Posts Tagged With: West Virginia

All for the Sake of Dogs: My visit to the Old Hemlock Foundation.

Summer has gotten ahead of me this year. We have been traveling a lot for work and pleasure. So I have a back log of stories about the people, places, and events which, I have been enjoying. Needless to say, I love the people of my state. I have met some really wonderful people this summer like LeJay and Hellen Ann Graiffious, director and caretakers at  Old Hemlock Foundation.

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Lejay Hellen Willow and Laurel

LeJay Graffious with Mountain Laurel and Helen Ann Graffious with Black Willow. Used with permission of OHF.

On the other hand, I am about to say good-bye to some absolutely wonderful AmeriCorps volunteers. It is August and it is the end of their year term, so things are very hectic as some leave and some join the program. So, I wanted share one of the many stories that could be written about another AmeriCorps Site, Old Hemlock Foundation in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia, where I did some hiking this summer.

Tucked away in some of the most beautiful old growth forest property in North Central West Virginia is the Old Hemlock Foundation, the home of George Bird Evans and his wife, Kay. Known internationally as an author, an artist, a husband and dog breeder of profound influence, George called a rural 230 acres in Preston County home. His life could be defined as a Renaissance Man of the last century, a man who lived life on his own terms. Yet, this post today is more about the writings of George and his wife,  Kay, the property the foundation cares for and the DOGS. Oh my, the beautiful dogs!

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 Mountain. Laurel,(back)  Black Willow (front) English Setters  of the Old Hemlock line.Photo used with permission OHF.

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Mt. Laurel in the lap of Tom and Christopher Powers in the home of George Bird Evans.

The relationship we have with dogs can be profound. At the Old Hemlock Foundation a guest enjoys hearing the story of how and why George began the Old Hemlock line of  English Setters, about his love of upland game bird hunting, and the land that he called home. You experience their lives in a personal and inmate way surrounded by their belongings and dogs. The entire visit felt as if George and his wife, Kay, had just stepped out for a trip to town and left my family with the two dogs and neighbors for company. The opportunity to explore their home, enjoy their writings, see their artwork and spend time with their dogs immerses you in the experience unlike most museums or art gallery exhibits.  You begin to feel their presence as you walk the pathways to the house and walk into the woods they saved from timbering.

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Living room bookcase with the writings of George Bird Evans.

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Mt. Laurel sleeping on bed

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Fireplace surround and Mantel in Master Bedroom of George and Kay Evans.

The home of George Bird and Kay Harris Evans, built-in 1815 was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014 and is still the location of many of family’s personal belongings. Seeing where this talented man spent his hours reading, writing and drawing was enlightening. To be able to write  professionally at the small desk by a north window of their home was impressive. George was dedicated to sharing his stories and helping people understand his life in the field hunting for grouse and working his dogs. It is apparent to me now that the house and desk were merely vessels that George used to get his message out into the universe. His life, home and books will be a source of inspiration for years to come, as I continue to aspire to be a writer.

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Illustrations created by George Bird Evans for Cosmopolitan Magazine.

 

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George Bird Evans photo on top of the desk in the photo.

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Front View of the home of George and Kay Evanses with side porch showed in the sun circa 1780

When you see the photos of the family with their beloved dogs displayed proudly on the walls you begin to understand the family’s connection with the English Setters. With no children of their own the dogs were a constant source of love, affection, laughter, and respect. George writes about his dogs, not in an anthropomorphic way, but in a transcendental mystic way, making his relationship with the animals a spiritual connection. A relationship built on shared respect and the joy.

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Mountain Laurel planted by Kay, blooms at the front wall of the Evanses’s Home

The joy that he experienced with his dogs is shared with guests still today. LeJay and Helen Ann Graffious live with two Old Hemlock Setters on the property. So in the tradition of George and Kay there is never an un-dog related pleasant moment. Willow and Laurel, registered Old Hemlock English Setters, make each and every person feel at home and welcome on the property. The speckled coated dogs( known as belton coats) attend every hike, every meal and class that is given on the property.  They are magical animals … and  I see why George spent a life time writing about the deep love he had for the Old Hemlock breed line.

George began journaling his hunting outings in 1932.With these as his foundation, in the 1950’s he wrote magazine articles about his dogs and hunting adventures. in 1971 he published his first of 21 upland game hunting books. His well known hunting books and a hundred articles are still regarded as some of the best outdoor publications.  He shared his deep respect for the game he hunted, the dogs he raised and the connection he shared with nature. His romantic style of writing that painted vivid images for readers and is unique in the genre. It is easy to understand why his expert writings are still studied, and revered some 19 years after his death. He still has much to share with anyone who wants to learn about upland game hunting, nature and training dogs….. or is it “how dogs train us”?

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George Bird Evans with  Robert  Brown current owner of the Old Hemlock Line with the dogs at his home in Bruceton Mills. Used with permisson of OHF.

