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.
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.
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.
My time as an AmeriCorps member at the Pocahontas County Opera House has given me the opportunity to flex my social media muscles again. I graduated from Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, with a degree in English and minors in communication and history. Within my paths of study, I focused heavily on written communication, whether that was online, like social media, or in print, like journalism.
I found myself fascinated by how people communicate with one another online. We are all looking to be entertained, to be thought of, and to be involved with the communities that we love. Social media is a great tool to use, but as I began learning about social media, I was overwhelmed with all of the different tips and tricks that were taught to me online, through my professor, through other students, and through internships. Each place had a different answer for what you should be doing online. On top of everyone’s advice, social media best practices are constantly changing because of tweaks to social media algorithms and the whims of the audiences that businesses are trying to reach. After some experimentation throughout my time as an AmeriCorps, through my time at university, and my time in internships, I found some things that made a major difference in how many people saw my organic content (content that I had created myself). Here is what I learned worked to reach a larger audience:
1. Have a mission
What do you want your efforts with social media to do for your business or nonprofit? Do you want to bring in more visitors? Do you want to increase sales of merchandise? Think of these goals ahead of time and create your content with this goal in mind.
2. Develop a social media plan for your social media efforts
Having a plan typed out for your social media use is an important step. It doesn’t have to be too complicated. A plan, even a simple one, will help make guidelines to follow if you have multiple people running social media, and it also will help you create content more easily than if you were working from scratch every time. It doesn’t have to be extensive; for example, at the Opera House, we have a few categories that we can draw from for social media, which include pre-show posts, post-show posts, historical posts, and behind the scenes posts. This allows us to pick a category and draw inspiration from there, rather than starting from ground zero. You can also include measurable goals you want to reach in terms of analytics or sales and this plan will help you measure your social media progress. You can use the questions in the graphic above to get started.
3. Keep your branding consistent across platforms
Brand recognition is important for your business or nonprofit. You want people to recognize your logo and your name, so keeping your logo and your handle consistent across all of your social platforms is important. For example, the Opera House’s website, Facebook, and Instagram is all pocahontasoperahouse (.org), and our Twitter is @pcoperahouse because of Twitter’s unique character limit on handles. Our profile pictures are always the same and our name is always Pocahontas County Opera House (see above photo). This comes in handy when someone from one platform searches for the Opera House on a different platform, as they can easily find us and our content.
4. Be consistent
Be consistent with your posting. Try to post regularly without detracting from the quality. It is better to post higher quality content less frequently than lower quality content more frequently. Keeping up consistent posting of great content should help your page begin to grow. If your posting is less consistent, you will lose momentum on your page growth.
5. Always include a picture
Across all social media platforms that we use at the Pocahontas County Opera House—Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram—posts with a photo always do better than posts without a photo. People tend to engage with the content more, share it more, and overall enjoy it more.
6. Avoid links as much as possible on Facebook
Facebook is one of the best platforms for businesses. Facebook is a highly used social media platform and has a significantly diverse demographic on the site compared to others, like Instagram or Pinterest. However, because Facebook makes its money from advertising, links and events typically perform worse than content without links. I have suspicions that this is because Facebook wants businesses to pay for advertising, but I am not sure. I can, however, assure you that every post I have made that includes a link has gotten a fraction of the views and shares that a post with only an image does. This is also true for events.
7. Use hashtags
Hashtags are one of those social media discussions that always seems to be changing. No one seems to know quite how many to use, what hashtags are helpful, and when to use them. I recommend using them every post on Instagram, and also on Twitter when you can within your character limit. Hashtags are critical for reaching new audiences on Instagram and can help drive engagement with your page. Try out hashtags on every post, and see which hashtags are the most effective. I always recommend having a branded hashtag, one that matches your branding, so that people can use it when discussing your business or nonprofit.
8. Have fun
I know this sounds cheesy, but you will come up with better content if you find someone who genuinely enjoys creating the content for your page. This will make having more consistent content easier, and the enjoyment will hopefully spill over to your audience in the long run as your page has more and more genuine content.
Overall, social media is a great tool to use when you want to reach your current audience and potential audiences. Businesses and nonprofits can share genuine content that helps their audiences stay connected, and overall, build fonder feelings towards the business. This is great for community building, and for helping people come back over and over throughout the years.
Marilyn Creager served as Preserve WV AmeriCorps member during the 2019-2020 program year at the Pocahontas County Opera House in Marlinton, WV.
In the spring semester of 2019, Jennifer Thornton, an assistant professor of public history at West Virginia University, contacted Nicole Dias of BAD Buildings and the Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center and asked her if she would like to give a guest lecture to her historic preservation class. Nicole agreed and included me, the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving at BAD Buildings, into the project. We created a presentation on BAD Buildings and our work with abandoned school buildings across the state. The guest lecture went over well with both Professor Thornton and her students. For the rest of the semester Jennifer and her students remained in contact with us, sending us questions and information about abandoned schools they did projects on.
With the success of our first guest lecture, in January 2020, Professor Thornton contacted Nicole and I to do another guest lecture for her spring 2020 historic preservation class. We scheduled the guest lecture to take place in April. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the plans for the guest lecture seemed uncertain. However, Jennifer Thorrnton assured us that the guest lecture will go on as planned, except it would be done through zoom. We would be able to share our presentations through screen share and talk to the students.
Nicole and I split the guest lecture into two parts. Nicole would give the basics of the BAD Buildings program while I would give the basics of the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program and how historic preservation is connected to BAD Buildings. Since this is my last year as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member, I wanted to share my experiences with the class and encourage them to look into becoming a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member post graduation. Additionally, Nicole and I wanted to give the students a lesson that lets them know that historic preservation is not only important for history, it is important for a community's redevelopment. There are a lot of benefits to historic preservation and we wanted to share them with the students to encourage them to continue this path in their professional careers.
Despite not having given a lecture through zoom before, thankfully our guest lecture was a success without any technical errors during the presentations. The students were well behaved and Professor Thornton added insightful comments. At the end, several students asked questions indicating that they were engaged with the lecture despite the circumstances. Unfortunately, at the very end of the guest lecture the zoom audio started to malfunction so we had to call the class to a close. The next day, Professor Thornton thanked us again through email and told us, “I was worried that with the COVID-19 quarantine the students would miss out on the guest lectures. I appreciate that you were committed to making it work despite these challenges!” It was great to work with Professor Thornton again and share our experiences with a new group of students.
Summer Phillips is the Preserve WV AmeriCorps service member with the BAD Buildings program at the Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center. She began her service in 2018 and it will conclude in August 2020.
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.
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