A Preserve WV AmeriCorps member’s survey of historic Helen, WV could result in a national designation, making many of the buildings eligible for a variety of historic preservation funding opportunities. The West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office found the town of Helen potentially eligible for the historic designation because it represents an intact example of an early 20th-century coal mining company town. Grants, historic tax credits, and a loan guaranty program will be available for Helen property owners if a nomination is submitted and accepted for the National Register of Historic Places - the official, honorary list of historic properties designated by the National Park Service.
The survey was a project for Kyle Bailey, the Alliance’s Preserve WV AmeriCorps member. Bailey researched and documented the 100-year history of Helen and submitted all the required paperwork to West Virginia’s State Historic Preservation Office. Bailey, currently serving his second AmeriCorps term with the Alliance, notes, “The Helen Historic District would be an incredible opportunity to promote economic development and heritage tourism in the southern coalfields of West Virginia. The historic preservation funding, includes a 45% historic tax credit that can be used to update commercial buildings and a 20% historic tax credit that can be used to preserve historic houses. There is also a state construction grant offered annually to all types of property owners including small entrepreneurs, nonprofit organizations, and homeowners.”
This survey project arose from a collaborative effort between the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, the National Coal Heritage Area, and the Winding Gulf Restoration Organization. The three groups joined together in 2014 to clean out and secure the Helen Apartment building, a historic boarding house that was once used to house single miners. The goal of the survey was to see if historic preservation funding could ultimately be used to rehabilitate this apartment building and other significant coal company buildings as there are very few financial resources available otherwise.
Helen, West Virginia once a bustling coal mining town now rests relatively quiet and almost forgotten. Helen like the various other coal camps of the Winding Gulf, experienced rapid expansion and growth throughout the early 20th century. During the 1920s, the mines at Helen produced some of the highest quantities of coal in the state. The small town was once home to hundreds of miners and offered amenities such as a movie theater and baseball field in addition to a variety of housing arrangements, a company store, a school, and two churches. In 1940, the U.S. Census reported that there were 1090 people living in the town. Through a combination of factors, including the Depression, Word War II, and mine mechanization, the mining operations and population of Helen began to decline throughout the 1950s. With the remaining mining operations ending in the 1980s, the historic town of Helen, as of 2014, was home to approximately 126 people. Despite the significant loss of population and its historic assets, organizations are working together to preserve this history and promote it for educational and heritage tourism purposes.
During the 2017 and 2018 service years, Preserve WV AmeriCorps member, Kyle Bailey, conducted projects to preserve the history of Helen. Through the joint efforts of the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, the National Coal Heritage Area Authority, and the Winding Gulf Restoration Organization - a local nonprofit - Helen’s local history and cultural heritage might be saved. Kyle’s projects included an historic survey to determine the eligibility for a proposed historic district to be nominated on the National Register of Historic Places - the official, honorary list of historic properties designated by the National Park Service. If eligible, property owners within the district could receive financial benefits including grants and tax credits.
In addition to the survey, interpretive signs were installed by local volunteers and AmeriCorps members at the Coal Miner’s Memorial Park in Helen. The park, a result of the work completed by the Winding Gulf Restoration Organization, is yet another local project to help promote heritage tourism in and around Helen. In 2015, the Preservation Alliance and the restoration organization secured and mothballed the town’s historic apartment building and made plans to preserve the structure. Helen was also selected as a stop along the African American Heritage Auto Tour sponsored in part by National Coal Heritage Area Authority. Furthermore, historic sites throughout Helen have been added to the increasingly popular website and mobile application, Clio.
AmeriCorps Members Organize Civic Service Project in Honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month
AmeriCorps members serving with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia conducted a Civic Service Project in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month at the Mount Hope Community Center on February 11th, 2019.
The primary goal for this service project was to remove broken electronic equipment from the community center in order to help reduce the stress it was causing on the building’s second floor. With the removal of this debris community members and volunteers hope to prepare it for future use and further preservation projects.
The historic Loup Creek YMCA, now commonly known as the Mount Hope Community Center, houses an operational commercial kitchen, a large conference space commonly referred to as the Band Room, and operates as a sports complex for 25% of the year. Co-organizers Carrie Kidd and Kyle Bailey also recruited volunteers to help clean up at Dubois on Main, a local museum dedicated to preserving the history of Dubois High School and black history in Fayette County.
