The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 29, 2014

Traveling exhibit to teach about saving history

By Cody Neff
Register-Herald Reporter

— It’s said that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. But what about the places where that history took place? What should happen to it? A local group says these historic locations should be preserved and adapted to serve communities.

“The architecture is a big part of the fabric of a community,” New River Gorge Regional Development Authority Extension Agent Dave Rotenizer said. “If you didn’t have it, it would be a different place.

“There’s a distinctive feel of a town like Fayetteville. That’s its character and that character is nowhere else in the world. It’s just a matter of the way the streets were laid out and the way the buildings evolved. It’s important that we don’t lose that sense of place.”

To keep history alive, nonprofit groups like the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia exist and work to teach the public more about ways they can help preserve different sites.

“They advocate historic preservation around the whole state,” Rotenizer said. “They were able to acquire a grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council to help fund a traveling exhibit which would travel around the state and help people learn about saving communities.

“They were looking for historic sites to sponsor it for a month at a time. I contacted them and asked if they would be interested in having the whole region utilize this exhibit for a five-month period. They agreed to it, and I was recently awarded a grant from the National Coal Heritage Group to fund doing some extra programming with this exhibit.”

Rotenizer says each site will go over what he calls “Historic Preservation 101.”

“It’s things like ‘What is historic preservation?’ ‘How does it benefit our communities?’ ‘How does it benefit us?’ They’ll give that talk at all five locations. However, for those who go to more than one location, they will also add a special topic to each presentation.

“The one this coming Monday will be talking about national register training and what’s involved with the national register of historic sites. In the future, if there’s enough interest from the region, they would come back and do a whole-day workshop on nominating properties to the national register and what’s involved with that process.”

The last four months of the exhibit tour will cover everything from funding to restoring some history yourself.

“May is Historic Preservation Month so they will talk about historic preservation, not just in West Virginia, but the U.S. and the world,” Rotenizer said. “It can open people’s eyes to what it is and the value it can contribute to things.

“In June, when it’s in Fayette County, they’ll have a windows workshop. The average modern window has a life-span of 10 years. There are workshops where you can learn how to restore the original window and make them last another 100 years.

“People don’t know what to do so the convention is to tear it out and throw a new one in whereas, with a little bit of training, you can maintain the historic one. Houses just look better with the original window in them. The speaker will be showing a PowerPoint that gives a rundown of what’s involved with the process.”

The July and August programs will finish out the tour.

“The one in July in Hinton will be on hazardous materials,” Rotenizer said. “It talks about mold, mildew, asbestos and things like that. They’re subjects that you might encounter in a historic house you’re working in.

“The one in Raleigh County will be in Sophia and it’s about historic preservation funding resources. It answers the question ‘How do you fund historic preservation?’”

Each event is free and food and drinks will be served.

“It’s a great way to get out and meet your neighbors and potential partners in historic preservation while you learn about the area from a different perspective,” Rotenizer said. “In most communities they do not pay enough attention to the history of their area.

“Sometimes you have to jar people a little bit and say, ‘Look what we have here.’ If you’re more in tune with what you have around you, you’ll be more responsible for taking care of it and appreciating what you do have.”

Rotenizer says his ultimate goal would be to get folks in the region really involved with preserving the world around them.

“My personal hope is through all this that we’ll pull people out of the woodwork that may have an interest in historic preservation or may have an interest in getting involved,” he said. “We’ll be able to pull these people together on a regional level so we can do projects, workshops and so forth.

“Historic preservation is about taking the past and making it usable in the present and the future. It needs to be functional. We can’t preserve everything just to put it on a pedestal. It needs to have a use or function in today’s society.”

The first stop on the tour will be Monday at the Summersville Arena and Conference Center in Nicholas County. The exhibit will be on display from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. throughout April.

— E-mail: cneff@register-herald.com