When I first began my AmeriCorps service term at the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve in September, I immediately began helping with a preservation project at Grandview, one of the most popular areas of the Park. This project primarily involved restoring 30 stone hearths, a handful of which were built in the 1940s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Concurrent work was also performed on Grandview’s entrance pylons, culvert, and shelter 1 with its respective CCC built fireplace and chimney. This undertaking began as a project proposal by the Gorge’s 2020-2021 AmeriCorps member, Moira Gasior. The project was soon backed by the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Training Center (HPTC), who, on September 13th 2021, sent a masonry crew to the site to provide professional support.
Following initial condition assessments and documentation, preservation of the hearths began with demolition, a phase of treatment where obstructive mortar and poor joints were chiseled away. The stones were then repointed and, if need be, reset. New fireboxes were reconstructed at an angle to promote water runoff and mitigate future moisture damage. Lastly, new grills were anchored and installed. Intentional removal of biological growth on the surface of the stones was avoided so as not to disturb the natural patina of moss and lichen which had accumulated over time. Depending on the severity of deterioration, preservation of one hearth could take up to a week to complete, not including the 10 days of covered curing time afterwards. Some hearths required minimal intervention, with only the removal and repointing of shallow cracked joints and the relaying of fireboxes. Others, however, quickly fell apart due to failed joints and missing mortar, sometimes requiring multiple stones to be reset.
Two weeks into the project, a voluntary week-long workshop was sponsored by HPTC at Grandview for members of NERI staff and other National Park Service affiliates. Participants engaged in lectures and learning modules and were provided hands-on guidance by experts in the field of historic brick and stone masonry.
This project was initially expected to take six weeks but was extended to accommodate the preservation of additional fireplaces. After nearly two months at Grandview, work officially concluded the week of October 25th.
Not only do these hearths have historic significance as CCC built structures, but there is also a great deal of public sentiment towards them. During this project, I heard recollections from visitors who had come to Grandview back in its heyday - when the shelters were always busy, the trails were lively, and every hearth had an occupant. It was an extremely popular excursion for families and friends. In expectation of spending the whole day there, groups would have to get to the Park early to secure a good spot. However, as time progressed and tourism within the Park decreased, so did the use of these hearths. This led to a lack of maintenance, causing many of them to fall into disrepair. Some of the hearths were forgotten entirely as they resided farther in the woods and eventually became reclaimed by nature.
According to reports, tourism at Grandview increased by 300% last summer, likely due to the Gorge’s newly obtained designation as a National Park. To this effect, there was no better time for this project to happen. Our daily work at Grandview never saw a shortage of visitors, many of whom showed interest and appreciation at our efforts. People would often approach us with questions or comments about the work. Some of the hearths which were freshly preserved saw use almost immediately after being uncovered. Overall, the consensus about this project from both the Park and public seemed to be an air of excitement at the possibility of reviving what once was.
Kate Caplinger served as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member for the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve during the 2021-2022 program year.
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