Working in coordination with Mount Hope city officials and WVU Tech students, the project resulted in a great success for the Mount Hope community and residents of Fayette County. Kidd, who serves as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member with the Fayette County Resource Coordinator’s Office reports, “The historic Loup Creek YMCA is a vital asset in the Mount Hope community. Still currently being used as a sports complex for much of the year, it is important to maintain the structural integrity of the building. Removing the unused electronic equipment alleviated the weight placed on the second-floor ceiling. With help from the WVU Tech Golden Bears Baseball team, we can now concentrate further preservation efforts to the remainder of the facility.
By Pamela Curtin
According to Greek mythology, Clio was the muse of history, one of a number of muses who protected the arts and sciences. It follows that a modern website and mobile app named Clio would have strong ties to the arts. As an AmeriCorps member with Clio, a nonprofit digital platform that connects the public to historic and cultural sites, I have had the pleasure of working with arts organizations to share public works of art, galleries, and studios.
Last year, I worked with Sally Deskins, Exhibits and Programs Coordinator at WVU Libraries, to create a Clio tour of Morgantown art. Sally has helped turn WVU’s extensive library system into showcases for art. With her leadership, WVU Libraries hosts art exhibits featuring modern and historic photography, paintings, and multimedia pieces, often focusing on West Virginia and Appalachia. This spring, Sally received a Grant for Community Engagement from the WVU Research Office to create a public art guide of Morgantown. In addition to a printed guide, Sally was interested in creating a digital version that would be accessible online. This is where Clio enters the story.
Clio lends itself well to collaborative projects. Anyone can find historic and cultural sites in their area that would contribute to Clio’s growing database. It is easy to make contributions to the website – no different than filling out an online form – which helps users like museums and students devote their time to doing research and writing. As a free platform, Clio allows grantees to put funds toward scholars, student interns, or printed materials. Clio entries and tours can also be integrated with exhibits, programs, and printed walking tours. Earlier this year, I created Clio tours as part of a WVU Libraries photography exhibit on Sunnyside, a historic neighborhood in Morgantown.
I was excited when Sally reached out about using Clio to create a digital Morgantown Public Art Guide. There are more than thirty public works of art around Morgantown created by everyone from student volunteers to world-renowned professionals. A number of these works, however, have no accompanying label or significant online presence. With print and digital guides, we could document and better engage the public with art in their backyard. Sally said of this endeavor, “By first digging deeper into the historical context of the sites and works, we really understand more fully the significance of each work individually, and of this project as a whole.”
Each work of art, along with local arts institutions, received a Clio entry. The Clio entry includes a narrative, images, sources, links to related content, and a pin connected to GPS coordinates. If you are in Morgantown, Clio’s website and mobile app will pick up your location and show the entries closest to you; or, you can simply search “Morgantown, WV” from anywhere in the country and the entries will appear. These entries are then strung together in a digital tour that follows a route using Google Maps.
We started developing entries in Clio’s flexible and collaborative platform. “Clio helped us visualize how the print guide might be organized and the tours arranged by seeing them on the map,” Sally explained. “It has served as a ‘home base’ for the project, where all of the information is organized nicely and we can see our progress. With limited resources, as well, Clio allowed us to do all of this for free! How amazing is that.”
Works of art range from a sculptures of basketball players at the Coliseum to mosaics along the Rail Trail to murals curated by the Friends of Deckers Creek. The entries explore the history and artistic styles of these pieces, their development and placement in certain locations, and biographies of artists and project leaders. Sites like libraries and university buildings are also included on the tour, as many of them house indoor paintings, sculptures, murals, textiles, and rotating exhibits. A number of arts institutions including art centers, museums, galleries, and studios are identified along with a discussion of their respective history and mission. Clio entries can also link readers to ways to get involved with these organizations.
Sally worked with student interns and volunteers to develop the Clio entries. “It has been a great experience for the several students working on the project as well as for myself,” she said. Other important collaborators include the Greater Morgantown Convention and Visitors Bureau, Arts Monongahela, the Art Museum of WVU and the College of Creative Arts.
