During Jessi Hersom’s service term as a Preserve West Virginia AmeriCorps member she had the opportunity to give visitors personalized experiences during tours of the historic district at Jackson’s Mill. This summer she led a personalized tour for a family who homeschooled their children, that went along with their current school lessons.
This family decided to visit the Jackson's Mill Historic area as a field trip relating to their recent lesson about 19th century homesteads and farms. They were particularly interested in seeing the McWhorter Cabin, which was originally constructed in the 1790s by Henry McWhorter near Jane Lew, West Virginia and was relocated to Jackson’s Mill in 1927 for preservation purposes. This cabin is part of the historic area at Jackson's Mill and is set up to display how a home would have looked in the early nineteenth century.
The family was particularly interested in the fireplace and chimney and its role as the kitchen and how these elements connected to the neighboring garden and gristmill. They were given a full tour of the historic homestead after their specialized tour of the McWhorter Cabin, where they could see how the farm buildings and other components of the Jackson family business supported the Jacksons, who originally lived in a cabin that was similar to the McWhorter Cabin.
Jessi Hersom located specific examples of photos of the McWhorter Cabin from the Jackson’s Mill archives so the family had references during their tour, which also aided in providing an experience that was unique to their needs and educational. They greatly appreciated their time Jackson’s Mill and benefitted from the chance to have a hands-on experience in a nineteenth century cabin and shared that they would be visiting again in the future.
As the Preserve West Virginia AmeriCorps member at Jackson’s Mill, Jessi Hersom led tours of the historic area at and led demonstrations that included operating the historic grist mill and working blacksmith shop during special events.
During her term she also continued projects in the Jackson’s Mill archives. Creating electronic records, rehousing, locating and organizing items, inventorying, and processing new documents are some of the activities that are essential in order to maintain the archive. The continuation of digitally inventorying these historic items is vital to preservation and processing items and photographs allows for future access to those who are interested in the site’s history.
Several visitors directly benefited from this project by having access to historic documents that were otherwise inaccessible. On one occasion, a visitor requested any photos from the early days of the state 4-H camp at Jackson’s Mill, when his father was attending during the nineteen forties. Jessi was able to provide him with several dozens of images from this time period. He was then able to reference these images during his visit to Jackson’s Mill and could compare the historic photographs to the current status of the camp.
The archives are also essential for research and can be used as a tool for referencing primary sources regarding the Jackson’s Mill historic area and State 4-H Camp. Items in the archives are referenced regarding any new publications about the site and will be used for new signs and markers that will be created to aid visitors during self-guided tours. The 4-H Camp at Jackson’s Mill will be celebrating its one hundredth anniversary in 2021, and these documents will be vital for the research needed for future publications regarding this event.
Being able to provide guests with data from the archives supplements their visits and allows for a more satisfying and comprehensive learning experience and will also help people understand Jackson’s Mill in its historic context. These improvements may also allow for an increased interest in the site and help boost attendance in the coming years.
I have completed a number of projects as an AmeriCorps member for the history app and website Clio, which aims to provide a digital museum for the country where users can read encyclopedia-style entries on historic sites and institutions across the United States and engage with various forms of media. These projects have taken the form primarily of walking and driving tours, among them walking tours of historic Berkeley Springs, in Morgan County, Beverly, in Randolph County, and the Evansdale Campus of West Virginia University in Morgantown. Perhaps my favorite, however, is a driving tour following the historic progress of the Jones-Imboden Raid of 1863, during which the Confederate military made a last-ditch effort to prevent the formation of West Virginia as a state separate from Virginia. The tour follows the campaign as it made a great loop from what is now the western edge of Virginia into Union-held territory and back once more into the Confederacy. In the process, users learn not only of the military situation in 1863 but of the political, economic, and social factors that helped to determine the loyalties of those involved not only before and during but after as well. Users are also treated to a number of interesting and entertaining stories from the campaign and can peruse a selection of videos, photos, and online resources related to the history of the raid and West Virginia’s relationship to the larger Civil War.
