Letting my Freak Flag Fly; Why be Normal in a World of Boring Social Standards.

04032e39628da637db8b079e2ea20a26Recently, I was surprised by a very negative statement about kids and adults with the blue or green hair. The statement was from a friend and fellow artist and I was taken back that they disapproved of the wild hair styles of recent years. I was surprised at my gut reaction to the statement also. I was hurt and defensive of the young people and angry that we are still having this same conversation 30 years after I had this same conversation with my own family about my friends and my hair choices.

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Jill Hamilton and Me around fall 1988

I have also recently re-watched” The Greatest Showman” where the topic of freaks comes out in obvious ways. For those of you who have not seen it “The Greatest Showman” the movie is about P.T. Barnum’s rise to fame as a sideshow producer and circus millionaire. So the word freak is used in many ways, some positive and some negative, but over all a way to describe a person with unique attributes. Many of my readers remember side shows and many of us will have fond memories of  a visit to the circus. We can remember how seeing the circus made us feel and the excitement of getting a chance to see something new and different.

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Lion Tamer at the Circus 2017

I was lucky enough to see one of the last Barnum and Bailey circus acts before they retired their elephants. I took my then 5 year old granddaughter and my then 8 year old  son  with my daughter in law to Charleston, West Virginia to see the show. It was amazing and so educational. We were able to see acts and animals from around the world, the costumes and acrobats were outstanding . We laughed and cheered and enjoyed the show.

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last year for the elephants at the Barnum and Bailey Circus Charleston, WV

We watched and accepted that these are hard working performers and they are talented. But years ago this was a freak show, a place of the weird, odd and a place of the new and unseen. As a kid I thought of sideshows and circuses as a place of magic and mystery, of the unknown and the amazing. I loved them and the performers that worked the shows. I loved reading about the strange and unusual in my “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” paper backs and I loved seeing the amazing things listed in the Genius Book of World Records. The Chinese man with the longest finger nails pops into my mind along with the tallest man.

I like millions of others have always felt different, odd, or even broken at times. I was a round peg in a square hole, most of my life. My unusual learning style and disability have always made me feel like a freak. Over the year I have found that many contemporary artist, performers, musicians  feel that way too. Many were kids who grew up with ADHD before we knew what it was, many were Gay, trans-gendered or drag queens before the 80’s AIDS crises killed so many of them. Many were born with physical traits that the ruling class disliked, such as to pale, to dark, to tall, to short, to fat, to skinny, to much hair or to little, to many body parts or to few, that caused ridicule. Some had talents above what was expected  and others were able to do tricks that most would never dare. They were unique, talented and blessed with something original. So when I look back at my life my most loved and closest friends were freaks and still are today. Most became successful in art, music, and literature, the engineering, some make fashion and others heal the sick, but we all come from an authentic place of understanding and support.

Junior year photo

So when a young person dies their hair or gets a tattoo they very well may be feeling like a square peg in a round hole, just like I did years ago…  They maybe just exploring what their deeper self has been telling them for years that they are different and unusual. That they are a rare gem and that in stead of being ashamed they  are trying to embrace it. It is this embrace that we all long for our whole lives. We search for  a person or group that understands and excepts us as we are.

Being a freak has taught me valuable things, that I am still proud to use each and everyday. For one thing never judge a man/woman by his looks. First, when we value the shell we miss the very best part of a person and often miss out on meeting the most amazing people on the planet. Second, Everyone of us is struggling with something. Some of our struggles are more obvious then others, be supportive and understanding of every story.  Third,The world is hard enough without people jumping on the hate train. Share goodness, build up the world and make it a better place. Fourth, everyone has a story, listen, learn and understand. This is how we build community and effect change. Then finally freaks are strong because of  adversity. Struggling and challenges are nothing new, we endure much to get to where we are going. Don’t for one minute think because someone is disabled that they weak or helpless. Often they are more adapted to the real world then the average person. Keep you pity to yourself, no one wants to be looked down on from a fake pedestal.

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Halloween Costume building 2018

So as I dye my hair again for the 2000th time in my life, I wonder if maybe blue or green is my color. I wonder if that young woman who had black hair and got tattoos knows how many people will love her in 40 years. How much goodness she will bring into this world and how many wonderful creative people she will meet. I wonder if she even understands how strong she is and how she will over come her weaknesses and disables to reach new levels of people around the world with a blog. I hope she keeps being freaky because is a gift.

It is uniqueness that makes the world so beautiful. Never for one minute believe that being a freak is a bad thing.

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trick or treating in Elkins, WV 2017

 

 

 

 

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Visit to “Old Stone House/ Travelers Rest”.