“Clio has been kind of like the back bone of the Morgantown Public Art Guide project,” Sally said.
The print and digital versions of the Morgantown Public Art Guide are set to launch this fall.
As an AmeriCorps member, it has been wonderful working with Sally on the Morgantown Public Art Guide. I am grateful that my AmeriCorps site could provide her with the tools to realize her vision for this project.
AmeriCorps members serving with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia will hold a Civic Service Project in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Mount Hope Community Center on January 21st, 2019.
The primary goal for this service project, A Clean City Starts with You, is to remove unused equipment and debris from the community center in order to help prepare it for future use. The historic Loup Creek YMCA, now commonly known as the Mount Hope Community Center houses an operational commercial kitchen, a large conference space commonly referred to as the Band Room, and operates as a sports complex for 25% of the year. Other local nonprofits and organizations including Harmony For Hope, Dubois on Main, volunteers from West Virginia University, and Sarah Soup’s will be participating during the event as well. Projects will begin at 8am and will continue throughout the day.
“As AmeriCorps members, our civic service projects often turn out to be some of our most significant projects during the service year. Through these projects we are able to connect with communities and local volunteers to come together and really make a difference.” explains co-organizer Kyle Bailey.
If you are interested in volunteering for this event, contact Kyle Bailey at email@example.com.
By Brian Stroinski
When Jackson’s Mill was gifted to the state of West Virginia in 1921, the only intact building on the site was the grist mill itself. The next building to be brought to the property was the McWhorter Cabin. Originally built by Henry McWhorter in 1794, the cabin was given to Jackson’s Mill by the McWhorter family in 1927 and has been a feature of Jackson’s Mill ever since. The McWhorter family has been coming back to cabin for 92 years to have a family reunion at the cabin and enjoy their family’s heritage and pay homage to the first McWhorter who settled in the area--Henry.
As with any building that has been around for as long as the McWhorter cabin, the elements and constant foot traffic can cause problems with the structure. We encountered such problems this spring and summer when some of the logs on the back side of the cabin started to rot, causing the back half of the cabin to sink and start to collapse. Wanting to preserve the cabin for future generations to visit, something had to be done.
One might think that replacing the logs in a 1794 cabin makes the cabin lose some of the historical value, but in talking to Bob McWhorter, he expressed how important the cabin was--not only to himself and his family--but the entire story of West Virginia. The cabin itself shows the ingenuity and tireless work of the people who lived here and it is important to preserve that for generations to come. Now the hard part was actually replacing the logs.
The process of replacing the logs actually started in May when the television show Barnwood Builders came to Jackson’s Mill to make a new building for us. During the taping of that show we had Mark, the show’s host, take a look at the cabin and give us a game plan to try and fix the problem. They also left us some rough cut lumber to use as replacement logs.
After we had a plan it was still a difficult process to get the old logs out without totally collapsing the wall. The first thing we had to do was nail the existing logs together to give the building some structural support. We did this both on the interior and exterior walls. We also had to remove the window sill and anchor the window to the log above it. Next, the old logs had to come out. This process included pry bars, hammers, and a chainsaw. What we did was crack the chinking and start to pull it out from between the logs. Once the chinking was removed we used the pry bars to slowly get the logs out. While this was all happening we had to make sure our supports were holding and the building would not come down. After the logs came out, we cut new logs from the rough cut timber and slid them into place, making adjustments to the size and shape as we went along. After we got three logs done, we realized the log underneath also needed replacing and had to do the whole process one last time.
After the logs were set into place, we needed a temporary way to hold up the building and weather proof it while we got ready to make the new chinking. Using a two-ton jack and some blocks of wood we were able to position the new logs so that they were straight. We placed the blocks of wood in between each of the logs to hold them there and got the window sill back into place. We then covered the gaps with some 2x6 boards and are now ready to make some chinking and mortar.
It was a lot of work and a lot of heavy lifting, careful measurements, and a few pinched fingers, but after we completed the project we are confident the McWhorter cabin will be in great shape for the next 200 years of its existence.
