West Virginia’s Historic Resources
When SHPO staff members refer to resources, they mean those sites, buildings, structures, cemeteries, landscapes and objects that serve as a record of past human activities. Resources become historic when they are determined to be eligible for listing or are formally listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Since its inception, SHPO has worked to identify resources across the state and nominate them to the National Register. Conducting surveys is a necessary step in the nomination process. Much of the time, staff efforts focus on administering and participating in surveys that seek to document all aspects of the built environment. We are not the only agency that undertakes survey work, however. Efforts of other state agencies, federal agencies, CLGs, and individuals have contributed greatly to the inventory records SHPO staff maintain. Typically, resources are categorized as either archaeological in nature (those resources that exist below the ground’s surface) or structural (all those resources found above ground). Cemeteries, although they consist of both above-ground and below-ground features, are categorized as archaeological in nature by SHPO staff.
As of October 2001, SHPO files contain records for 10,694 prehistoric and historic archaeological sites that have been identified in West Virginia. The number of archaeological sites recorded varies widely from county to county, ranging from six sites in Calhoun County to 673 in Summers County. These numbers are not an accurate reflection of the totality of archaeological sites that exist. Rather, they are an indica-tion of areas in the state where archaeology enthusiasts have shown a high level of interest, or federal projects have required an archaeological survey. In some locations such as Nicholas County, the high number of known archaeological sites is, in part, a result of the research interests of archaeologists who worked for the now-defunct Archaeology Section of the West Virginia and Geological Survey.
West Virginia’s archaeological sites represent a wide range of time periods, from the earliest occupation of West Virginia some 13,000 years ago to the more recent historic past. With the exception of the Paleo-Indian Period, excavation data exists from sites dating to every time period represented by West Virginia’s archaeological record. Unfortunately, very little data exists documenting human activity during the Paleo-Indian Period, as an archaeological site dating to this time span has never been excavated by professional archaeologists in West Virginia. Instead, SHPO records contain information about the locations from which dozens of Paleo-Indian projectile points were collected by archaeology enthusiasts.
A number of West Virginia’s archaeo-logical sites are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. From Grave Creek Mound in Marshall County, to the Buffalo Village Site in Putnam County, to the Coal River Locks, Dams and Log Boom Archaeological District that is spread across Kanawha, Boone and Lincoln Counties, these sites represent the variety of cultures and people that once inhabited West Virginia. Other sites, many of which were excavated as mitigation for federally funded projects, provide valuable information about the lifeways of our predecessors. The East Steubenville Site in Brooke County, excavated to make way for improvements to West Virginia Route 2, yielded evidence of human activity dating to the Late Archaic Period approximately 6,000 to 3,500 years ago. Excavations currently underway in Kanawha County for the Marmet Locks and Dam will provide additional information about Late Prehistoric farmers and the beginnings of the salt industry in West Virginia. Research interests of professional archaeologists and other individuals also contribute to our knowledge about the past. Survey efforts and limited excavation at the locations of many of West Virginia’s frontier forts provide exciting new information about the pre-Revolutionary War era on the frontier, while recent survey work at Fort Boreman in Wood County resulted in a resource management plan for the site.
At the same time that the previous plan was issued, SHPO staff created a Cemetery Survey Form and began recording and collecting data on cemeteries across West Virginia. The form asks for details about such things as mortuary data, regional burial practices, stylistic variation in gravestones and burial furniture, and locational data, all of which should prove useful in tracking the general history of burial traditions in West Virginia. To date, SHPO files contain records for 417 cemeteries representing 50 counties. West Virginia has 13 cemeteries listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places. These include two that are related to the Civil War (Grafton National Cemetery in Taylor County and Confederate Cemetery in Greenbrier County), two prehistoric burial mounds as well as two that are associated with the famous Hatfield-McCoy feuds. One of these is in Logan County; the other in Mingo County. More typically, cemeteries are listed in the National Register as parts of historic districts, in association with church properties, or as parts of rural farm properties.
