As a retired history professor and academic, I had numerous opportunities to work with primary source collections, and handled many rare and unusual documents in my research work. Over time, I became very interested in the processes behind the acquisition and care of rare books and special collections, so much so that I took early retirement as a professor and pursued a Master’s of Library and Information Science with a specialization in that area. I received the degree in August, 2016, and completed an internship at Cleveland State University that same year. I saw an opportunity to serve as an AmeriCorps member in the West Virginia & Regional History Center (WV&RHC) at West Virginia University (WVU), applied for it, and was accepted into the program. I began the appointment at the end of August, 2019.
My major project at the Center was to work with the Dr. Emory Kemp Collection. Dr. Kemp, a noted engineer, architect and historian, was a member of the WVU History Department until his retirement. In 2016, he donated many items from his working life to the WV&RHC, including all of those related to the Institute for the History of Technology and Industrial Archaelogy (IHTIA), which he founded and ran for a number of years. In addition, a series of oral interviews with Dr. Kemp that were conducted by Dr. Barb Howe, also an emerita professor of history at WVU, formed part of the collection.
In the fall of 2019, my primary objective was to complete the transcriptions from the oral histories, and to review the transcriptions previously done for any needed corrections/additions/deletions. Part of this work involved selecting a new transcription software program to be used in processing the transcriptions. Supervised by Jane LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, this project was finished by early 2020.
On December 19, 2019, Paula Martinelli, Director of Development for the WVU Libraries, arranged for me to meet Dr. Kemp and his wife, Janet, at their home. While Dr. Kemp was not in good health (he would pass away on January 20, 2020), we were able to have a nice conversation about his life’s work, and I was very happy to have had an opportunity to meet him.
Upon the completion of the transcriptions in early 2020, I began helping with the physical part of the collection: documents and maps that were part of the IHTIA archive. For the documents, I inspected and conserved them, labeled and listed them in a detailed Excel spreadsheet, and then transferred them into new archival boxes in anticipation of re-storage.
The IHTIA maps, which were created from the early 20th century forward, were of varying sizes, both in length and depth. Many of them were also in a fragile condition, and in need of repair. As an intern curator (again under the direction of Ms. LaBarbara), I checked their condition, described them for use as a finding aid on the library website, labeled them for cataloging, and rehoused them into new archival boxes in anticipation of re-storage. Unfortunately, the closure of the library due to the pandemic stopped the progress of this project, but I am hoping to get back to work on this again during the next program year.
Dr. Connie Evans served as the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member at the West Virginia & Regional History Center at West Virginia University during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 program years.
Prior to March of 2020, I was looking forward to seeing events I had planned for my spring service with Adaland Mansion and Barbour County Historical Museum come to fruition. Adaland would have hosted yoga on the outdoor pavilion and benefited from a spring cleanup event. Community volunteers with the Barbour County Historical Museum were planning on repainting a portion of the Philippi B&O Depot.
The COVID-19 pandemic put these plans on pause, bringing more immediate community needs to light. I resolved to help with the West Virginia (Medical) Mask Army, a pop-up nonprofit organization addressing the personal protective equipment shortage by sewing filter masks.
After establishing that Philippi had a volunteer base ready to sew medical masks, I put together a group order for mask supplies and contacted the Mask Army. The nearest supply hub at the time was in Charleston, so I made the drive to pick up mask-making supplies and began contact-less distribution to volunteers in Philippi.
The Philippi hub was officially started on April 1. I assemble kits, arrange drop-offs, and track masks and distribution from one of my AmeriCorps sites – the Barbour County Historical Museum. As of mid-May our hub has grown to include 37 dedicated volunteers who have produced over 1700 medical masks! Masks have been distributed to essential workers in hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, homeless shelters, and more. Most recently, the Philippi hub gave 500 masks to the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital in Weston and 45 masks to City of Philippi essential workers.
Despite the need to physically distance during the COVID-19 pandemic, the community has found a way to come together to help.
Virginia served with the Barbour County Historical Museum and Adaland Mansion during the 2019-2020 service year.
Duffields Depot, located in Jefferson County, West Virginia is considered to be the second oldest surviving combined freight and passenger train depot in the nation. The two and a half story stone building, with a now destroyed wooden warehouse attached, was built by Richard Duffield between 1839 and 1842 with the $2,500 he received from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad for right of way access to his land.
During my AmeriCorps service year, my main project was researching the property for as much information as possible. This research resulted in a new brochure, several grant applications, and an extended research report. We have also executed several work days at the property, including clearing brush, replacing windows, and evaluating and removing rotted floorboards.
The Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission has a goal of rehabilitating and reopening the depot to the public, as it has been in a consistent state of decline over the last few decades. The research report and interpretive material helps to inform the public about the space, connect it to their local history, and place the structure in its context, while the grants provide the fiscal support needed to stabilize Duffields Depot.
Other groups in the region have also expressed their interest and support for the project, such as the Civil War Trails, the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, local historical societies, and several individuals. The goal for the property is to have it stabilized, restored, and opened to the public as a learning space and site specific museum.
