South Charleston Interpretive Center secures West Virginia Humanities Minigrant to revamp Union Carbide historical exhibit
PAWV AmeriCorps member Kyle Warmack, serving with the Clio Foundation, recently co-wrote a successful grant proposal on behalf of the South Charleston Interpretive Center to reinterpret and upgrade its historical exhibit on Union Carbide, the famous chemical corporation whose headquarters in South Charleston was one of West Virginia’s largest employers from the late 1920s through the 1990s. In addition to being a key economic player in the state, the company made huge advancements in synthetic materials, from antifreeze to synthetic rubber, though its policies also resulted in tragedies such as the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster in the early 1930s.
The new exhibit, entitled “Chemical Valley: Union Carbide and the Shaping of the Kanawha,” is slated to unveil in March 2020. Much of the project’s funding is provided by the West Virginia Humanities Council, which will furnish new display hardware, interpretive signage, and lighting upgrades. Interpretive Center staff will also be conducting audio and video interviews throughout November 2019 with former Union Carbide employees to gain new insights, and a Hawks Nest Remembrance Day is planned to coincide with the exhibit’s opening in March 2020 to commemorate the 90th anniversary of work commencing at Hawks Nest Tunnel.
AmeriCorps member Kyle Warmack became involved with the Interpretive Center while serving with the Clio Foundation in 2017. Originally working in an advisory role on a digital walking tour of historical South Charleston, Warmack began contributing Clio entries on Union Carbide history, the South Charleston Naval Ordnance Plant, and more before being hired to work at the Center part-time. As “Chemical Valley” progresses, further content will be added to Clio.
For more information about the exhibit and upcoming events, contact the Interpretive Center at 304.720.9847 or email@example.com.
Built in 1910, the Woodburn Elementary School served the children of the Woodburn Neighborhood of Morgantown, WV for decades as a place of education and as source for childhood memories. When the school closed in 2010, the children left but the school building remained, a lonely monument to times gone by in the neighborhood. However, in 2013, the building was acquired by the city and in 2014 the Woodburn School Redevelopment Commission was created in order to bring life back to the building and make it a place for childhood memories once again.
Thanks to the efforts of the commission, the former Woodburn School building has been transformed into a non-profit hub. It’s home to several programs and organizations that are dedicated to improving the community and serving the children such as Friends of Deckers Creek, Boys and Girls Club, and PopShop. In addition to bringing in these non-profits, the commission has been working to maintain and rehab the physical building itself. It was for this endeavor that I contacted the commission and started planning a project with them that would help them in these efforts.
My project was a cleanup day of the garden spaces and walls of the main school building. While it might seem small in the grand scheme of preservation, a simple cleanup can and will have an impact on the other restoration efforts and the perceptions of the community. There were several vines growing on the facade of the building that my volunteers and I removed. Those vines would have exacerbated the erosion and deterioration of the brick and mortar. By clearing away the trash and clearing away dead and overgrown vegetation, the building looks more attractive and encourages people to engage with the activities hosted there. Once the garden spaces were cleared, there were new opportunities for one of the non-profits or the Woodburn community to replant and tend to the them.
Not only was the commission thankful for the help, the community also appreciated the project. While I organized the cleanup day, the commission had organized a block party to take place at the school to introduce the community to the non-profits and rehab efforts taking place. As my volunteers and I cleared away the trash and vegetation, community members, including former teachers and students would come up to us and say how happy they were to see people who cared enough to take care of the building. They would smile as they walked by saying how nice it is to finally be able to walk on the sidewalk now that the vegetation was controlled. With such a positive response from community members, I have high hopes that my project has helped encourage others to take part in the good things happening at the former Woodburn School.
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 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.
Preserve WV Stories