By Jeff Smith, Guest Contributor & AmeriCorps for Appalachian Forest Heritage Area
West Virginia is rich with natural and cultural resources. Although West Virginia’s statehood was granted in 1863, the history of her inhabitants and environs predate this particular moment in time. Most documentation that recorded the multitude of events that occurred in peoples’ lives are stored in libraries, court houses, archives and other such repositories. However, through a West Virginia Humanities Foundation grant, the public now has full access to view the wealth of documents, images, and geospatial data on their computer or similar electronic device via the West Virginia GeoExplorer Project (WVGP).
The WVGP is comprised of multiple participants including the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission, ShepherdUniversity, American Public University System, the Harper’s Ferry National Historical Association, and the Middleway Conservancy among other local government offices and historical societies. These institutions have been working on this project since the West Virginia Humanities Foundation awarded the original grant in 1996.
The group’s primary function is to make available electronic access to those significant documents that pertain to the areas of history, cultural resources, and architectural resources of West Virginia, and more specifically at this point in time, Jefferson County. Documents such as the original image of the 1757 land grant from Lord Fairfax to John Abrell are viewable as is the transcription of this primary resource document. Proving online access to these land grant documents and other primary and secondary resources is a powerful tool for scholars of West Virginia or early American history as well as those tracing family genealogy while further shrinking the digital divide that still exists for those individuals who don’t own a computer or for those communities without a local history collection.
The GeoExplorer database is built upon Geograpic Information System (GIS) technology with additional layers added as the project progresses. At present, searchable fields include, but are not limited to the GIS GEOlocator information, event, author, subject/keyword, and article/book title. In addition, search results can also be filtered by these and other fields. Although still in its “infancy” stage, this project has vast potential to be the go-to resource for many users in the historic preservation community.