While at the property we spent a large portion of our time walking the trails that surround the welcome center and log home. With dogs and kids running and playing in front of us we explored some of the old growth Hemlock trees of which the property is named. I regret deeply that I cannot convey to you the awe that I experienced when we entered the deep dark Hemlock forest. It was something like a fantasy  movie set or a church… Yet, none of these words comes close to relating how  startling it is to leave the lush green sunny forest of the hardwood canopy and enter a tall stand of climax Hemlock trees. Everything changes in an instant. The light dims as it tries to shine through the conifer bows. The colors change, there is no bright greens or yellows, just deep rich greens and grays. The height is different, there are no branches that droop and hang low. The Hemlocks stand 80 feet high with broken stumps of branches reaching out to you.  Even the ground is  transformed, with only gray rocks, deep brown dirt and the lush green of moss and ferns under foot.

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Welcome and Education Center for The Old Hemlock Foundation 2017

 

As our group forged ahead of me into the darkness of the thick Hemlocks, I entered the stand alone and last. With Helen Ann with in hearing distance of me, I actually let out an audible exhale, one loud enough to be heard several feet away. I then continued with an “Oh My” and heard from ahead on the trail Helen’s reply, “This is why they refer to Hemlock forests as Cathedrals”… (Also look up Cathedral State Park in West Virginia for other stands of old growth Hemlocks).It is so impressive, that I now crave to see these kinds of woods again and again. I am so thankful that George and Kay found this property and chose to save the Hemlocks from the sawyer. It is another magical part of the Old Hemlock Foundation that should not be missed.

 

 

 

 

After our two-day stay, we packed up to leave the  foundation’s property,  I  knew I had found a place where kindred spirits had lived. We share a love for nature, dogs, writing, art and a passion for sharing what we love most. Thank you to the foundation for allowing us to be part of your education outreach program and for inviting my family back to explore more of the wonders of Wild Wonderful West Virginia.

For more information about the Old Hemlock Foundation, educational programs, history and the dogs, follow the above link to their website or follow them on Facebook at  www.facebook.com/OldHemlockFoundation/. 

Laurel from Old Hemlock

Mountain Laurel Old Hemlock English Setter 2107 age 2

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Dogs, George Bird Evans, Hemlock Forest, hiking, historic locations, Hunting, Old Hemlock Foundation, Preston County WV, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Why a Life of Service is not a Job, But a Life Style

With my second term as  an AmeriCorps  Service member half over and me reflecting on what my career plan should be. I have come to the conclusion  that I want to keep in the service industry and hope to work for a nonprofit. I have committed to a life style not a job.

I have spent most of my adult life living on other peoples terms… go to college, get married, get a job, and have a family. Not that these ideals are bad, they just seemed to be a little boring. I have always been rebellious, adventurous with a love for life. I want a passion filled life, with travel, new people and getting dirty trying new things. I want something more than the 9 to 5 with benefits that colleges promise. I want more from life than punching a time clock allows. Deep inside I want to make a difference in the world.

So at the complete worst time in my adult life after a surgery, heartbroken about a personal loss, and feeling unqualified to do much with a Fine Arts Degree, I started looking for work. A writer friend inspired me stop looking for a JOB and start looking for a life style. A life style that reflected what I really wanted. She helped me to see that what I was looking for was career fulfillment, not career advancement. How eye-opening that moment was for me.

In our visit she shared with me her Year of Service Story and introduced me to AmeriCorps, the Citizen Conservation Corps of WV (more often known as the three C’s) and Peace Corps. After our conversation I realized that my skills and passions could all make a difference right here in West Virginia, the place I love most.

I have been fortunate to serve as an AmeriCorps Member in Elkins, West Virginia for the last 18 months where I work with AFHA (Appalachian Forest Heritage Area), a regional initiative to promote heritage tourism, conservation and education based on forest heritage. AFHA, AmeriCorps is funded in part by Volunteer West Virginia, the state’s Commission for National and Community Service and by the Corporation for National and Community Service.  As a service member for AmeriCorps I have had opportunities to meet, work with, and learn from some of the most interesting people in the state.  My Site, Elkins Main Street, is deeply committed to working with local and state government officials on projects that help to bring jobs, investment, growth and prosperity to our community.

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First Lady Joanne Tomblin and Elkins Main Street Director Karen Carper

At my Elkins Main Street site I work with community volunteers on making public art projects that preserve Appalachian culture and inspire people to take pride in their community. Working side by side with community groups like the Riverside School Association, we celebrate ethnic and social diversity, and cultural differences like at the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Day celebration.

Mrs Chisum at the MLK event. 2016

Riverside School Ass. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration 2017

Also as part of my AmeriCorps duties, I am asked to take time regularly to see and experience the culture and history of the community where I serve. A person cannot begin to make significant changes to the future of a community without first understanding its past and present. We are encouraged to see a wide range of locations in our service area, from the mountains, to the largest cities and oldest historic landmarks. For example, I traveled to the West Virginia Capital Complex to speak with Volunteer West Virginia about the role of the National Main Street Program.

 

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Dominic and the AFHA team in the rain at Beaver Creek Mill

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left side: AmeriCorps members from AFHA touring historic Bear Creek Grist Mill cir. 1840, Summersville, WV.  Right side: West Virginia State Capital Complex, Charleston, WV.