While on my way to a meeting for Appalachian Forest Heritage Area I was able to spend some time at Old Stone House/ Travelers Rest. The historic home of  Gen. Horatio Gates that was built along the stage coach line that ran from Winchester, VA. to what is now Parkersburg, WV. near the Ohio State line. The Old Stone House was built in two stages from 1810 to 1827 with the caretakers rooms built first with the traveler portion coming later.

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Driving to the Keyser,WV. area was a nice break from my often lonely dirty work at the Golden Rule. Spring had arrived in the mountains and the drive surrounded me with lush green trees, flowers in bloom and blue skies. Even these iris are happy to have the rain stop. GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Travelers Rest is now being rehabilitated after years of use. The house and 220 acres were owned by Gen. Horatio Gates was a plantation farm after his retirement from service as a British officer and a General in the American Revolution.

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3/4 view of Travelers Rest with a view of fire place chimney.

Over the course of time the house was not only a home and guest house but a restaurant and a community Flea Market. Today the house greets visitors to the county with grace and style as they pass from rolling green country hills into the towns and cities along route 50.For more information about the redevelopment and fundraising plans for Travelers Rest  head to their Facebook page at Old Stone House/ Travels Rest.

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Newly restored back porches that had been removed on Travelers Rest.

The interior of the caretakers quarters portion of the house have been restored and have a collection of time period items on display. Several come from the house and add to the warm feel of the rooms. The next project being finished is the living space on the travelers side of the large home and the large gathering space below, that is currently a fundraising Flea Market.

 

 

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AmeriCorps volunteers visit the Travelers Rest Flea market on their way to Keyser WV

The house uses community volunteers and Mineral County Historical Society members to do repairs and keep the doors open for visitors. Maybe one day  the building will again house travelers who are heading along route 50.

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Carpentry volunteer ready to head to the upstairs to install insulation in the roof areas.

The drive to see the house is very rural. Often I was the only car on the highway making it a wonderful relaxing drive. Along the way up on the mountains tops are some of the famous West Virginia wind farms. Wikipedia states that their are 376 wind turbines in operation in the state. I think this ridge was lined with around 30 that were all facing a on coming storm in Tucker County.

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Wind Mills along corridor H Tucker County.

I’m glad I took time to stop and enjoy a short visit to this old house. I have am always impressed and surprised every time I get to see a 200 year old house still standing. Gen. Gates would be proud to know that his farm and home are still in use and are still welcoming visitors along the long road from Winchester.

horatio Gates

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Mineral County Wind Turbines.

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Appalachin Forrest Heritage Area, Building rehabilitation, historic locations, Historic Preservation, Mineral County West Virginia, Travelers Rest/Old Stone House, Uncategorized, West Virginia History, Wind Turbine | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Clean Up and Events at Golden Rule; Or This Mountain MaMa is Tired.

I have been working so hard to finish cleaning and sorting the 4 floors of Golden Rule that I really thought about changing the name of my blog title to…. “This Mountain Mama is Tired.”  Then leave some lame message about not having time to write. It would have been the truth. I am just beyond tired when I get home at night. I walk an average of 5 to 6 miles a day inside the building and that does not included the walking I do daily with my dog. So with 6 or 7 miles a day and the 3 sets of stairs in the building and the loads of trash and boxes I move every day. I just have not had the energy to stay up late or get up early to write. So please forgive me for not sharing more of the wonderful things I usually like to share.

So today I want to share just a few photos of what my life has been like since starting my work  at the Golden. It is a labor of love to be the main person to clean, sort and help with Demo in a 18,000 foot building.

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The 1902 Golden Rule Building 122 Crim Ave. Belington, WV my home away from home.

The building was abandoned after is was sold in the late 1980’s and it was never cleaned out. The building contained new old stock and office equipment from as far back as the 1920’s. My job has been to tackle the clean up of 100 years worth of history, trash and some how put together a couple of events to raise some money for the  rehabilitation.

So far we have removed 8,000 pounds of house hold trash and a 30 yard dumpster of ceiling tiles, paneling and dry wall.  It has taken a full year to reach the point that all three main floors are mostly clean and have a silent auction planned for the items that I was able to salvage. I have logged around 980 individual items that we hope to have for sale the first couple of weeks in May. It has been some of the hardest work I have done in my life, but the most rewarding also.

logan and Patrick AmeriCorps members volunteer to toss out 4,000 pounds of trash

Patrick and Logan AmeriCorps volunteers help remove 2000 pounds of trash from the Golden Rule 2018.