Duffields Depot encapsulates several areas of Jefferson County and West Virginia history, such as the impact of the railroads in the 19th century, rural county farm products, the creation and success of villages, and the role of local personalities in the development of an area, appalling to many different interest areas.
McKenzie served as the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member with the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission during the 2019-2020 service year.
For the past twenty years, the Martinsburg Roundhouse has been under renovation. This has included the installation of new roofing and windows, a fire suppressant system, and the construction of bathrooms. There are many projects in development with the aim of improvement and preservation yet the goal remains clear: a rebirth of the Martinsburg Roundhouse, for it to serve a new role in the community. This place once so vital for the city, for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, and the state of West Virginia has been reduced to a mysterious structure for Martinsburg citizens. Many people have largely ignored the roundhouse since it was shut down in May of 1987, a situation exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Multitudes of the festivals and shows have been canceled, and only a small number of visitors have gone on tours throughout this summer. During my service at the Martinsburg Roundhouse, I wanted to strategize a way to share the history and significance of the Martinsburg Roundhouse with a broader audience, but I especially wanted to show local people why this site mattered.
The best way I thought that this story could be spread was through the schools in Berkeley County. The West Virginia history curriculum requires state and local history lessons, primarily in grades four and eight. The history of the Martinsburg Roundhouse is relevant to several historical topics: industrialization, the Civil War, and labor history in West Virginia. Yet the project has evolved from simply being a virtual tour of the site. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with a great videographer, Ronald, on this project. Ronald has helped me develop the project beyond my original idea into a more expansive one: a full-length documentary of the site. A crucial part of the documentary project has been oral history interviews. Interviewees for the video have been local historians, past employees of the roundhouse, and their family members. These interviews have illuminated and captured the history of the site, as well as serve to demonstrate the site’s importance to individuals and the community.
Two key questions that have helped me to understand the feelings people have for the Martinsburg Roundhouse and why they are invested in the landmark’s future. One of the questions we’ve been asking when talking with past employees is “What did you enjoy about working at the Roundhouse?” For Chief Clerk Jim Rickard and laborer Donnie Castleman, the answer was the same: the people. This answer shows that these men had, and still have, a sense of comradery and that they are proud of the work that they did at the Martinsburg Roundhouse. The other key question that we’ve been asking all interviewees and the question we usually end the interview with is, “What the roundhouse means to you?” The employees of the Martinsburg Roundhouse and family members of employees had a similar answer to the question, that to them the roundhouse meant their livelihood. This answer reveals an essential element of what makes the roundhouse special, that this place and this industry-supported Martinsburg. I think these answers would be surprising for those who view the Roundhouse as merely a collection of vast and empty buildings. Yet for the people who worked there and their families of those who worked there it meant putting food on the table and paying the bills. It meant spending time with and growing to know people who were dedicated to the job. All interviewees have a singular vision of what they want for the site that means so much to them: that it has to be revitalized and needs to become central to the community again. How the roundhouse fulfills that role and place once again is still in question yet the ideas include the building of an amphitheater, a venue space, and the addition of a formal museum space. Each of these ideas seek to honor the history of the Martinsburg Roundhouse while simultaneously meeting the needs of Martinsburg.
The documentary is still in production. The oral history interviews will conclude on September 22 and we will begin the editing phase of this project. It will take an estimated eight months for the footage to be edited and for the film to be completed. In addition to the documentary, the virtual tour is still being made. We will be utilizing the same footage, yet the narration will be tailored toward kids. There will be worksheets provided for grades kindergarten to twelfth grade along with the tour.
As it stands the intention is to sell the documentary in the Martinsburg Roundhouse gift shop, as well as to play sections of it at the beginning of tours and Roundhouse events. Yet I ultimately hope that it uncovers for the people of Martinsburg and students across Berkeley County the magic of the Martinsburg Roundhouse
Claire served as the Preserve WV AmeriCorps Member for the Martinsburg Roundhouse during the 2019-2020 program year.
On July the 24th, 2020, a group of Preserve WV AmeriCorps members and local contractors met at Old Hemlock Foundation located in Preston County to participate in a historic wooden window restoration workshop with Smiths Family Workshop. Guided by the professional preservationists Jon and Derrick Smith, those in attendance worked on the windows from the house located on the Old Hemlock Foundation property that dates back to the early 1800s. Those in attendance learned how to safely remove the paint and glaze from the windows, how to fit new glass windows panes into the frames, and then how to glaze the panes back into the window.
The benefits of work like this for Old Hemlock Foundation and other such historic sites are the increased energy efficiency, and windows can become more secure in the process. In addition to these things, particularly damaged windows can be made like new again, saving money and beautifying the building.
The skills learned at the workshop are something I personally will take with me into future projects, as historic preservation is something I am passionate about and would love to pursue a job in. I think this is something that can also be said about the other attendants. As such this workshop was invaluable to those in attendance and also to Old Hemlock.
Jamie Billman served as the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member at the Old Hemlock Foundation during the 2019-2020 program year.
Preserve WV Stories