AmeriCorps members are a team banded together over large expanses, doing the work of preserving and protecting the local environment, the history and culture of a people and encouraging travel and education about our unique locations.  AmeriCorps is a force for good in places where times are a little harder and people need a helping hand to building on their strengths. I am proud to say that I choose everyday to be a AmeriCorps Service member, because I want  something more than a job , I want  a lifestyle making a difference.

Highlands trail clean up spring 2017

 

Appalachian Highlands Trail trash pickup day 2017. Members of AFHA AmeriCorps collected 16 bags of trash for the trail foundation.

Categories: AmeriCorps, Appalachian Mountains, community service, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Elkins Main Street, Elkins West Virginia, Monongahela National Forest, volunteering | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Serving AmeriCorps and AFHA the Second Time Around

 

Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 
― 
Fred Rogers, Methodist Minister and Host of the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

As my first year of AmeriCorps service at the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area was quickly coming to a close I found myself feeling like my work in Randolph County, West Virginia was not complete. That I had just started to see the impact of my service and I was not willing to walk away. I was not willing to end the project I was working on and was not willing to leave the many people who I was serving every day. In my heart I knew I was helping and making a difference and just did not want to stop making this community a better place.

So by September of 2016, I signed up for another year of service to AFHA, AmeriCorps, Elkins Main Street and the Community of Elkins West Virginia. It was the same day that a new group of AmeriCorps members were sworn into the program. The day was filled with speeches, group photos and getting to know the other volunteers who would join me in the Appalachian Mountains and small towns. It was also the day that I knew that I would never leave the life of service that I had been building for the last 12 months.director-of-volunteer-west-virginia-2016

Executive Director of: Volunteer West Virginia Heather Foster speaking to new enrollees.

I know that many who join AmeriCorps come for the education awards and the on the job training. Some come to explore job possibilities and some come for the travel to a new place with pay. I on the other hand came because I love the state of West Virginia. I understand my states weaknesses and challenges because for 27 years this is where I called home. I understand its proud nature, where her people do not want a hand out, but a hand up. They want an equal chance at raising a family; have steady work and a chance to live in warm safe homes. West Virginians prefer to do it on their own, on their own terms, and if you want to join them in a battle of any kind, they bless you for fighting alongside them. Together they battle to make things better for everyone.I serve next to them so can add my skill, education, strength and love to help bring a brighter future to a mountain community.

I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”― Kahlil Gibran

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Members of AFHA, AmeriCorps enrolling for the 2016-2017  year Morgantown, West Virginia.Sign says “Volunteer West Virginia the state’s Commission for National Community Service. AmeriCorps West Virginia.”

I believe that the AmeriCorps program achieves what it sets out to do. It brings together caring, helpful, educated people who want to make a difference in a location where there is need for support. With guidance, service members do the work in areas of our state that most are not willing or able to do. We aid in making a positive change in the communities doing all kinds of work from preservation and redevelopment of historic buildings, tracking trout populations to building non-profit websites and giving historical tours at local sites. We are here to serve the people and enhance their communities and make them stronger.hands-on-team-working-to-reglaze-and-paint-windows-at-the-historic-darden-house-elkins-west-virginia

AFHA, Hands on team members re-glazing windows on the historic Darden house Elkins, West Virginia.

Being an AmeriCorps member over the last year has opened my life up to new people, new opportunities, and the joy of service. I look forward to my second year of service with Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, AmeriCorps and with the people of Elkins, West Virginia. I can only hope to give them back what they have already given to me. A fresh new outlook on what I can do for the people and places that I love.Thank you AFHA, AmeriCorps and Elkins Main Street for the best job this 48 year old has ever had.

Categories: About me, Appalachina Mountains, community service, Elkins Main Street, Elkins West Virginia, Nonprofit, Randolph County | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Holidays Without Our Parents

So,every adult child has to go through this at least once and some of us have to face it 4 or more times if you are married. It is the day you realize that you will not have a Mother or Father around for the holidays.That you are grown up and you have lost the one or two people in your life that you look up too.  This is the first full year after losing my Mother In Law and one of many years since Tom and I have both lost fathers. The Holidays feel different without them and we feel that we have lost the key to our holiday celebrations.

I think I was in shock last Thanksgiving.I do not even remember what we eat and even if we did  eat… some how I just blanked it all out from Oct 22nd to New Years day. I remember the tree and the kids opening gifts and making breakfast for my family but not much more. I was a stay at home mom then… what did I do for three months??

It seems that this fall the reminder of the loss is tangible. It is harder this year, I can’t call up and ask a questions about how to make stuffing, from the father who has been gone 25 years. The holiday craft making for Sunday School kids is just a distant memory. Christmas cookies and candy over flowing from my mother’s kitchen is no more and I wonder how we will continue as adults. Children suffer deeply with the loss of a grandparent or step grandparent,but I wonder if they feel the loss as long as the adults.The pain lingers for years as we share dinners, gifts and reminders that the person is gone. They are not replaced by thoughts of a new toy,an exciting movie or by the first boy friend or girl friend.

The reply to my heart-break most often is “make  your own memories and traditions” share them with the children. The logic seems to work until you realize how many of us do not have children or have only one.The family dynamic has changed and we don’t always have younger siblings or children share the traditions with.