What we have found along the way is a treasure trove of history and stories from the past. Some of the questions we have about the building are solved, while others are still a mystery. I have done interviews with the former owner and several people who worked in the building that have helped put together a impression of what the building meant to the community and to those who worked here. One day I hope to put all this together in a book about the buildings story.

 

We are now ready to start the process of moving the history out of the building into storage and selling off what is left. We have plans for a ticket entry, benefit silent auction that will happen in just a few weeks, fallowed by community wide building sale. This should clean out most of the items that are remaining in the building. With lots of volunteers helping me over the course of the last year. I think the events will be a huge success.

Golden Rule flyer

 

The Golden Rule will soon be full of new people and construction materials, it will be full of busy saws and heavy foot steps and I will be regulated to watching most of it. I still have cleaning to do and a yard to tame so my work in not over but I will be more of an outsider for the next couple of years. I am excited for the work to begin in  June and can only imagine what I will be doing over the next year.

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Recycled sign for the Golden Rule Feeds and Fertilizers found in mill building. 

The project will start on the top floors of the building and work its way down. A new roof and 10 apartments will happen first and the final steps will be the retail spaces on the first floor. It is planned with a railroad depot in the back to connect passengers to the tourist trains in Elkins, West Virginia. A gift shop for the passengers, a Artist Market, a coffee shop and a viewing platform of the water powered elevator. We are hoping that some of the wonderful pieces we have found in the building will hang on the walls and be used as decor in the coffee shop and artist market one day.

Three-four years seem so far away from now, but I think it will pass in a blink of an eye. I know that one day not far off I will be wondering how it all got finished and open to the public.

Categories: antiques, Belington, WV, Benefit auction, Change, Golden Rule, historic locations, Historic Preservation, recycling, Vintage items, West Virginia, Woodlands Development Group | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Sweet Taste of West Virginia Maple Syrup

When the town of Pickens, West Virginia throws a party it seems like the whole county shows up to eat, shop and be merry. The annual Pickens Maple Syrup Festival held every March turns the tiny town of 66 full-time residents into a town that swells to over two thousand visitors over the weekend. The much loved event is part of state-wide Maple Syrup Festival  themed events that celebrate our much loved native sugar maple trees.

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Pickens is a historic railroad spur town that boomed in the late 1800 and early 1900’s. Logging, lumber mills and the railroad brought money and jobs to the mountains of Randolph County, but when the railroad left so did the jobs and the town slowly shut down. With only a few business left in downtown, the town struggled to survive but the community feeling stayed strong.So they created a new reason for people like me to drive an hour into some of the most remote communities in mountains.

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Morning of the Maple Syrup Festival 2019 before the crowds arrive for lunch.

The festival began 35 years ago encouraged by a local Maple Sugar Camp owner Mr Richter and the tradition just keeps growing and families just keep coming. The Richter maple sugar camp is only few minutes from Pickens and is part of the joy of a day spent at the festival taking time to learn about the process of taping the trees and boiling down the sap to make the sweet syrup we all love.

During the festival their are lots of family friendly events that take place from live music to wood chopping demos, to ax tossing and lots and lots of eating. Their is the traditional maple syrup pancake breakfast, their is smoked pork, turkey and beef, maple cotton candy, honey, jam, jelly and a wine made from honey called Mead.

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Christoper Powers on his way up the rock wall Pickens Maple Syrup Festival 2019.

Tom and I enjoyed hand made maple-dark chocolate candy and brought home strawberry rhubarb jelly. I bought a bottle of syrup for the next morning just so we could remember our fun. The food was fantastic and the smell of smoke and hot maple syrup was to-die-for.

Tom and I bumped into many of our friends from all over the state at the event. It was like a family reunion on a grand scale. I really enjoyed watching the people shop and the kids play on a downtown swing set.

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Row of old men visit on historic store front porch at the Pickens Maple Syrup Festival 2019.

In true West Virginia fashion over half the visitors arrived on side by side ATVs, riding trails from the other side of the mountain. Taking part  in one one of the first spring ATV poker rides that raises money for a charity or family in need. At one point the whole main street was filled with ATVs, maybe 40 of them paraded down main street, it was a sight to see in the small town.

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lady making Maple flavored Cotton Candy in the old post office in Pickens.

The entertainment for the day was all about was inexpensive or free, you could learn to through an ax on main street or you could watch a wood chopping competition on the wooden stage just off main street. You could take the kids to meet Scooby-Doo or just watch the kids play on the swing set in the park enjoying live music from a local blue grass band.

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Beautiful church on a hill high over Pickens West Virgina.

After about 4 hours Tom was ready to head home. I could have spent more time in the early spring sunshine, but I was happy to enjoy the beautiful country drive home. Next time I will remember to bring the fishing poles as the streams all around Randolph county were clear and the sun was out making for a great day on a stream also.