Led by Confederate Generals William E. “Grumble” Jones and John D. Imboden, the Jones-Imboden Raid of 1863 had a number of strategic goals. Most immediately, it sought to sabotage the operation of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in the region (a key thoroughfare for Union goods and personnel from east to west) and disrupt the proceedings of the pro-Union government there. In less direct terms, however, it also aimed to gather important supplies for the beleaguered Army of Northern Virginia by begging, buying, and stealing as much livestock and food as possible and requisitioning horses for the perennially ill-supplied Confederate cavalry. Finally, with General Robert E. Lee hoping to confront and defeat the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker, the Confederates hoped to prevent reinforcements from arriving from the west to interfere with Lee’s plans in the east. Of those goals, only the last two were truly accomplished. Jones and Imboden funneled a considerable amount of supplies, livestock, and mounts back to the east and in the Battle of Chancellorsville that occurred during their raid, Lee decisively defeated Hooker in open conflict. While the raiders did manage to destroy significant portions of the B&O Railroad, though, trains were back up and running within a few months after hasty repairs. The goal of disrupting Union governance in the region failed entirely, and the raiders managed to alienate many in the areas they traveled through by their treatment of the local populace. West Virginia statehood became a reality shortly after the raid’s conclusion. Users can learn even more about the raid, its causes, and its consequences in the driving tour I’ve created on Clio.
Nathan served as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member at the Clio Foundation during the 2018-2019 term.
On May 21, 2019, the Harrison County Historical Society hosted a group of 17 students from St. Mary’s Catholic School for a tour of the Historic Stealey-Goff-Vance House Museum in Clarksburg.
The tour included an interactive game in which the students were shown artifacts and asked if they could identify them. The artifacts included a boot scraper, a watch fob, a canteen, leather embossing tools and a tabletop butter churn.
Harrison County Historical Society Executive Director, Crystal Wimer led the tour group. AmeriCorps members Susan Cook and Sarah Insalaco assisted with the tour and games.
Michael Spatafore, sixth grade teacher at St. Mary’s Catholic School, said the students enjoyed the tour and learned a lot about history. “The students loved their entire day touring historic downtown Clarksburg. The Stealey-Goff-Vance House was enjoyed because of the age of the structure and the history of the various families that have lived in the house. The children learned about life long ago, what a tanner was, and how the many artifacts in the house each told a story about famous people, places and events in Clarksburg’s history.”
The Harrison County Historical Society owns and maintains the Stealey-Goff-Vance House, located at 123 West Main Street in Clarksburg. The House was built in 1807 for Jacob Stealey, an early settler of Clarksburg who was a tanner by trade.
The Stealey-Goff-Vance House is the oldest known brick structure still standing in Harrison County. The architectural style is a mixture of Georgian and Victorian. It was constructed with locally-sourced hardwood, heavy stone and molded brick.
In 1881, the house was sold to Nathan Goff Sr. The house was used as a doctor’s office and boarding home for about 25 years before it was purchased by Amy Roberts Vance in 1933. After the passing of Mrs. Vance in 1967, the Harrison County Historical Society purchased the house from Mrs. Vance’s sons, Cyrus and John.
The Stealey-Goff-Vance House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Tours can be arranged by calling the Harrison County Historical Society at (304) 709-4902.
Susan served as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps Member at the Harrison County Historical Society during the 2018-2019 AmeriCorps term.
In April 2019, Main Street Martinsburg coordinated a tour of the Martinsburg Roundhouse and the Arts Centre building (located at 300 W. King Street) for a group of historic preservation students from Shepherd University. During the tour the class not only learned about the history of the properties but the lengthy process of preserving and restoring them as well.
Shepherd University students who enroll in historic preservation courses spend their days in the classroom learning about what historic preservation is and how it is used as a way to both preserve historic resources and educate the public about those resources. Dr. Keith Alexander, Assistant Professor of History and co-director of the Historic Preservation and Public History program says that, “getting out into the field is absolutely essential for my historic preservation students to see how the things we talk about in class apply in the real world.” Throughout the tour students remarked on how, even though they knew some of these sites existed, they were less aware of the vast amount of history and recent preservation work that has gone into them.
Main Street Martinsburg is a collaboration of dedicated volunteers, business and property owners, concerned citizens, and local governments working together to promote and enhance the economic strength of historic downtown Martinsburg. With ongoing preservation projects like those at the Martinsburg Roundhouse and Shenandoah Hotel, Martinsburg provides the ideal setting for students to observe how historic preservation remains vital to economic development in West Virginia.