West Virginia SHPO files contain survey and National Register records documenting a wide array of buildings, objects, landscapes and structures. Surveys conducted within the past five years recorded and described numerous rural and urban building and structural types. CLGs identified a variety of properties in county magisterial districts as well as conducted other limited town and rural surveys. SHPO staff increased the office’s inventory of commercial properties by focusing sur-vey efforts in the central business districts of county seats. Through the work of staff archaeologists funded by the Division of Environmental Protection (DEP), a variety of coal-related resources, such as tipples, portals, power houses, and fan houses were identified and recorded. Many resources were also recorded during the identification phase of the Section 106 process. The most notable examples of these efforts resulted from highway construction projects such as West Virginia Corridor H and Route 9. Other recent survey efforts added to our records information about iron furnaces and bridges across the state.
To date, West Virginia has 848 indivi-dual and district nominations in the National Register of Historic Places com-prising 15,653 buildings, sites, structures and objects. Of these, 16 are also designa-ted as National Historic Landmarks. As with archaeological properties, the distribu-tion of properties listed in the National Register across the state is not an accurate reflection of the numbers of resources in West Virginia that may be considered historic. In this case, it indicates areas where CLGs are especially active, where there is an interest in obtaining tax credits, or where individuals are interested in nominating their house or a commercial property to attain recognition. Individual staff members also contributed to the state’s National Register listings by focusing on properties or areas of the state that are of personal interest. In the past few years, SHPO noticed a change in the motivation for nominating properties to the National Register. While attaining recognition or honor at the national level for preserving an historic building used to be of prime importance, recently people appear to nominate their properties to obtain a development grant to offset the cost of rehabilitation, to receive federal and state tax credits, or to attain some form of protection from projects proposed by federal or state agencies, most notably the West Virginia Division of Highways.
A wide variety of property types are recognized for their outstanding represen-tation of West Virginia’s heritage. Properties added to the National Register within the past five years represent a num-ber of themes such as agriculture, educa-tion, transportation, industry and religion. Renick Farm in Greenbrier County is a wonderful example of early agricultural buildings. The property contains a Georgian-styled house built of native lime-stone between 1787 and 1792, as well as a wood barn, smokehouse and several other farm outbuildings. The Harrisville Grade School in Ritchie County, a vernacular Victorian building featuring a blend of Italianate and Greek Revival details, educa-ted numerous children between 1878 and 1965. Today, the building is home to the Ritchie County Historical Society. Stouts Mill Bridge in Gilmer County, an example of the camel-back through truss bridges that were popular between 1890 and the early 1920s, aided in the development of the community of Stouts Mill and added to Gilmer County’s transportation network by providing access across the Little Kanawha River.
Need for More Historic Context Statements
The 1996 Statewide Historic Preservation Plan provided an extremely thorough discussion of historic context statements. The discussion furnished a context for their development, established procedures for updating them, and outlined themes and chronological periods pertinent to West Virginia’s history and prehistory. SHPO staff find that historic context statements are especially valuable in identifying and evaluating a property’s eligibility for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. While thematic contexts can be useful for evaluating a specific property type, those that are primarily temporal in nature allow for broad interpretations and evaluations of patterns of behavior. During the past five years, development of historic context statements has met with limited success. Contracting with cultural resource management firms to create these documents can be costly and funds are not always available. Currently, the office hopes to produce a revised historic context statement for the Woodland Period. Also underway is a pro-ject to update and revise a historic context statement for West Virginia’s historic highway bridges.
During the next five years, because of limited funding and time constraints, SHPO staff must be especially judicious when prioritizing themes and developing a frame-work for the creation of context statements. West Virginia’s preservation community is eager to see the development of context statements addressing resources associated with the Underground Railroad and other aspects of ethnic history in the state. The archaeological community awaits revisions to context statements for all archaeological time periods, and SHPO staff also are interested in developing documents to help in the assessment of agricultural and transportation property types. Preparation of context statements, however, need not be completed by SHPO staff. Federal agencies, for example, can create these documents as a means of conducting preservation activities in keeping with Section 106 and Section 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act. CLGs and other groups in the preservation community should also consider developing context statements as a way to plan for and promote the preservation of local resources. With careful prioritization and planning, we should be able to move forward in the next five years in the creation of these kinds of documents.
Historic Context Themes