Written by Charlie Hughes
Sometimes a site’s success brings with it new challenges. The Pocahontas County Opera House will soon be 20 years out from its original restoration. The Opera House was built in 1910 by J. G. Tilton. The original glory days of this grand facility were short lived. Mr. Tilton ran into financial trouble and the building was sold in 1914. Over the years, it was variously used for church services, as a gymnasium, a roller skating rink, for car sales, and finally for many years as lumber storage. After a huge community effort and a seven year process the rehabilitation of the building from a dilapidated warehouse to its original glory was completed in 1998.
Today the Opera House is Pocahontas County’s preeminent performing arts center, part of the West Virginia Historic Theatre Trail, listed on the historic register, and brings more than two dozen performances to its stage each year, ranging from bluegrass to jazz, folk to world, to musical theater, and everything in between. Additionally, the site brings in funding as a rental for weddings and community events. The facility continues to grow in its mission! This year the Opera House Foundation began kids and teens after-school theater clubs and held its first Kids Theater Camp in July. The extensive use of this historic space has made it vital and relevant to the community. But it sure leads to a lot of ware and tare!
Recently, I looked up at a lighting fixture and noticed a giant green paper clip bent around its decorative tip, remnant of some renter’s decoration rigging. As I looked more closely I found fishing wire, and every sort of banned tape forgotten along pillars, molding, and bead board edges.
18 seasons of touring musical and theatrical groups have signed the walls of the dressing room, a wonderful tribute to the art that has happened within our walls. Unfortunately, more than a few other names have crept in over the years.
The roller shades hung on the 32 windows no longer all roll up. Scuffs on the stain have marred the apron of the stage and ware has left the stage and steps to the balcony with patches of unsealed spongy wood.
Additionally, because the community has come to associate music and theater with this space, donations of everything from pianos to fur coats come to us and our balcony over flows with boxes of items people thought might be useful to the space.
As I pull down tape and tacs, paint away graffiti, and mothball donated costumes of every type, I am thankful for the problems my site grapples with. After a year of service with the Opera House I have come to see how important this space is to the people. Their thoughtlessness in removing décor or thoughtfulness in donating items happens because they think of the space as theirs. So many historic structures won’t be saved and renovated, many more won’t be revitalized. Having completed a list of tlc projects and presented them to the board, I’ve decided to sign on for another year of service here at the Opera House. I am looking forward to reorganizing, touching up paint and stain, and replacing the shades, precisely because this is a place that will continue to be used until it is worn.
In May 2018, Elizabeth Herrick, the PAWV AmeriCorps member serving with WV National History Day, organized a clean-up project at the Easton Roller Mill, a National Register of Historic Places site on the outskirts of Morgantown. From May through September on the third Sunday of each month, this well preserved two and half story tall Gothic revival structure opens its 150 year old doors to guided tours for visitors of near and far. The mill exists as a hidden gem of local history that remains in the memory of many and represents a significant portion of the area’s heritage.
The mill was founded by entrepreneur Henry Koontz and built by carpenter Henry Mack and the full project was completed around 1967. The mill was a unique structure that ran on steam powered by West Virginia coal, rather than the usual water wheel system. Mr. Koontz operated the mill for about a decade with two or three sets of millstones using the traditional stone-grinding techniques. By the turn of the century, the current owner Mr. Morris installed the hot new milling technology of roller mills. These machines were much more efficient and produced more product faster than the grist millstones. This business prosperity lasted until the years of the Great Depression, when the doors were closed. After the final owner’s death, the mill became the property of Estella Ley Pickenpaugh. Her and her husband preserved the site to the best of their abilities for many years, but willed it to the Monongalia County Historical Society in 1980 for continued efforts. Many other vital community members are responsible for the preservation of the mill and the ability for the current holders to achieve their goals for the site. The mill has many goals: preservation of the site and machinery, making at least some of the machinery operative for demonstrations through air pressure fuel, developing interpretive materials on the mill, and helping promote greater understanding and appreciation of the mill and milling heritage in the region.
On the Saturday before the advent of the annual summer tour season, community volunteers and AmeriCorps members met at the site with cleaning implements in hand and filled with motivation. They took time to extensively sweep all the wooden floors, in-between machinery, and in corners that had been gathering dust for several months. The volunteers also worked diligently to dust the display case that houses the Monongalia County Historical Society’s publications, cabinets that store supplies of other local history books for sale, and the mill’s collection of era relevant farming tools. Getting their hands a little dirty by vacuuming up all the dust and dirt collected, they successfully got the mill in shape for visitors!
