They stand as silent sentinels; reminders of our past. The historic buildings in the Heritage Area of Jackson’s Mill remain from that past to allow current and future generations to better understand their collective history. The Farmstead – as it is unofficially referred to – tells the story of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century of West(ern) Virginia, as well as the formative years of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. His is a story of overcoming adversity, and young man’s commitment to better himself despite difficult circumstances.
For years, the story of the Jackson’s was not shared at Jackson’s Mill; that is until Around the turn of the twentieth century, a regional railway service ran a trolley line, which featured a stop near the historic Jackson’s Mill. The public could visit the boyhood home of the man known as “Stonewall” and could walk the grounds or picnic there on pleasant days. It was here that in 1921, the state of West Virginia forever linked the story of one youth who overcame adversity with the development of untold thousands of others; when Jackson’s Mill was selected as the permanent site for the first state 4-H camp in the world!
This year marks the 100th Anniversary of Camping in West Virginia 4-H, and although Jackson’s Mill as a 4-H site is not quite so old, it will see tremendous celebration throughout the camping season. As a result, the time is ideal for the development of a volunteer program in the Heritage Area, and on April 25th, we took the first steps.
Although Jackson’s Mill as a site is quite busy throughout the year with various camps and other groups who rent various buildings in the mill for conferences with a sizable staff, the staff at the Farmstead and in Heritage Programming consists of a Program Specialist and one historian, who cover both on-site and outreach programs. This has been augmented with the assistance of an AmeriCorps Member, but we still struggle to meet the programming mission and our role in the West Virginia University Extension Service under which we operate. In addition, meeting this mission often leaves many of our historic buildings and the physical site in desperate want of attention. So I determined that we should organize a workday dedicated the buildings and site, as a whole.
This day was more than simply a workday, however; I wanted an opportunity for people to take ownership of the site and feel as though they have an active part in making a difference here. When the day arrived, the weather was less than desirable. It was cool and damp, with a forecast of showers arriving in the afternoon, all of which made me nervous about whether anyone would actually show up to help. Around 10 that morning, a single car pulled into our parking lot and four members of Collegiate 4-H walked into the building to offer their help. A short time later, another small group of younger 4-H members and their mothers also joined us. In total we ended up with nine people altogether, not counting my colleague “Gabby” and myself.
After welcoming them, I described the work we intended to get done that day: cleaning the historic buildings – we have four of them altogether and redoing the planting beds in our Heritage Garden. We quickly divided the group and set out to work – the first task: to clean our two pioneer cabins. It went surprisingly quick. The volunteers were far more enthusiastic and energized than I could have hoped. In less than 2 hours, we had two buildings completely cleaned, and both groups decided to work on getting the Heritage Garden done. This was completed in about another hour and a half. As we continued to work on this task, both of the 4-H mothers asked if they could move on to another building. While the rest of us worked to finish the garden beds, they moved onto our water-powered gristmill. All of this was completed by a little after 1 in the afternoon; at which point, we broke for lunch, which we had provided down in our store. All that remained was one final building to clean. Unfortunately, the weather that had been threatening all afternoon finally turned. I decided that instead of asking the volunteers to stay and risk traveling back home in worse weather, that they should make their way home. This left only one building for “Gabby” and myself to finish.
As they left, I thanked the volunteers for selflessly giving of their time and energy. They were a small group, admittedly, but they were a cross-section of ages, and all of them willingly gave up their Saturday to come in and help us. I told them that while it may only appear to have been some gardening and spring cleaning in our buildings, it represented more than a week or two worth of time for “Gabby” and myself; time that we could now spend on other critical projects in the Heritage Area. I also told them that they were the first participants in what I intend to be a long-term commitment to utilizing volunteers in our programming and in helping to maintain our area. All of the volunteers mentioned that they would love to come and help us again, and would encourage more people to join them in the future. I am still truly humbled that these people came to help, although, it is not because of me that they came necessarily. In many ways, I merely offered them the opportunity to become involved with, and take ownership of their history and they seized on that opportunity. I believe that young Thomas would have been proud of these people and their efforts, as am I.