In my case shopping at the mall is nothing compared to the years I spent making cookies with my mother in our kitchen.Tom still misses opening day of deer season with his Dad and Thanksgiving is not the same without having everyone together for dinner at his parents house. My husband and I still continue to share both of those traditions with our own children and try to pass down those memories to them so nothing is lost.

It is tough doing “Adult”sometimes.I guess we keep moving forward the best we can and at times just fall apart when we finally realize that times change and we can’t stop them.Loss is part of living and being a grown up is all we can do. As Dory says” Just Keep Swimming”.

I am finding it hard to be excited for the Holidays this year,even with the little ones around. I will do my best to make our home warm and inviting and we will have friends and family here.The kids will spend time together and we will eat well. But in my heart there will still be an empty chair at our table. I will spend a few minutes remembering and giving thanks for those we have been lucky to know and love,but Thanksgiving is going to be tough this year. empty-chair-at-thanksgiving

 

Categories: About me, childhood memories, Colorado, Family, grandma, Thanksgiving | Tags: , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

The Return of “Doc” Holiday

Please forgive me for not writing more the last month. It seems as if I have taken on a little more than I should have and the main reason is “Doc”.

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Our new Redbone Coonhound Puppy “Doc” Holiday 8 weeks old

Doc is a 8 week old Redbone Coonhound who has stolen my house and my heart. We have been waiting over two years for his breeder to have another litter of pups. So I was overjoyed to be contacted by our friend that they had puppies again and I could finally get my very own hound.

Ok, so it is true that very best coonhounds are bred in Appalachia and the top two in the nation are from West Virginia or Kentucky. It might be the terrain or the population of raccoons that keeps this breed’s history so closely linked to the mountains. But this breed of dog is such a good reflection of who we are that you often judge the character of the man based on how he treats his dogs. In my part of the world often times a grown man will cry like a baby when a hunting dog dies or is killed. Often the dogs are raised as family and are more trusted than most humans and only surpassed by the trust a man will have in a rifle or shotgun. The love of the Hill Billy is deep, their loyalty is unwavering and their ability to work hard and fight to win is just like their dogs.

Hounds have been scent hunting these hills and hollows for generations and it is not uncommon to hear the bay of hounds ringing out for miles in the night. It is truly not a bark at all, but a cry from way down deep and is instinctual, nothing taught. It is the sound a hunter waits for, the dog is saying to his master “Come running we have something for you.”

Here in West Virginia there are three typical coonhounds, the Redbone, the Treeing Walker, and the Blue Tick. All three have the same typical look of a hound but coloring is different. Each have a voice that is unique and hunters know their dog miles away by the sound of the bay they make. If trained properly the dogs once on a treed coon, will remain at the bottom a tree for hours guarding the coon until help arrives.

The reason I love them is not about hunting really,but about their personality. Hounds like the stereotypes portray, are big, silly, loving, dogs that are tolerant of children who play too rough and of cats who often times get rolled into balls on the floor as the hound forces games of chase.Their love of family and protectiveness make them wonderful alarm systems without the deeper fear of being known as bitters. They have huge hearts and are willing to do most anything asked of them. If you can keep them from being distracted by the powerful noise that God gave them.

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Sleepy Puppy ready for a nap

The Redbone Coonhound breed is the grandfather breed to the more well known Bloodhound and was first developed by Irish immigrants in the 1700’s. The long floppy ears play a major role in how well the dog can track and the longer the ears the better, fanning scent to the noise with every lunging step. Some would refer to the hound breed as having a one track mind because everything comes second to their sense of smell and many dogs get lost do to the fact that hunters and families forget that they go wherever their noise leads them, sometimes that is right to the local dog pound.

They are social dogs and love to spend time with their owners. They are active and enjoy being outdoors doing physical activities like running and swimming. My Doc’s sire is a grand champion water dog and could out swim almost every person I know. He loves to track through streams and ponds and has webbed toes on all four feet. So does Doc and we will soon learn if he likes to swim.

So as you can see I have been busy…and will be for a few more months as we get through house training and teething, but I will keep you posted on our adventures together. I hope you enjoy the photos and I am sure to take tons more of the silly guy as we train him.

There is nothing in the world better for a boy then the love of a good dog.

 

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Exploring the National Parks System on it’s 100th Birthday, Aug 25th 2016.

It is in the woods that I find peace and my spirit is rejuvenated. It is in the forest of my beloved West Virginia that I rejoice that we live in a country that values and protects the most unusual of our natural resources. It is in our countries wisdom that they have saved millions of acres of land and miles of waterways for future generations.

West Virginia is one of the states that does not have a fully designated National Park. So for this August 25th celebration I want to share a vision of one of my  states protected National Forests, Monongahela National Forest. This unique forest ecosystem is preserved at the national level within the National Park System along with West Virginia’s  National Rivers, The New River,and Blue Stone, Two National Recreation Areas,The Gauley River National Recreation Area and Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, a National Historic Park at Harper’s Ferry and of course a National Scenic Trail the Appalachian Trail. All of these locations are protected for future generations buy the National Parks System of the United States of America.

 

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The Monongahela National forest represents a wide verity of rare and unique ecosystems, natural wonders, beautiful vegetation, and abundant wild life. It is here within the forest that my family and I have spent hundreds of hours exploring, searching for that rare moment when the outside world disappears and  nothing remains but the sights, sounds and smells of nature.