Main Street Martinsburg plans to continue inviting students to tour and discuss historic preservation efforts in the area in order to foster a sense of collaboration and education within the community.
Meaghan served as the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member at Main Street Martinsburg and the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission during the 2018-2019 program year.
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.
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.
By Lauren Kelly
Part of the mission of the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission is educational outreach. The county has a rich history that spans from the early settlement period in the 1730’s and into the modern era. This history drives our heritage tourism industry, which, in a study conducted for the West Virginia Tourism Office in 2017, earns Jefferson County over $900 million per year. The landmarks commission understands the importance of sharing our history to encourage local preservation now and in the future.
We are interested in what tourists are looking for when they visit the area. To that end, we rely on people like Marianne Davis, the director of the Shepherdstown Visitors Center (SVC), to tell us how we can help to promote areas that are of interest to visitors but often overlooked in favor of more familiar stories like that of John Brown, who looms so prominently in the area. Last year, we received a mini-grant to produce two brochures from the West Virginia Humanities Council: “The Battle of Shepherdstown” and “The Shepherdstown Cement Mill.” These brochures complete the story of Antietam and promote a landmarks commission site, the cement mill ruins. The battle links Shepherdstown to the siege of Harpers Ferry and the wider story of the Lee’s 1862 Maryland Campaign. Ms. Davis says, “The Historic Landmarks Commission has allowed us to tell the story of Shepherdstown beyond our borders. We are not an island, but a foundational part of a regional history.”
Shepherdstown, established in 1762, is the oldest town in the county, and if you aren’t asking someone from Romney, the oldest town in the state. Both the landmarks commission and the SVC are interested in increasing awareness of the county’s colonial history in addition to its Civil War history. We reached out to Marianne Davis again this year to find out what stories need to be told, so we’re drafting a new brochure for the Beeline March, in which 100 men set out from Morgan’s Spring outside Shepherdstown to join Washington at the siege of Boston in the summer of 1775. Shepherdstown was a major mustering point during the war and dispatched seven companies between 1775-1783. It is a beautiful, well-preserved town that has retained many of its 18th century structures.
Ms. Davis says, “Good stewardship of historic buildings and sites, coupled with research-based interpretation, has made Shepherdstown attractive to visitors, and has enriched the lives of residents.” Our hope is that increasing awareness of our local story will promote future preservation and help to ensure that Shepherdstown is a great place both to live and visit well into the future.
By Kiersten White
When I served a year at Carnegie Hall, visitors commonly ask the following questions:
I spent most of my service year researching these questions and many more to uncover as much as I can about Carnegie Hall’s past. Many people have contributed research over the years including Dr. John Montgomery (President of Greenbrier College from 1954 - 1972), Vivian Conly (Executive Director of Carnegie Hall from 1989 - 2004), and Mary Montgomery Lindquist (Alumnae of Greenbrier College and daughter of Dr. John Montgomery). Thanks to their valuable efforts and funding from the Carnegie Hall Guild and a West Virginia Humanities Council Mini Grant, I have been able to curate a permanent historic exhibit to be displayed on the second floor of Carnegie Hall. Due to the volume of historical materials, I have also been developing an archive that will be available to the public for research and general inquiries. This is something I had little to no experience prior to serving in this AmeriCorps position. However, I have learned so much about research, archiving, preservation, and exhibit creation that will help me in whatever I choose to pursue in life.
On May 4, Carnegie Hall hosted the historic exhibit opening for Arts from the Ashes: The History of Carnegie Hall. We had 37 people attend the opening including local alumnae from Greenbrier College and former board and staff members of Carnegie Hall. In addition to the exhibit, visitors also have the option of requesting a guided tour and/or utilizing an informative pamphlet providing a brief history of the Hall. For more information about Carnegie Hall’s history and its events, please visit carnegiehallwv.org or call (304) 645-7917. To learn more about the exhibit, please visit http://www.carnegiehallwv.org/exhibitions-films/arts-from-the-ashes-the-history-of-carnegie-hall
Larry Davis, a West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine faculty member and local tour guide, attended the exhibit opening. Larry stated that he “...was pleased with the results of her diligent research on the topic and the quality of her presentation. I could tell that others in attendance were appreciating it.