This clean-up project served the greater Monongalia county area and the county’s Historical Society. The success of this project was an invaluable help to the mill’s seasonal tour guides and the mill’s typical community volunteers who are normally tasked with the large clean-up project. Dick Walters, Monongalia County Historical Society Treasurer, was thankful for the project’s organization and the amount of volunteers that participated. Roger Ruckle, the master of the mill’s machinery, was also truly grateful that the project was implemented. “It is wonderful to see the younger generation involved in preserving historic places, especially the mill. It needs a people to care about it and this project was an incredible help. I hope that more community events like this can be organized in the future.”
By Brooke Thomson
The Dunbar School has a lot of history and meaning to the city of Fairmont. During my service, I chose to help clean up and paint the first level hallway of the school. The Dunbar School opened in 1929 and was the only school for black children in Fairmont, WV and the only African-American high school in Marion County. It was home to grades one through twelve. The Dunbar School officially closed in 1955 due to the federally mandated end of segregated public education. The school was then put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015. I luckily had the help of some great volunteers to complete this project including: Nikki Lewis, Sandra Scaffidi, John Pitman, Robin Gomez, and Houston Richardson.
This building has some great potential and just needs a little love and paint. Hopefully one day this building will serve the community of Fairmont just like it did back in the day. Community member, John Pittman stated “I’m so thankful for the efforts of PAWV AmeriCorps and volunteers who, through their efforts, showed how important this structure is. Not only are we preserving a significant building, but we are creating a community gathering space for a new generation”. As John stated this building would be a great place for a new generation to use, whether it be used for the school system, sports, or child care. Through PAWV AmeriCorps and the community members of Fairmont, this goal can be accomplished.
This is just one foot in the right direction of saving this building. With the help of the city, county, and volunteers the hope is for this building to be restored and put back to use by Marion County community members.
After selecting items to use for the exhibit, she scanned and inserted the items into Prezi, the program used for the online exhibit. She focused on ensuring that the pieces accurately depicted the theater’s history. As a result, some of the pieces originally chosen were removed, while new things were added as the research uncovered more aspects of the theater’s history. She states, “working on this exhibit was definitely challenging at times, trying to fill all the gaps in the theater’s history but overall it was an enjoyable experience.” The theater has a unique and vital history to the Clarksburg community. This exhibit demonstrates and documents this role.
The original Robinson Grand Theater was built in 1913. It was constructed by the Clarksburg Amusement Company, which was owned by the Robinson brothers, Claude and Reuben. Reuben Robinson got the idea to open the Robinson Grand after a fire destroyed the town’s opera house, leaving little to no places for people to go for entertainment. Reuben would serve as the first manager of the theater before handing it over to Claude. To keep up with the entertainment industry, the theater underwent several renovations and an expansion. Claude ensured the theater remained at the forefront of technology in Clarksburg by bringing silent films to the theater in 1915 and later “talkies.”
In 1927, the Robinson brothers expanded the theater to add more seating and the interior was redecorated to reflect a 19th century English style Garden. In 1939, a fire broke out on the roof destroying a majority of the stage and seating areas. The theater was restored and reopened on Christmas Eve, 1939. Many saw the Robinson Grand’s reopening as a Christmas gift to Clarksburg. In 1984, the Robinson Grand was bought and turned into the Rose Garden, which continued to culturally enrich the residents of Clarksburg. In 2014, the theater was acquired by the City. Since then, the city has received a series of grants and loans to re-establish the building as the Robinson Grand. The theater will be re-opening in the summer of 2018. The Robinson Grand Theater has long played an important role among the residents of Clarksburg and will continue to in the future.
The online exhibit is posted on Waldomore’s web page at http://clarksburglibrary.info/waldomore/exhibits. Please check it out! Waldomore is an elegant antebellum built in 1842 by local businessman Waldo P. Goff and his wife, Harriet Moore. Today, Waldomore is a local history archive, genealogical research facility, and museum associated with Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library.
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