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Strawberry Rhubarb jelly and pure West Virginia Maple Syrup from the Pickens Maple Syrup Festival March 2019.

Learning more about our mountain communities is always fun and taking part in the Maple Syrup Festival Tradition was one of the best. Next time I hope to focus more on the making of the syrup and less on the food. But, that smoked turkey bacon and swiss sandwich is one of the best picnic foods I have ever had !!!

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Fairs and Festivals, family fun, Maple Syrup Festival, Randolph County, Uncategorized, West Virginia | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Spring Snow at Pleasant Grove Cemetery

This weeks Spring weather has had it all, sun, high winds, rain and snow. It is as if the Gods of winter and spring are having a fight to see who will control the weather. Even the resting souls in the local cemetery noticed the fight.

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Early morning snow in Barbour County

With this maybe being our last snow of winter I was just lucky to have a camera in the car and time to stop several places along my route to work last week. It takes about 28 minutes of winding country roads to get into Philippi West Virginia and along the way I always see something interesting. Often I see deer or turkey in the farm fields, tractors mowing hilly farms and lots of barns. I also see lots of cemeteries and this one was just beautiful on this cold  snow-covered morning.

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Hwy 119 headed to Philippi, West Virginia. 

These photos were taken at a small country cemetery name Pleasant Grove Cemetery just outside Century, West Virginia. Many of the head stones date back into the mid 1800’s. I love to photograph cemeteries, I have been doing it for years. I think there is something about old historical cemeteries that is fascinating. Maybe it’s because the tradition of stand up headstones is fading, or idea that every community and/or family owning a cemetery is not as popular anymore,whatever the reason, I find these small old cemeteries wonderful. Then with a little light snow you have a place that magic.

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Pleasant Grove Cemetery Fence

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Unique headstone at Pleasant Grove Cemetery near Century, WV.

So while visiting I did find one very unusual head stone. A type that I had never seen before.This marker looks finished and carved on one side but other half is just ruff chiseled stone. I have no idea what it means or if it was done on purpose, but it was fascinating to see such a different marker dated so long ago. I now wonder even more about the life this woman and her unique headstone.

 

As you can tell the cemetery is old and most of the headstones dated back to the middle 1800’s and some have faded and toppled over. There is no church standing watch over these families, so I wonder who cares for the graves and who clean up the dead flowers. The Donation Box makes me think that someone is looking after several generations of families without much help.

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Donation box for the Cemetery 

 

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Snow falling on mail boxes across from Pleasant Grove Cemetery ,Barbour County,WV.

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Front Gate of Pleasant Grove Cemetery.

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Deer trail at Pleasant Grove Cemetery

The weather continued to snow and I had to get to down the road to work so I quietly left the headstones behind.  I will never get the answers to my questions about the cemetery or the families who rest here. I will wonder about them for a long time. This beautiful place made the last snow of the year a little more bearable. I am glad that I took time to look a little closer at what beauty is all around me.

HAPPY SPRING!!!

 

Categories: Barbour County, Cemetaries, Philippi, photo review, Snow day, Uncategorized, West Virginia, West Virginia History | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Manncave Distillery Continuing the Moonshine Tradition in West Virginia.

The tradition of making Moonshine in West Virginia goes back generations and is still a part of who we are today. Making something out of nothing has always been a way of life in our hills and hallows and Manncave Distillery inc. is making wonderful corn-based spirits in the small town of Weston, West Virginia. Manncave Distilleries goal is to prove that West Virginia can be the source of superior products like Moonshine (129 proof), Vodka (80 proof) and its own brand of whiskey just like the big distilleries in other Appalachian states.

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Bottles of Moonshine and Vodka at the Manncave Distillery.

The setting for the Distillery is as beautiful and secluded as all the lore you hear about moonshiners. Several miles from the nearest town, back in the woods, on a dirt road you will find Manncave Distillery. The bright blue building announces that you have arrived at a more legal and popular liquor sales location then in days past.  This property, a source of family pride, is the location of the Mann family farm and was the same property where Stephen Mann grew up. Coming from Lewis County, it seemed natural to start the business on the family owned farm, where 3 artesian springs produce more than enough water to supply the distillery and the farm.

I visited the family while they had a small break between guests at the distillery on Millstone Road on the outskirts of town. The tour of their location was personal and the story of the businesses beginnings is about timing, being in the right place at the right time.The samples that Wendy Mann Shared with me, Vodka (80 proof) and Moonshine (129 proof), prove that this family has captured the flavor of  West Virginia.  I was pleasantly surprised by everything I found out about Mann family and their distillery, hard work and love, flows through everything that they do.

