There’s no Place like Thurmond: Historic Preservation in West Virginia’s Smallest Incorporated Town
At about 5:30 on the second Wednesday of every month this year, I walked across the New River from my house in Dun Glen to attend a town meeting in Thurmond. Once there, I joined with the town’s five permanent residents to discuss town business over dinner in Thurmond’s one-room town hall. We approved the minutes from our last meeting, went over the town’s budget, and discussed plans for upcoming town projects and events. Sometimes our meetings were interrupted by a train passing by on the tracks just a stone’s throw from our meeting place. In that event we all filed outside to wave at it as it made its way through town. Once the train passed by and the noise subsided, town meeting would resume in West Virginia’s smallest incorporated town.
Though Thurmond is an incredibly small town, it cannot be described as sleepy. The people of Thurmond take great pride in their community. This year alone, they repaired their Main Street, installed new town banners, and started making plans to build a municipal sewer system. On top of that, they do light maintenance and mowing in the town’s public spaces and host an annual litter pick-up event called Thurmond Clean-up Day. In years not affected by a global pandemic, they host a triathlon and a family festival called Train Days.
The people of Thurmond are not alone in their efforts to care for their town. The National Park Service owns most of the property in Thurmond, including about 20 historic buildings. As an AmeriCorps member serving at the New River Gorge National River, I was involved in a project to develop a historic preservation field school using Thurmond as the “classroom” where participants will learn how to care for historic buildings. Over the course of the year, we developed a plan for our project, presented our ideas to the park’s leadership team for their approval, and contacted colleges to gauge their interest and ask them to participate. Between December and October, PAWV's executive director, Danielle Parker, alongside myself and Park Staff made great strides toward getting the project off of the ground; the project was approved at the park level, and we have six colleges interested in partnering with us in this project. The next steps will involve more in depth and specific planning and coordination to determine how we will work with colleges, and what work we will accomplish together.
Working on this field school project was an incredibly gratifying part of my term here at the New River Gorge. Not only because of how the project is coming together and how promising it is, but also because it has been a way for me to play a role in caring for the town of Thurmond, just as its residents do.
Will Whearty was the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member at the New River Gorge National River during the 2019-2020 program year.
Maintenance Deferred: Adjusting Plans for a Historic Preservation Project during a Pandemic
Within the New River Gorge National River, the National Park Service is responsible for maintaining a staggering number of assets and resources. This list includes 27 administrative buildings, 9 campgrounds, 11 public restrooms and 16 vault toilets, 5 staff housing units, 2 year-round and two seasonal visitor contact stations, 131 miles of trail, and 35 miles of roads. It requires a huge amount of labor, money, and time to maintain the assets listed above, and much of the park’s maintenance staff and budget are devoted to that purpose.
Not listed above, but certainly worth attention, are the three historic farmhouses that the NPS owns on River Road near Hinton. For my civic service project, I planned a project to stabilize one building at one of these three historic farms. The plan was to install water bars and a French drain around a spring house to prevent the continued accumulation of sediment on and around the building. Carpentry repairs would also be made to the buildings walls and door, which had rotted from prolonged exposure to sediment and water. This work, like a lot of small but important tasks at the park’s lesser-known historic sites, would go a long way towards preserving the building.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the project, and I was left wondering if it could be completed at all. In mid-summer, the project was revisited and re-imagined. It was deemed unsafe to work with volunteers, but the park’s maintenance staff and an AmeriCorps crew from the Appalachian Conservation Corps were available for the task. With these resources we were able to expand the scope our project to include not only one building at one farm, but the entirety of all three farms on River Road.
On the day of the project, we had over 30 people working on different tasks between the three farms. Downed trees were cleared, grass was mowed, gutters were cleaned, ivy was removed from the outside of buildings and debris was cleaned from their insides. The stabilization work at the spring house also went off as planned. These tasks, though small, are often lost in the shuffle of the park’s busy day-to day maintenance operations. The day also provided the park’s maintenance staff a chance to safely work together on a common project in a year where large gatherings of people could not be held. Some people involved in the project had never been to the farm where they were working, and I really liked how this work day allowed them a chance to learn about and appreciate another site in the place where they work.
Though my civic service project did not go the way of my original plan, I was very pleased with how it turned out. In a year where so many things had to be cancelled or set aside, it felt good to work with the staff at the park to adapt to challenging circumstances and develop a plan to safely carry out an effective project to care for some important, though sometimes overlooked, historic resources.
Will was the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member for the New River Gorge National River's Maintenance Division during the 2019-2020 program year.
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