This National Forest comprises roughly a million acres of forest land in West Virginia. An approximate 1.3 million visitors come to the Monongahela National Forest each year.The forest spreads across the Southern portion of the state from the city of  White Sulfur Springs to the Northern border of West Virginia to Maryland state line. With the main body of the forest residing on the Eastern side of the state, along US Highway 219.

Within West Virginia’s largest National Forest there is a long list of natural wonders. Some I have photographed over the years and others are still a mystery to me. Some are easy to access and others are miles from civilization. So with the help of my family I have had the pleasure of seeing much of the forest and can share just a few of the wonderful sights that I have explored over the years.

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Stuarts Park has several CCC built covered pavilions with in the Monongahela National Forest. Also located within a mile of the campground/ park pavilions is Bickel Knob Observation Tower where it is possible to see about 1/3 of the National Forest and the surrounding towns.

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The trip up this tower early in the morning lets us see over six different ridge tops and two small towns.

Christopher and JoLynn on top of Bickles Knob observation tower last days of summer 2016

 

The Bowden Fish Hatchery is where the local brook trout, brown trout and the West Virginia Golden Trout are brooded for release all over the state.

Tom Christopher at the Bowden Fish hatchery 2016

We fish in the many streams and rivers in the forest. My son learns to cast at Shavers Fork of the Cheat River.DSC00172

Exploring Smoke Hole Caverns on a hot summer afternoon is a treat.To spend a couple of hours under ground exploring the caves is one of my families favorite summer time trips.

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Smoke Hole Caverns entrance

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The slow drip of the Smoke Hole Caverns ceiling

All of these amazing locations are within the National Forest but what I am most fond of is the simple quiet beauty that we see as we forage and hike through the woods.

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Mushrooms growing on a tree stump near Bear Haven Campground

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Young horse at home on public grazing land at Monongahela National Forest

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Summer wildflowers along a forest service road in the Monongahela National Forest

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Wet wildflowers at Stuarts Park, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

 

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Cheat Mountain Salamander takes visitors on rides through hundreds of miles of the Monongahela National Forest. This is my favorite way to see the sights.

This train ride is headed for Green Bank and the National Radio Observatory where in the middle of the Monongahela Forest is the darkest place in West Virginia. It is the perfect location for star-gazing with professional astronomers. This is where my family and I finally got to see the Milky Way with our bare eyes.

As you can see I love my state, love my Forest and am excited to be included in this centennial  celebration. Thanks to Cotopaxi Company  for inviting me to take part in the festivities in my small way. I am proud to share with all of you the great work that Cotopaxi is doing all around our world and how one company with a mission can change the world one backpack at a time. I am so glad that their company supports and loves the outdoors as much a I do. Thanks for reminding us all about how important our Nation Park System is and what would be lost without our ability to explore and enjoy to great outdoors. Again Thank you Cotopaxi for letting me join in the fun!

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Camping, Cheat Mountain Salamander, family fun, Hardwood forest, hiking, Monongahela National Forest, mushroom hunting, natural resources, Potomac river, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

West Virginia Flood waters of Change 2016

 

It has been a very long hard couple of days for friends and family all over my beloved state. It seems as if God opened the floodgates of destruction on some of the most fragile and isolated communities of Southern West Virginia. If they had little before the flood waters rushed into homes and businesses last Thursday, then there is nothing left at all today.

As volunteers, Red Cross, National Guard units and Department of Highways workers rush to the southern portion of West Virginia the reports of loss get larger and harder to hear. The reality is starting to sink in that tomorrow will not be easier than today. That home is no longer home and never will be. That this historic flood was not just a single stream overflowing or even a town that got several street full of water but, county after county is destroyed…. whole towns have been wiped from the maps or our lives.

I am sure that when all the information is totaled this will be listed as the third most deadly flood in our state’s history and the 2nd most deadly caused by nature. Worst on the list is the Buffalo Creek Flood in Logan County, Feb. 26, 1972. The flood was caused by Pittston Coal Company’s coal slurry impoundment dam #3 when it gave way after several inches of rain fell along Buffalo Creek Hollow killing 125 and covering 16 small coal towns in black sludge water.

 

 

Then followed by the Election Day Flood Nov. 1985. The flood was concentrated in northern mountainous portion of the state around the area where I have lived for the last 20 years. The flood was storm related and killed 47 West Virginians. My family was lucky to not suffer damage to property during the flood but spent several days trapped due to high water.

It seems to me that flooding is just part of living in West Virginia. You can not have our high mountains and low hollows without the water to carve them. You can not live with the lush green hardwoods without the water that falls year round. So it is our plight to constantly keep an eye on the river and her course. We all in West Virginia know her power and know that the flooding is a small price to pay to remain within her mountains and hollows. Rebuilding is not a question, it is when that is the issue that hundred face in West Virginia today.

