Representative, Lynn Stasick. Lynn’s presentation included the proper use of wood consolidates and other treatment techniques using the Abatron line of wood care products. Immediately following was a discussion of paint history and chemistry. To round out the morning, Lynn demonstrated hands-on methods of the type of work occurring during the workshop.
Work included using a router tool to install weather stripping along crucial edges of the wooden windows. Other volunteers also worked to remove paint and clean up exterior and interior window sills and trim. The next day saw the completion of weatherization and treatment of the window sills to restore the wood. Some priming and painting will complete the window restoration.
Volunteers joined the efforts of the Mineral County Historical Foundation, directed by Foundation President, Frank Roleff and longtime friends of the foundation. The work of the Foundation has focused on raising funds and beginning restoration of the original section of the structure. The building was built in two segments, the first in 1810. The original intention was serving travelers traveling along the Old Northwestern Turnpike between Parkersburg, West Virginia and Winchester, Virginia.
PAWV was fortunate to be joined by three volunteers. The most coincidental volunteer was Alex Dye of Morgantown whose Great-Grandparents lived in the house at one time. Lindsy Whittaker also joined the crew, looking to gain hands-on experience to supplement her recent degrees in History and Museum Studies from Fairmont State University. Julie DiBiase, AmeriCorps with the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, who is currently serving with Arthurdale Heritage, Inc., volunteered both Thursday and Friday.
Looking for information on recruiting PAWV volunteers and staff for your preservation projects, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
All members in the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program benefit from intensive training. It is an important part of our program and all AmeriCorps programs. All members are trained at the beginning of the service year in historic preservation, heritage tourism, economic development, and more. Throughout the remainder of the year, members are given other opportunities for training, whether that be attending the WV Association of Museums conference or the National Main Street Center conference. Recently, one of our members, Eliza, received a scholarship to attend an Oral History Summer School in Hudson, NY. Read all about her experiences on her Tumblr, HERE.
The Preserve WV AmeriCorps program is a service initiative created by the Preservation Alliance of WV.
The goals of this program are to build capacity of nonprofit organizations and to improve historical resources all over the great state of WV. It is made possible through formula grant funding from the Corporation for National & Community Service and Volunteer WV. This funding allows PAWV to train and provide a modest living allowance to all of our members. There is little funding for administrative overhead, although this program has become an important part of our mission. We rely on donations from our members and readers to make these programs possible. If you are interested in donating to PAWV, please visit our PayPal page. Every little bit counts!
By Raven, Preserve WV AmeriCorps
The Marion County Historical Society has partnered with a local home school co-op, Learning Options Inc. Preserve WV AmeriCorps member Raven Thomas has been spearheading this project by organizing lesson plans and creating fun activities for the children in the class that is hosted by the Historical Society. Raven serves as the instructor for the class titled Appalachian Anthropology, which takes place once a week from 2:30-3:30 and averages about 10 students per class. In the year 2014 there have been five classes and Appalachian Anthropology will become of permanent part of the Learning Options curriculum once the new school year starts in September 2014.
Past lesson plans have been “the mound builders” where Raven constructed small “burial” mounds for the children to excavate. This lesson taught about the early cultures of West Virginia and Marion County, as well as the importance of archaeology and discovery. One other such lesson was titled “Black Days, Black dust” in which the class learned about coal mining and its importance today, as well as in the past. Marion County history was taught through the discussion of the Monangah mine disaster and the immigration patterns of miners in the area. Also included in this lesson was a crash course in the past and present types of coal mining and the students were able to mine chocolate chips out of muffins, which also served as a wonderful treat once they reached their coal quota for the day. Another lesson featured one room schoolhouses and school yard games, which the children thoroughly enjoyed. The last lesson was part of the End of Year Party and the historical society set up a candle station where the students learned about double wick candle dipping and even made their own candles to take home. This class has been enjoyed by students and parents alike and provides an excellent opportunity for the Marion County Historical Society to reach out to the younger community.
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.
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.
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