With summer about to begin, and that being our active season, I thought it’s about time for an update on the historical society’s activities!
Of course, the big thing in the news lately is the fate of the Mitchell-Nease-Hartley building. After an initial loss at March’s city council meeting, Director Kyle McCausland arranged for the testimony of structural engineer Carol Stevens, preservation consultant and Preservation Alliance of WV board member Mike Gioulis, WV State Historic Preservation Office tax credit coordinator Jennifer Brennan, members of the Hartley family, and myself. The City then referred it to the Historic Landmark Commission, who requested more information from the city before they make their final decision, specifically an analysis from a structural engineer experienced in historic buildings. This will be brought up at the next city council meeting, and the HLC has until June 8th to make their final decision.
We will continue to be involved in this process as it goes along, but many of our directors are appalled by the lack of past research into our historic buildings. This should have been done in the 1980s, when these buildings were nominated to the National Register of Historic Places and the “History of Mason County” book was written. Because it wasn’t, nobody knew that the Mitchell-Nease-Hartley building is the only pre-Civil War building left in the commercial district and has close ties to the Civil War as well as the steamboat trade and industry.
To correct this glaring problem, historical research into Mason County’s historic buildings will be my main focus this summer. Luckily, a rough inventory of historic buildings in the county is already complete thanks to multiple surveys commissioned by the WV State Historic Preservation Office and Department of Transportation, my own “windshield surveys” of much of the county, and information on historic buildings in various books. That means I can dive directly into research. Deed and tax records from the county courthouse, newspaper research at the county library and state archives, genealogical research on Ancestry.com, and information from the various books and articles will be combined into a full history for each individual building.
Just for reference, the history of the Mitchell-Nease-Hartley building rounded out at 14 pages.
The information uncovered during this research will be used to update our existing National Register listings and potentially add new ones, as well as guide historic preservation decisions because we’ll now know exactly what we’re working with! No longer will these just be old buildings, preserved simply because they’re old. They will be seen as the parts of our history that they truly are: relics of slavery, the Civil War, the fires and floods so common in our history, the efforts to rebuild after, the rise and fall of industry, and so much more. They have stories to tell, stories that will soon be told.
The research into these building will also have the side benefit of providing quite a bit of information for my three-volume History of Mason County, which is coming along nicely.
As far as out other activities this summer, we don’t currently plan on holding another of our cemetery cleanups. Instead, we will focus on our cemetery inventory and survey in order to
prioritize our future projects. As of right now, our database contains 513 cemeteries, 30 additional cemeteries that may or may not exist, and an unknown number of slave cemeteries scattered around the county.
Of those 513 cemeteries on our list, we’ve already surveyed approximately 115. Our goal is to complete another 200 this summer, with a focus on the eastern and southern ends of the county. Cologne, Union, and Hannan Districts (Leon, Grimms Landing, Glenwood) in particular are in the greatest need of documentation. Director Angelique Juelfs-Johnson will be leading our cemetery survey work.
The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21 at the Mason County Library in Point Pleasant.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.