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Change, community service, Flooding, historic locations, history, rural life, Travel, weather, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , | 17 Comments

Day trip to Parkersburg, WV and Blennerhassett Island State Park

West Virginia is bound by the Ohio River along its western border. Rising from the deep green water of the river is a 500 tree covered acre island. Blennerhassett Island is now a historical West Virginia State Park that is accessible only by ferry or personal boat. The island is home to a 200-year-old mansion, 17 horses,several old buildings,a refreshment stand and a gift shop. It is one of the most beautiful of West Virginia’s State Parks and we took a weekend trip to see its homes and woods.

We started our day trip in Buckhannon and  drove north and arrived at the city of Parkersburg, West Virginia early in the morning near the Blennerhassett  museum and the river side park. A  wonderful four story building with displays from early stone tools and arrowheads found in the area to Victorian home furnishings and early cars. Tickets for the ferry ride to the island are purchased on the bottom floor of the re-purposed building.

Blennerhassett Museum front Wikimedia

Blennerhassett Museum from Wikimedia

My favorite portion of the museum was the collection of nautical items on the 4th floor. The miniature hand-made river boats and this ship steering wheel made me smile when Christopher had to stand on tippy toes just to see over its frame.

Tom and Christopher with antique ship steering wheel Blennerhassett Island Museum. Parkersburg, West Virginia

Tom and Christopher with antique ship steering wheel Blennerhassett Island Museum. Parkersburg, West Virginia.

After about an hour in the museum it was time to head to the dock to board our paddle driven ferry. This day the boat was full but under normal trips there are open seats either in the cabin below and on the deck above. We rode over to the island on the top deck, enjoying the view, sun, and spray off the paddle wheel.

Island Bell ferry to Blennerhassett Island

Island Bell ferry to Blennerhassett Island

Once on the island visitors are welcome to take the tour of the Blennerhassett mansion, rent bicycles to ride around the island, take a  horse-drawn wagon ride and do some shopping at a gift shop.

Blennerhassett Island Mansion Father's Day 2016

Blennerhassett Island Mansion Father’s Day 2016

My family really enjoyed the covered wagon ride. Christopher liked the horses and the wind in his hair when the driver let the horses pick up speed along the 2 mile path around the black walnut grove. The island is known for its trees and they cover over 2/3 of the island’s land that is actually owned by the DuPont Company. The only open spaces visible are the yards at the mansion and two pastures that are kept cleared for the horses that live on the island all summer. The  hundreds of trees shade keeps visitors cool even on a hot 86 degree day like ours.

Horse drawn wagon ride Blennerhassett Island

Horse Drawn wagon ride Blennerhassett Island

The tour of the Blennerhassett house is a delight and costumed members of the staff show off the lavish life the family lived. The family lived only 6 years in the finished house. Construction of the house began in the late 1790 and was complete in 1800 with the family fleeing the island 1806 leaving almost everything they owned behind. Harmon and Margaret’s family history is filled with scandal and strange political dealings that made their lives turbulent. Harmon and his young wife ran away from their native Ireland due to his Irish political dealings and his scandalous marriage, to his niece who was decades younger than him. Harmon Blennerhassett later again becomes involved in secret political dealings here in the United States. Being connected with Aaron Burr (Vise President under Thomas Jefferson) and his military plans eventually caused Harmon to be charged with treason by the President. As troops invade the island,the family flees trying to keep Harmon from being captured. Harmon is later found and arrested spends time in prison before the government drops their charges and he is released. The family suffers more tragedy with the death of children, loss of their inherited wealth and the return to Ireland. Yet, their love survives all of this and house remained abandoned on the island until 1811 when it burned to the ground in an accidental fire.

During the tour you  are only allowed to take photos without a flash so I chose to take very few of the inside of the main house and study which was very dark. But the kitchen wing of the house(which is the wing on the left in the photo) is bright and filled with windows without coverings I took a few of the large fireplace that was said to never grow cold. The island had a large amount of workers, slaves, family and guests to feed. Margaret is said to have fed everyone on the island from this single hearth.The fire was kept up around the clock to serve the 3 meals a day to the workers and sometimes seven coarse dinners to the family and guests.

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Fireplace hearth of the Blennerhassett mansion

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Tour guide Blennerhassett Island State Park

The rest of our afternoon was spent eating at the island snack bar that serves hamburgers, hot dog and a variety of other easy to prepare foods. But one of the highlights of our day was getting a slice of birthday cake and a scoop of ice cream to celebrate the 153rd birthday of the creation of the state of West Virginia. It was a wonderful way to remind us of the power of the people of this state.They choose to become a state that was different and separate from the state of Virginia during some of the most turbulent times in our countries history.

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West Virginia birthday cake 2016

The return trip back to the shore in Parkersburg was a great time to reflect on some of the famous people who also loved and visited this very unique island. I find it interesting that the list includes, people like Davy Crockett, Walt Whitman, Johnny Appleseed, Vise President Aaron Burr and even King Charles the X of France.The beauty of the Blennerhassett home and island was known throughout the large cities of the east coast.

As our ferry paddled its way back to the dock and I watched the barges move freight up and down The Ohio River, I finally understood Margret’s love for the island. It only took a few hours of our time to forget everything the did not happen on the island. We were lost in the beauty of her home and forest for hours. All three of us enjoyed a day along the Ohio River and would have enjoyed a much longer stay.