It has been a labor of love to start this project for Stephen and Wendy Mann, taking about 3 years to get to the point of retail sales and 2.5 million dollar investment to get the business up and running. The couple travel every weekend to West Virginia from thier current home in Virginia, where they work during the week. They come back to see and help with the construction of the buildings, stabilize the springs, and running the still. It is truly a family owned and operated business from the very ground it stands on, to every bottle produced and sold.

This same commitment to tradition and family, flows into the products they make.  It is obvious from the very beginning that these products are different. With a clean, crisp aroma to a slightly vanilla after taste, this is not backyard moonshine. It is very pleasing and will appeal to anyone who wants a moonshine without the harsh bite and wants a smooth drink that will mix well with anything. Stephen and Wendy have also barreled their first few batches of whiskey, aged in charred white oak barrels in the traditional manner, taking time to age and gain that soft amber color. The whiskey will be smooth with a bit of West Virginia honey for a light sweetness. They hope to release the whiskey at the end of summer when the product reaches their expectations of taste and color.

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Manncave Distillery aging barrels for sale and for use.

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Whiskey barrels on high racks at Manncave Distillery, Weston WV.

The free tour is a wonderful part of getting your own bottle of Manncave Moonshine or Vodka. The whole process is in-house and is explained step for step by Stephen while Wendy and their girls great you. The whole feeling is much like stopping over at a neighbor’s house and staying for a warm drink on a cold night.

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Stephen and Wendy Mann serve a sample of their MannCave Moonshine to a local visitor.

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Stephen Mann walks a couple through at tour at Manncave distillery 2019.

 

I wish I could have spent a few more hours enjoying the flow of customers coming in to try out the Manncave products while seated at the wooden bar.  Instead, I will be returning for another visit to the distillery when they have their summer launch party for the Manncave Whiskey that is now in the quality control and testing stage. It’s sure to be a great time, with a beautiful location,  a fresh stream, wonderful whiskey and friends to share with. I am so glad to add them to the list of people I know who are working to save the very things that make West Virginia unique and wonderful.  For more information about upcoming events fallow them on Facebook, or head over to the website. Don’t forget to get your copy of the Apple Pie Moonshine recipe on Facebook at Manncave Distillery.….I will be making it this fall for those family gatherings. No one without proper ID will be served samples or allowed to purchase alcohol at this location. 

So from Mountain MaMa, I wish the very best for your new business! I plan to enjoy your hard work with family and friends right here in the Mountain State.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, Country life, Distillery, fermentation, home brewing, Honey, Lewis County, Moonshine, nostalgic, Weston, whiskey | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Making Murals in the Mountain State

I was just recently asked some interesting questions  about a mural I recently finished painting at the Barbour County Development Authority’s office in Philippi, West Virginia. This new mural was unveiled on January 23 of 2018 and a guest at the reception asked,”When did you start painting murals, and how long did this one take to paint.” I had to really stop and think about my response. My response was,” I have been making them for over 35 years in public and privet, and this one took about 125 hours to paint.”  I never really went looking to paint murals, painting murals can looking for me!

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General Store Mural Painted at the Barbour County Development Authority office 2018.

I painted my first mural at age 11 or 12 at my hometown elementary school Majestic Heights Elementary  in Boulder Co. I was asked by a teacher if I would come into our class room a few days before the school  year started  and help her decorate a large empty wall in the class room. She asked if I could paint her a lion and some text underneath. I had no idea what she wanted and the only skill I had at the time was to use her over head projector to enlarge a image and trace the image on the wall. I was given a sheet of clear acetate and told to find something in the library to use.  I eventually found a wonderful lion image and proceeded to make a large lion mural on the wall of our class room. I do remember her saying that the reason she asked for me to help her was because I could draw well and she thought It would be fun for me. It was a nice experience and my mom enjoyed seeing the mural during parent teacher conferences.

It seems funny now, when I look back, that I have painted murals for churches, schools, barns, down towns and now businesses offices on and off my whole life. I have never pursued painting these large images, but I seem to get asked more and more to do them.

closeup of tree of life quilt block

Some are very simple and only take a day or two to prepare and paint,while others are large detailed images like the one at the Barbour County Development Authority. This is one of the larger murals that I have painted measuring 12 feet wide by 8 feet tall or ruffly 96 square feet of paint. I painted off and on, over about 4 months. Some days drawing and painting 5 hours and then some weeks not painting at all. The the value of the mural came to about 1800.00 dollars that was donated to the BCDA from Woodlands Development Group to cover the expense of my time.