“Having lived in Lewisburg for forty-one years as a medical school faculty member, I have spent an enormous amount of time in Carnegie Hall. I am a professional tour guide in Lewisburg, and Carnegie Hall is always included in my tours. Her excellent exhibit will now be a most helpful part of the tours. Her collection of photos, performance posters, newspaper articles, and explanatory text combine quite well to lay out the story of Carnegie Hall and the educational institutions that have been connected with it.”
This project is presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations do not necessarily represent those of the West Virginia Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.
By Ian Gray
Amid the soft (albeit electric) candlelight the decorations seemed to sparkle as the faint sound of enchanting caroling streamed in from outside. Surrounded by a plethora of red and green, visitors were taken back over 100 years into the past when Victorian America was inventing our modern Christmas. At the end of the evening families left having formed fond memories of melodious music, captivating storytelling, sumptuous sweets, and pleasing aesthetics while learning a bit about where and how our unique American Christmas originated. All the while, yours truly was thinking one thing—I pulled it off!
Shortly after starting my time with the Cockayne Farmstead planning for our annual Christmas event began and I was put in charge. Throwing myself into the season well before the first snowfall, I proceeded to become an encyclopedia on the holiday and how our modern celebration came about. An intriguing journey, I became familiar with the tale of how an ancient pagan festival morphed and evolved thru several thousand years until it took the form we know today. Over several weeks my journey took me thru the forests of ancient Scandinavia, the streets of the Roman Empire, westward thru Europe and the Middle Ages, and across the Atlantic to the shores of America before arriving in the Victorian Era where the Christmas we all know took form.
Arriving at my historical destination, the next challenge was to recreate an authentic Victorian environment for the front half of the Farmstead. I knew the traditions and their history, now I just needed to recreate them. Thankfully, I was not the first to figure out decorating the Victorian Era house for a Victorian Era Christmas event was a good idea. An afternoon rummaging around unearthed an attic full of trees, tinsel, candles, and other goodies to make the rooms come alive with Christmas cheer. About a week in total spent decorating, and a few trips to local stores for the reaming pieces, completely transformed the house as if it were just adorned by the Cockayne’s themselves. However, little time could be spent admiring the handiwork as the real preparation for the event was just beginning.
While the house was decorated, I knew more needed to be offered than just house tours if we were to have a well attended event. After some thought, it was settled that live carolers and storytelling would perfectly round out the evening while the offer of hot coco and sweets was bound to (pun intended) sweeten the pot. Reaching out to area churches and, more importantly, school choral groups produced spectacular, if not speedy, results. Three groups were booked for the evening to provide a soothing atmosphere for the attendees. Lastly, our volunteer base answered the call to provide a storyteller and baked goods for the evening. With everything, theoretically, put together on paper it was time to spread the word and wait for the night of the event to take place.
Having marketed events before, advertising went out smoothly and the night of the event soon approached—and it was successful. Despite our last choral group bowing out due to a sick director, the night went off as planned. The house and grounds shone bright clothed in their Christmas regalia and the crowds flowed as expected. Visitors smiled while listening to the school groups perform outside before heading indoors to tour the house, listen to a resuscitation of “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and craft an authentic Victorian Era ornament. While, not every aspect of the evening went exactly according to plan (for example junking the script for the house tour within the first 10 minutes), our little over 100 visitors were thoroughly entertained and left knowing the Farmstead is a vital part of the community. About two and a half hours after it started, it was finished. The evening event had ran its course, the house was put back into order, and it was time to move onto the next task. However, while the evening only lasted a handful of hours, its lessons and memories have lasted far longer.
While I don’t anticipate a career switch to event planning, the experience has reinforced that I’ve become proficient in this very necessary skill for small historic sites. Seeing all my research, planning, coordination, balancing, and advertising efforts pay off was another in a series of small revelations over the past several months that I have indeed stepped outside my comfort zone and gained skills that are against my own reclusive nature. In the end, that is what the AmeriCorps experience should all be about, and has for myself over the past two years. Serving with small organizations such as the Farmstead has forced me to tackle challenges that I normally wouldn’t and equipped me well for the next step of moving onto the larger stage of a fulltime career within the field of public history (whenever that is supposed to happen). And, if I manage to inspire some people along the way to pursue their own passion for history all the better. However, that is yet another story for yet another day.
Preserve WV Stories