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Tug boat with barge on the Ohio River at Parkersburg WV 2016

Categories: Birthday, Blennerhassett Island, boats, family fun, Horses, State Park activities, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Victorian Era Mummies in West Virginia

This is a story of one West Virginia mans curious mind. How he managed to develop a formula for making mummies and how he refused to give his secret formula away for years.How his experiments resulted in two mummified females from the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (also known as the TALA in Weston, Lewis County, WV) and how they have survived for over 120 years.

Image being alive during the Victorian Period (1837 to 1901) in the United States. Interest in all the sciences was growing and new discoveries were happening in every field. The interest in Egyptian culture and mummies is fueled by the discovery of the Pharaoh  Ramses II  in 1881. People are collecting relics of everything human, bones, teeth, hair and death masks were all common.Ordinary people are struck with deep curiosity about our world and how it worked.P.T. Barnum was touring the country with a spectacular collection of wild animals, strange entertainment acts, and items collected from around the world. Sideshows traveled small towns with strange examples of natural oddities that everyone could see for a few cents.So for one farmer/undertaker is was a wonderful time to explore his own curiosity about Egypt and their mummies.

Barbour County Courthouse, Philippi, West Virginia built 1903

Barbour County Courthouse, Philippi, West Virginia circa 1903

Graham Hamrick of Philippi, WV was not only a farmer but also a local undertaker. In his life he was educated in common burial processes and use of embalming fluids. He found the process of mummification interesting and wanted to learn more. It is stated that he found his formula with in the pages of the Bible somewhere among the pages of The Book of Genesis. With a secret formula in hand, Hamrick gathered materials and began to experiment with the process. Hamrick is said to have mummified fruit, vegetables, small animals and snakes before the trying to mummify a human.

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Female Mummy #1 taller of the two

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Philippi Mummy #2 smaller of the two

To mummify a human Hamrick  would need human remains to prove his secret formula worked. Living with in a day ride to Weston, and the TALA, Hamrick  arranged for the purchase of two sets of unclaimed female remains at the insane asylum. This fact makes me sad for the two woman, who were forgotten by families, sold to a farmer and mummified instead of having proper burials. After transporting the remains to his farm Hamrick began the process of turning the remains into mummies.  crop of TALA front lawn on Easter

At the time the process is thought to have taken several weeks but no one was really sure how long. When Hamricks process finished and the results were visible, he had created what resembled Egyptian mummies.He began to share his successes with others in the local area and beyond.

Eventually, he was contacted by the Smithsonian Institute, who wanted to add the mummies to the museum’s collection and display them to the public with the formula he invented. The farmer refused to share the formula even though he had sent in the process into the U.S. Patent office.The mummies remained in Barbour county until they were recruited by P.T. Barnum’s for  his circus shows. The Mummies spent several years touring the United States during the end of the 1800’s.

Finally, they were returned to Barbour County and the Hamrick family. They stored the bodies in several different places over the years, in the barn on the farm, under the bed of a local history buff. Then in 1985 the two female mummies even survived the worst flood in North Central West Virginia.

 James Ramsey, an 82-year-old museum curator, explained in 1994: “After the flood dropped, they were covered with green fungus and all kind of corruption. [A man] secured some kind of a mixture that would get the green mold off them and also the hairs that were growing on them.”

The mummies would finally come to rest in the Philippi Historical Societies hands and be displayed at the Train Depot Museum,where they still remain to this day. They have the mummies displayed with the “Secret Formula” posted on the wall of the display room.

 

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Philippi, WV Train Depot Historical Society Museum

 

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Graham Hamrick information and formula

The Historical Society also was able to get a copy of a letter written by one of the ladies  before her death at the Tran Allegheny Insane Asylum. The transcription of the letter is sad. It is hard for me to believe this young woman (age around 17) would be left and forgotten by a husband and family. Yet,it gives us great insight into the world of the mentally ill in the 19th century.

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Transcription of a letter from mummified woman to family 1880’s

I found the whole experience to the Depot Museum  wonderful. The other objects in the collection are educational also. Most dating back to the civil war era and the stories of the battles that filled the hills of this town are worth their own trip to the museum. Philippi  being the location of the first land battle of the Civil War makes the entire town a treasure trove of stories for further visits.

If you are lucky enough to be traveling in the north central portion of West Virginia. Take Rt #250 through the historic covered bridge into Philippi to see the Mummies. The museum is on the right just across the river next to the train tracks. Pay the small donation fee and take a look at one the little Mummies that Philippi made.

I saw the Mummies in Philippi WV.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Barbour County, Country life, Farming, ghost stories, historic locations, mummies, museums, Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, traveling | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

AFHA AmeriCorps, Who We Are, What We Do, Who We Serve.

My friends and I  in AmeriCorps serve my state in so many ways I thought I would let you explore some of the interesting things about, “Who We Are, What We Do, and Who We Serve in the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area in collaboration with AmeriCorps.