The mural concept had three full color drawings as different options for the layout and figures in the mural. In the end the we actually had real people who worked in the actual store as models for in the mural. The Director of the BCDA was able to find photos for me to reference when adding the little girl and the meat cutter to the image. Then we were lucky enough to have the little girl behind the sales counter (Anna)  come to the unveiling with her two brothers. Their father, the owner of the building and Smith Grocery , is represented in the mural as the meat cutter in the mural.

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Children of Robert Smith ( man in Mural) and owner of Smith’s Grocery in Philippi WV. Anna Smith is photographed with her likeness as a child in the mural. Jan 2019.   

 As I have matured as an artist I have slowly become less and less realistic with my painting and drawing. I have a degree in fine art and have skills to draw very realistic images but with age and failing eye sight I have begun to make images that are more representative of a feeling or style then realistic. The style of this mural has been described as Folk Art, because its very flat and has little depth. The colors I chose also add to the “Old Timey” feel of the piece . 
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Golden Rule Window replacement mural “Hope” 2018.

The “General Store”mural is only one of four planned art and mural projects for downtown Philippi. I will be working on teaching others in the community how to make panel murals this spring. This time we hope to create three panels with images of quilt blocks and the city seal to be displayed on a downtown building as part of a Philippi  “Gateway Project”. The project includes instillation of a large welcome to Philippi sign, a flower planter, the murals, lights and flowers.  This project is the first time I have worked with some many organisations who want to contribute to making a downtown look better. It is amazing what small communities can do if they join together.  The “Gateway Project” is scheduled to be unveiled in Aug 2019 with about 25 volunteers doing the work.

My hope is that one day I will look back at all the beauty I have helped to create, and feel that I made a difference. I hope my art has made their towns and communities more colorful, friendly and welcoming. That I have begun to help wash away the stereotypes that portray our communities as empty, dead or forgotten. I plan to keep adding more life, color and happiness to every place I work  and adding more positive images to the story of West Virginia.

instillation of Quilt block at YMCA 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: About me, Art, Barbour County, Community Art, Creative Place Making, murals, West Virginia, West Virginia artists | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Saying Goodbye to 3 years of AmeriCorps Service.

Three years is a long time to volunteer to do anything. In 4 days I will finish my last term as an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area (AFHA) West Virginia,AmeriCorps. In those years I have learned the names of 120 other AmeriCorps serving the state of West Virginia. I have worked for 6 different supervisors at 4 different offices. I have painted 13 murals and finished 3 major projects,one involved removing 6,000 pounds of trash from a 1902 building and building one website for a nonprofit organization. In those years, I served over 5,175 hours,engaged and managed 250 different volunteers who also gave over 2000 hours of of their time to our community.I have traveled to 6 conferences on topics as varied as grant writing to creative place making and BAD buildings. Its been a whirl-wind of work, people and silliness but it is truly the most fun I have had my life. I am sad to say good bye but I am ready to fly towards a future of more service.

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 the Elkins community  during the Martin Luther King Day Celebrations 2017 

 

AmeriCorps has been eye opening in so many ways. Mostly about how much a small group of people can change the future. Those 120 different people worked on 120 different projects and worked on everything from preservation of historical locations to saving brook trout, planning city revitalization projects and helping tourists find a special event to make their trip more meaningful. Some work in the National Forest, some for small historical societies, others fought fires and some worked cleaning up after a 1000 year flood. AmeriCorps is as varied as the people who join, but we are all here with a servants heart.

frist day of Americrops working on Heritage Quilt Block Panels

Work on Heritage Quilt Squares for down town Elkins.

It is that commitment to making the world a better place that make AmeriCorps members different. Knowing that you made a difference towards saving a endangered species that’s home range is only with in the mountains of West Virginia is powerful for the future of our planet. To save and protect the site of a Civil war battlefield for future generations is to change the course of our countries future. To help to house the poor is to change the course of a life for future generations. All of this is what AmeriCorps do, it is how we make a difference.

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Teaching at the Old Hemlock Foundation 2018

I have been lucky to make new and wonderful friends through my years of service that I would have never had the opportunity to meet any other way. AmeriCorps travel from all over the country to serve. I have served  with people who came from as far away as Alaska and as close as just 50 miles away. We grow as people because of our diversity and different cultural backgrounds. We are every color and every age,we are gay, straight, religious and not, we are from rich families and from poor ones, but still feel the call to serve.

