By Rachel Niswander, Preserve WV AmeriCorps serving at Happy Retreat
My name is Rachel Niswander and I am the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member with Happy Retreat. One of my duties was to create an archive for the organization during my year of service. Over the course of ten years, Happy Retreat has accumulated plenty of donations and various documents, letters, and blueprints from a previous owner of the home. In order to sort, document, and archive all these items, I began archiving all these items into the museum archiving software Musarch.
I had previously used Musarch at an internship I had in college. This, along with the fact that Happy Retreat wouldn’t have to pay anything to obtain it or set it up, was the primary reason I chose this archiving software. After I set up Musarch, I began the process of putting all the items that Happy Retreat has acquired into the software. I first began with the McCabe items.
The McCabes owned Happy Retreat in the 1950s and conducted a substantial restoration of the home. We have in our collection blueprints showing the alterations and modifications done to the home as well as correspondence and letters between the McCabes and the architect. The blueprints are incredibly helpful for Happy Retreat to have, as they show every change and alteration that the McCabes did to the home. These include putting in a bathroom, a curved staircase in the west wing of the house, bookshelves in the parlors, and other small alterations throughout the house.
Other items put into the collection are furniture and books. Most of the furniture was either donated by board members or purchased from estates. Happy Retreat's books, however, came from donations. With over 300 history books donated, this took up the bulk of my time. It was a difficult task not to read every single book that I archived!
In my final weeks of service with Happy Retreat, I set up a training session for interested Happy Retreat board members to learn the software and continue the efforts to maintain Happy Retreat’s archive.
PRESERVE WV AMERICORPS MEETS WITH DR. EMORY KEMP - ESTEEMED WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR EMERITUS AND PAWV CO-FOUNDER
Written by Samuel Richardson, Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving at the West Virginia & Regional History Center (Samuel (left) pictured above with Dr. Emory Kemp (right))
It was no surprise that I was going to face some serious challenges in my Year of Service with AmeriCorps. I would be examining and arranging the life’s work of Dr. Emory Kemp, with the goal of making his 300 box collection of blueprints, maps, restoration project reports, structural analysis papers, drawings, correspondence, and much more accessible to patrons of the West Virginia and Regional History Center (WVRHC). Public History, as an academic field, was foreign territory for me. However, as a graduate from the Public Administration program at West Virginia University, I was prepared to tackle any project that served the public’s interest. The transdisciplinary shift was a challenge, but complimented my “Clifton Strength’s Finder” examination which discovered my strength in adaptability.
Transdisciplinary shifts into public history are not unheard of, as according to Dr. Kemp, the structural mechanics PhD, was moved from civil engineering to the History Department at West Virginia University. Despite resistance in his early educational career to studying history as an academic discipline, he choose to remain in engineering. His resistance however, was no match for the orders of West Virginia University President James G. Harlow, who would implore Dr. Kemp lead the newly founded Institute for the History of Technology and Industrial Archaeology in the Department of History, not engineering.
This was one of the many anecdotes that developed in the Monday afternoon meeting with the retired academic stalwart. Perhaps, in the process of officially retiring, as he promises his newest developing book on the Big Sandy River will be his last.
The materials in the collection were assembled to support projects over Dr. Kemp’s 50 year career. The materials were arranged in a manner with no particular emphasis on a preserved original order. Dr. Kemp stated that he expected the professional expertise of the faculty and staff at the WVRHC to arrange the materials in a fashion that would make his work most accessible to researchers.
Kemp also agreed with the proposed series arrangement, where WVRHC faculty member, Jane LaBarbara, and I hope to divide the collection into three major series, Kemp’s Personal Library, Publications by Kemp, and finally, “Subject Files” or “Research Projects.”
In hopes of understanding which areas of the large collection are appropriate to highlight and exhibit, Dr. Kemp will provide Jane and I with a list of 35 projects that were of noteworthy accomplishment and could be listed as potential engineering breakthroughs. Some of which, were his role in the construction of the Sydney Opera House, and saving the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company potentially millions of dollars, by engineering a way for them to integrate new equipment without completely destroying an older building. Kemp hopes to sit down with LaBarbara and me to discuss each of the projects in further detail.
Preserve WV Stories