Barbour County Courthouse, Philippi, West Virginia circa 1903

Barbour County Courthouse, Philippi, West Virginia circa 1903

The Appalachian Forest Heritage Area is a regional initiative to promote, conserve and educate the public about our Appalachian heritage sites and forests within West Virginia and western Maryland. We work on a variety of community projects relating to heritage development,conservation,historic preservation and economic revitalization. AFHA AmeriCorps is funded in part by Volunteer West Virginia and the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Each year our regional AFHA AmeriCorps service members have a meeting with some of the community members we serve. AFHA,held its Annual Stakeholders Meeting in May in the small town of Philippi, in Barbour County, West Virginia. Philippi is a town of about 2900 people with a rich history that centers around the Civil War and its role as the location of the first land battle of the war.

panorama of Downtown Philippi West Virginia... Wikipedia

Panorama of downtown Philippi, West Virginia… Wikipedia

During these meetings we share information about the projects we are working on within the communities we serve. We give community leaders information about what we really achieve while spending our year with them as service members. It was stated at the annual meeting, by Alison Thornton, Assistant to the Director of AFHA, that “a total of 920 community volunteers who serve in 16 counties have put in 10,076 Appalachian Forest Heritage Area service hours so far this year, with 44,683 beneficiaries of our work. Thrity eight service members have improved or treated 643.60 acres of public land with in our counties and AmeriCorps has over all  39,775.75 hours of service this year.” The impact of those 10,076 hours have in West Virginia is huge. Making the time AHFA members serve worth more than $150,000.00 in  man-hours to our state economy for the first half of the fiscal year.

Many of the positions that AFHA AmeriCorps fill are tough physical jobs in very isolated locations making their positions hard to fill. My fellow members work with the Forest Service and other conservation agencies repairing trails, clearing invasive species and fighting forest fires. Some members spend time working with the Arts, in tourism, and at historic locations doing preservation and giving tours. Some serve in rural communities working on economic revitalization.Some spend only a few hours a month in their office, instead working at construction and demolition sites, where  buildings are being redeveloped and updated. Yet, we all serve with this motto in mind “Getting Things Done.”

So when you get us all together it is a wonderful educational opportunity not only for the public but for us as members also. We see and hear about other members projects and the impact they are making for the better. We hear from speakers, who like us, are trying to make a difference in their area of expertise.We are also encouraged to explore the communities where we serve to get a deeper understanding of the area’s history and needs.

AFHA AmeriCorps members listing to Barbour County Circuit Clerk explaining about community history and the courthouse.

AFHA AmeriCorps members listing to Barbour County Circuit Clerk explaining about community history and the courthouse.

This by far is the most important part of our meetings from a member standpoint. We talk with local leaders about the successes and failures of our program. We see first hand what our service is doing in these communities. It is a time to see that our efforts are real and tangible.So with cooperation from the city of Philippi we were able to tour the town, see historical locations and see some of the physical evidence of our work. It gives all of us a chance to understand the area where we serve better and leaves each of us with a feeling of pride as we share in each other’s positive impact.

AmeriCorps listen to Dustin from Woodlands Development Group about redevelopment work done on the Sunnyside building with the help of AmeriCorps

AmeriCorps listen to Dustin Smith from Woodlands Development Group about redevelopment work done on the Sunshine building with the help of AmeriCorps.

Alex Thomas discusses the challanges of historic Preservation and redevelopment of the Sunnyside building with another AmeriCorps member

Alex Thomas discusses the challenges of historic preservation and redevelopment of the Sunshine building with another AmeriCorps member.

Alex Thomas serves as a AFHA AmeriCorps project manager for Woodlands Development Group  ( a local non-profit housing developer) on this main street building in Philippi. The building was almost a total loss for redevelopment in a town of this size but with many community groups working together and funding coming from grants the future looks brighter for this building. When finished the building will have retail space and two modern upstairs apartments for people who work in the downtown area. It is this collaboration between local officials, AmeriCorps service members,non-profits, the State and Federal Government that we begin to see what is possible. Every AmeriCorps wants to be part of the solution for our communities problems.

Store Front of Sunshine building before repairs begin

Store Front of Sunshine building before repairs begin photo courtesy of Alex Thomas

Hands on crew members inside the Sunshine building doing restoration work to the punched tin ceiling

Hands on crew members inside the Sunshine building doing restoration work to the punched tin ceiling photo courtesy of Alex Thomas

In the end AFHA and AmeriCorps is all about the people and communities we serve. In Philippi we were lucky to have the opportunity to see one of the largest covered bridges still in use in the United States. Seeing the bridges long historic arches puts all of our efforts into perspective about what is important about this region and its history. We serve as AFHA AmeriCorps to remind the world that we have a proud and long history that deserves to be protected, preserved, developed and cherished. As AmeriCorps members we make a difference in little communities just like this one all over West Virginia, so that the future of this region will be brighter, our communities will be stronger and our history will never be lost.

Barbour County, West Virginia, Philippi Covered Bridge

Barbour County, West Virginia, Philippi Covered Bridge 2016

It is my pleasure to serve the people as an AFHA AmeriCorps in rural West Virginia!! For more information about AmeriCorps and where they serve follow this link, National Service AmeriCorps, or visit http://www.appalachianforest.us/americorps.htm, and think about joining us.

AFHAlogo2013

Americorp logo

Categories: AmeriCorps, Appalachian Mountains, Barbour County, Civil War, community service, Friendship, historic locations, Nonprofit, rural life, Travel, West Virginia, Woodlands Development Group | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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