Pancake Breakfast volunteers 2017

Serving breakfast with the Easter Bunny 2018

These three years have helped me explore who I am, what I find important and what I want to do for the rest of my life. It is not often that you are expected to work so hard and think so deeply about the world and yourself all at once.  I have come away a stronger person,who has an even deeper commitment to making this world a better place. I would have never been able to be the leader, change maker, and advocate that I am today without  AmeriCorps. It has changed the whole path of my life and I will never be the same again.

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 “General Store” mural painted for the Barbour County Development Authority 2018 

 

I have been fortunate to have my AmeriCorps service to lead to new  career choice. I have chosen to become a business owner and continue my work in community development. I  will spend the next three years working on the Golden Rule project that you may have seen me write about before. I will be part of a team of workers who will spend those years working on the rehabilitation of the building and creating several businesses in the retail portion of the building. My duties are wide and various. I am working on the liquidation of all the buildings assets currently and will be managing the  sales of over 1,000 items, that will fund redevelopment of the retail space.  Then I will work on business development and creation of a Artist Market for local artist to sell their West Virginia make products. What a wild ride this has been and what a great future I see ahead. I am so thankful that I made the choice to serve the West Virginia Community.

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My home away for home the Golden Rule 2018

Thanks to the AFHA staff and supervisors for the the support and encouragement they offered these last three years. They believe “We Get Things Done” and keep us believing that we can make a difference everyday that we serve. Without them some days I would have pulled my hair out,  I would have given up trying to work with government officials and  lost patience working on grants that take years to see results from. My chosen field of Community Development is sometimes like a slow moving train. We have all the horse power we need to get from here to there but their are days when you just cant get the fire going fast enough for anyone to see any difference in the scenery.  So a shout out to Phyllis, Logan, Alison,Kyle,Sarah, Karen, Cheryl, Dave and Dustin. Thank you all for making these last three years so wonderful. It has made a difference in my life and my future.

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Donating Documents to the Belington Library from the Golden Rule  2019.

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Helping to support the local Parish House Donation Center. 

 

Categories: About me, AmeriCorps, Appalachin Forrest Heritage Area, community service, Golden Rule, Life Changes, Old Hemlock Foundation, volunteering | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Webster County W.V. Resident Restores Boardwalk from the 1800’s

 

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Tom at the Bell Street entry of the Lovers Lane Trail 2018.

Webster Springs, a small isolated mountain town in West Virginia, has recently reopened a river side boardwalk that was part of the community over 100 years ago. Lover’s Lane Boardwalk has been rebuild and is free and open to the public. The 3/4 mile path winds its way from downtown Webster Springs along the Back Fork of the Elk River ending at a  small park area and a historical swing bridge.

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Looking back from the boardwalk to the  1st swing bridge and the town of Webster Springs.

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Long straight away along the Lover’s Lane Board Walk with a over look spot.

 

 

 

As a lover of West Virginia culture and history I really wanted to see the boardwalk. Originally built just after the Civil War in 1875 and  reconstructed 1890 the boardwalk was in use until the 1940’s. It lead visitors down a path from a old Victorian boarding house and grist mill to downtown without having to pass through the mud and dirt of the street. I also wanted to see for myself if the name Lover’s Lane was even appropriate. I’m not a huge romantic type so calling a wooden walk way “Lover’s Lane” is a bit of a stretch for me. But this is one place that the name fits and you feel the passion and beauty of nature all around you. The deeper you go into the woods the more you travel back in time and surprisingly find yourself in love, maybe not with the person you are walking with, but the whole idea of Dr Gillespie’s project.

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An unexpected find along board walk a water value found at the base of Beech tree.

 

The reconstruction of the 3/4 of a mile boardwalk was the passion of local resident and retired University Librarian Dr. David Gillespie. Who has purchased most of the land along the river where the boardwalk runs and has over seen all of the construction and funding for the project. He also has encouraged the use of the land at the end of the board walk as a park by adding a wooden walking bridge onto a low water island along the river.

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Lover’s Lane Bridge and island park.

In addition to the short 3/4 mile boardwalk at each end of the trip is a historic swinging bridge crossing the Back Fork of the Elk River. Then a paved sidewalk to the main street area of downtown Webster Springs making the the walk about a 2 mile loop. Where in warmer weather you can find ice cream, sandwiches and CVB office open.

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Christopher trying to keep him balance on the 2nd of two swinging bridges.

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Christopher and I getting ready to head across the second swinging bridge.

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View from the swinging bridge over the Back Fork of the Elk River.

We took our walk in the month of Dec. maybe not the most beautiful time of year for a trip to Lover’s Lane but a wonderful time to get out of the house to beat back cabin fever. I plan to come back to the board walk in May to enjoy the rhododendrons and leaf cover of spring.  I am hoping to share the experience with my grand-daughter who loves to be outside and hike with me. I think Christopher and Paige will really enjoy the bouncy walk across the bridges together.

