By Sarah Hanna
One interviewee was Jill Thomas, who was a teacher at Wiles Hill in the 1970s and 80s. She reflected on how Wiles Hill was such a special place to work due to its small size and community involvement. Another interviewee, Sam Wilkinson, was a student in the 1990s. He was a high school student when Wiles Hill closed, and he recalled attending Board of Education meetings to advocate in favor of keeping the school open. Consolidation of schools was a trend in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century that caused the closure of neighborhood schools throughout the United States. Opponents argued that a more hands-on approach with smaller class sizes was preferable. Misty Williamson was a student at Wiles Hill in the 1970s and recalled the evolution of the Wiles Hill neighborhood from mostly families to college student rentals. The increase in college students and the closing of the neighborhood school both worked to dramatically change the demographics and culture of Wiles Hill.
While reflecting on this evolution can highlight how much the neighborhood has lost over the years, it also serves a positive purpose. Not only can it be cathartic, it also helps to preserve what the school and neighborhood once were. Oral history serves as a tool for the preservation of everyday history, and for when personal memories can tell us something different from the other archival records available.
By Katherine Bowers
Heritage Farm Museum and Village is a unique facet within the West Virginia as it serves as a testament to Appalachian Heritage and the impact a family can make on an entire community. Mike and Henriella Perry wanted their children to grow up away from the city and the family began their hobby of antiquing. This hobby has led to a unique historic site that has an array of museums, historic buildings, and a petting zoo for families to enjoy and celebrate Appalachia.
The amount of artifacts on display at Heritage Farm is near overwhelming; visitors and docents alike find new artifacts everytime! During my service year at Heritage Farm I have had the privilege to see some unique artifacts firsthand while working on creating a comprehensive way of cataloging all of the items on display. During the inventorying process I realized that some of the artifacts on display in the Progress Museum and Vittles needed to be restored to their original luster. With support from Heritage Farm I led a Civic Service Project to restore cast iron artifacts.
The greatest success of the day was the refurbishing of a gigantic cauldron that is on display in the Progress Museum. A few months prior I discovered that water had been leaking through the chimney and collecting in the cauldron. This left the cauldron covered in rust and required some ingenuity on properly cleaning a.k.a. an electric drill with a scrubbing attachment. The next challenge was finding a way to season the cauldron as it was too large to fit inside of the oven and so we set the burners on high and kept our fingers crossed it would work! Which thankfully it did!
This Civic Service Project was a great success in preserving 20+ cast iron artifacts that had been neglected for a while, but it also allowed myself and the docents to feel apart of the history and the continuing site narrative of working to save and preserve Appalachian Heritage.
The group consisted of six volunteers – mainly AmeriCorps – Harmon and her three children.
In addition to the work at the company houses, the group applied yellow paint to the sidewalk steps for safety purposes.
Kyle Bailey left the painting to others while he focused on cleaning up trash along the Greenbrier River.
There’s still fence to paint, so the group will return throughout the summer to get the job done.
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.
My name is Kara Gordon and I am a Preserve WV AmeriCorps Member at the Cockayne Farmstead in Glen Dale, WV. Since I am originally from Wheeling, WV, I love that I get to help preserve the history of my own local area. So far, I have stayed relatively local pretty much my whole life, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history from Wheeling Jesuit University and a master’s degree in history from West Virginia University. While in school, I also worked, volunteered, or interned at several museums and archives, including the Archives of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, the Mansion Museum at Oglebay Institute, and the West Virginia and Regional History Center.
I love studying everyday history in many forms, but I am especially interested in material culture, and most especially, clothing and textiles. In the summer of 2017, I got the opportunity to intern at Colonial Williamsburg in the Margaret Hunter Millinery Shop and it was truly a dream come true! I love to sew and recreating historical garments has been a favorite hobby of mine for many years. When you try on the clothing worn by people from another time – literally stepping into their shoes – I feel like that connection to the past becomes even more real.
Cockayne Farmstead is a bit of a diamond in the rough in many ways. The house itself is rough inside, since it has been preserved but not restored, left as it was found by its last, reclusive owner. Sometimes the “shabby” appearance shocks visitors at first, but it is a glimpse into the passage of time that simply takes a little bit of time to appreciate. Like so many small, volunteer-led historic sites, the house only exists at all because of passionate, dedicated individuals working with very limited resources. This is the story for so many small sites in West Virginia and across the country, and serving with AmeriCorps allows me to help preserve this important local resource. Though its smallness may seem like a disadvantage to some, I look forward to taking on the greater challenges and responsibilities that come with working in a place where my ideas and actions can truly make a difference, instead of being lost in the crowd. It’s a place and a story you can truly become attached to, and I look forward to serving here for the coming year.
Architecture, at its best, creates an environment that is both functional and beautiful. In a world devoid of any concern for aesthetics, we lose our ability to revel in the beauty that surrounds us, confounds us, and inspires us. I spend a lot of my time looking up and around, enjoying the built and natural environment. This is how I’ve come to know that Wheeling, WV is the right place for me. If you’ve never visited Wheeling, you’re missing out on an architectural gem. Throughout my time in the Friendly City, I have never lived in any building younger than 100 years old.
My name is Kellie White, and I am a historic preservationist in training. I am originally from Virginia Beach, VA. I moved to Fairfax, VA in 2012 to pursue my undergraduate degree at George Mason University. I completed my BA in Art History and Anthropology with a minor in Women and Gender Studies in 2016. After I graduated, in the Fall of 2016, I decided to move to Wheeling and attend Belmont College to study Building Preservation.
Except I didn’t always want to study historic preservation; it took me a while to reach that decision! During middle and high school I was a dedicated musician, and I wholeheartedly believed I would study music. And yet I entered college as an Environmental Studies major. In retrospect, I see that I started down this path in high school. Mrs. Reich’s AP Art History was the most influential class I took in high school; it eventually lead me to study a combination of Art History and Anthropology in college. And Art History lead to the greatest summer of my life.
During the summer of 2014, I was offered to opportunity to study archaeology and preservation at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon. I spent that time smeared in dirt and happier than I could have imagined. There’s something mesmerizing about interacting with history in such a gritty, substantial way. That summer was decisive in determining the path I have traveled for the past 2 years. That summer is when I learned about Belmont College and its hands-on Building Preservation program; it planted the seed for where I am now. In my current Plaster course, I am learning to “run” a cornice and cast the decorative elements in plaster.
I currently attend Belmont College studying Building Preservation, and I am immersed in the Wheeling community. I am a board member of the Wheeling Young Preservationist, a group of like-minded individuals who take stock of preservation activities and needs within our community. I am also a member of the Wheeling Arts and Cultural Commision; we help encourage creativity in Wheeling. I take pride in my community, in our community. I want to see tangible change in Wheeling, in the whole of West Virginia. This is why I’ve chosen to serve as the Americorps member for the West Virginia Association of Museums.
By preserving and educating others about our communal heritage, I hope to help us all recognize the humanity we share. Museums are a space to explore this cultural inheritance.. Standing in a museum, examining a display, for a moment we are sharing an experience. We are all being presented the same information, being confronted with the same truths, being shown our heritage and history. Have you ever experienced wonder or delight in a museum, standing in front of a painting, a historic flag, or a suit of armor? I have. I hope that feeling never fades. Through my service at the West Virginia Association of Museums, I aim to encourage people to visit museums, to experience that wonder, and to bond over our communal heritage.
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.
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