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Holiday Decor on hog pen along the path of the Lover’s Lane Boardwalk Trail.

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Hog pen along street along the Lover’s Lane Boardwalk trail.

To find the board walk you can park downtown in the town of Webster Springs and find the beginning at Back Fork Street across from Minnich’s Florist or you can try to park along Bennett Ave, but this is not advised as their is no real parking on this residential street along the river. The best parking is at the head of Bell Street about 7/10 of a mile from downtown. The parking is Handicapped accessible with the small island park and one of two of the swinging bridges. To get to the boardwalk from here you head towards town and pass a few residential houses and buildings.  If you need more information about the history of the boardwalk, the Grist Mill or Boarding house that were at the head of Lover’s Lane please contact Dr. David Gillespie at 681-213-1205.

 

 

Categories: Appalachian Mountains, family fun, hiking, historic locations, Historic Preservation, Lover's Lane, Webster County West Virginia, Webster Springs, West Virginia History | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

JoLynn Powers AmeriCorps, Returns 1920’s Christmas Cards to Local Resident.

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1902 Golden Rule Department store at beginning of redevelopment 2018.

When redevelopment on the Golden Rule Department and Furniture store began, no one knew what was hiding in the 1902 building. Woodlands Development Group bought the Belington, West Virginia building in spring of 2018.The plan for redevelopment included 10 apartments with a lower level retail space. Never knowing that the building was a time capsule of Wanda Shinn Mitchell’s life. With help from a local Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps, JoLynn Powers, the nonprofit is preserving the past and returning it to a local family.

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Wanda Shinn Mitchell former owner of the Golden Rule Building age 93, 2018.

When redevelopment began at the Golden Rule the three upper floors over flowed with remnants of the stores past. Empty boot boxes and signage from past decades filled the walls and shelves. “It was like walking into a time capsule. 1970’s shoe boxes filled shelves on the first floor and 1920’s office equipment covered a table on the second floor, nothing had really changed,” said JoLynn Powers AmeriCorps service member responsible for cleaning the building. While working to remove the debris from the building JoLynn Powers discovered that personal and work related items from the first owner’s family were still in the building.

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Table on Second Floor of the Golden Rule with antique office equipment.

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Boot boxes line shelves at the Golden Rule.

When Christmas post cards post marked 1922 address to Luther Shinn and his wife Ida, (builder of the Golden Rule building and father-in-law to Wanda) were discovered in a hole cut in the wall of the second floor storage room, everyone was excited by the find. However, Woodlands Development Director Dave Clark wanted to make sure the cards found their way back to the Shinn family.  With the help from the Barbour County Development Authority, The Belington Revitalization Committee and the Belington Library, JoLynn Powers was able to reach out to Wanda Shinn Mitchell and return them to her. At 94 years old, Wanda was excited to see Luther P. Shinn’s name on the cards dating back to 1920’s and 1930’s. The collection of cards included post cards to a sister-in-law, blank cards and several photos of people.

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Christmas Card sent to L.P. Shinn and his wife Ida, 1920’s.

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Christmas card found in wall of Golden Rule Building circa 1920’s.

When the appointment was made to return the cards JoLynn Powers invited Terri Kettle, of the Belington Revitalization Committee and Freedom Bank, to join her to help record the oral history of the visit. During the visit Terri Kettle asked Mrs. Mitchell if she knew how the cards and photos got inside the wall of the building. Wanda replied, “She had no idea.”  So the mystery of the hidden Christmas Cards continues.

Director of Woodlands Development Group, Dave Clark, is pleased to see the history of Belington preserved and shared with the community. As the buildings remaining assets are inventoried, there are plans for another open house with food, drinks, and a benefit silent auction planned for May of 2019. We hope to make the event a fundraiser for redevelopment costs for the retail space by selling tickets to attend. It is planned that the items not sold during the action will be sold  on-line later in May so that everyone has a chance to support the Golden Rules rehabilitation.

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JoLynn Powers AmeriCorps Volunteer in Elkins, WV.

JoLynn Powers continues to serve the Belington Community as an AmeriCorps volunteer for the next few months at the Golden Rule building. She leaves AmeriCorps with three years of community service to her home state of West Virginia. Future plans are to continue to work at the Golden Rule with Woodlands Development Group and to continue to work in the field of Community Development in the North Central Region of West Virginia.

 

Categories: About me, AmeriCorps, antiques, Appalachin Forrest Heritage Area, Barbour County, Belington, WV, Chris, Golden Rule, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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