According to Raleigh County Historical Society president and Ward One councilman Tom Sopher, 2019 proved highly successful for the society in review.

“I think the historical marker program would have to head the list of accomplishments,” Sopher observed. “The fact we got three markers installed — Glade Creek Reservoir, State Police Barracks/Radio Station and Shady Spring — is impressive all by itself. But we used those markers to push some of our other objectives, too.”

Sopher explained the dedication of the State Police Barracks/Radio Station marker allowed RCHS to participate directly in the statewide agency centennial celebration.

“We expanded our participation when society member Merle Cole, a recognized authority on early State Police history, published a series of related articles in Goldenseal magazine and gave a talk at the county library about ‘early days’ operations in Raleigh County.”

The Shady Spring marker was funded by a Shady Spring High School student team.

“Not only did the community receive formal historical recognition, we involved young people in the project and reached out into the county. Glade Creek Reservoir marker was another example of broadening the society’s focus,” Sopher said.

That marker was funded by a Beckley Area Foundation Community Grant.

RCHS continued to work very effectively in 2019 with West Virginia Archives and History, which runs the state marker program from the Culture Center in Charleston. The agency approved installation of a marker for Army Camp Prince and is currently reviewing a proposal to commemorate the Crow Ridge tunnel — a key component of the county’s first railroad, the Glade Creek and Raleigh.

In 2019, RCHS expanded its partnerships by proposing and documenting several new marker projects for funding by the National Coal Heritage Area Authority. NCHAA, headquartered in Oak Hill, is a state economic development agency with a specific mission to commemorate the history of the coal mining industry, associated industries such as railroads, and mining communities. Projects being jointly pursued are Casa Loma-Union Square in Beckley and Jenny’s Gap Tunnel west of Lester. The society also supported Beckley Parks and Recreation by doing background research for NCHAA signage at Black Knight Country Club and the dinky locomotive on display at the Exhibition Mine.

An important aspect of the marker program is most projects are funded from external sources, such as BAF grants and individual donations earmarked for program expenses. This does not apply to the latest marker sourcing initiative — the William G. Pomeroy Foundation. Under foundation rules, projects must be evaluated by the West Virginia Folklife Council before foundation managers decide on support. If approved, the foundation issues a grant check covering the cost of marker fabrication and shipping. The RCHS initiative involves signage under the “Legends & Lore” category for the Ferguson Rock and the 1890 Martin execution site.

For years, RCHS and BP&R have jointly provided historical entertainment through West Virginia Humanities Council’s period re-enactors. The society initiated an independent educational event through the O’Brien Constitutional Rights and Responsibilities Lectures. Retired Concord University professor emeritus Dr. William “Bill” O’Brien presented a four-part lecture series jointly funded by BAF, RCHS and the Erma Byrd Center consortium. The lectures were well attended and generated considerable interest. O’Brien pointed out the many contributions of John Beckley as an early American political leader.

RCHS again partnered with BP&R for the annual Founder’s Day celebration and the Christmas event at Wildwood, Gen. Alfred Beckley’s home. Wildwood also provided the venue for “Luncheon on the Green,” a social bonding opportunity for RCHS; the Captain James Allan Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution; and John Beckley Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution. As Sopher noted, “We have a natural community of interest with the historians in those patriotic organizations.” Wildwood’s mysteries themselves were probed thanks to a ground penetrating radar scan of the grounds, jointly performed by the West Virginia Archeological Society and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The society’s unique Cartography Club continued to present quality programs, with well-qualified presenters. Sopher emphasized “the scope of topics we covered, ranging from early railroad development through an Army Corps of Engineers discussion about implications of a Bluestone Dam failure, to field trips to Little Beaver State Park for a drone videography demo and to the County Assessor’s mapping section.” Next year’s schedule will be highlighted by a reprise of the Cartography Club’s highly popular tour of the State Archives collections at the Culture Center.

The Raleigh County Historical Society welcomes new members and invites the public to attend its presentations. To learn more, contact Sopher at 304-222-9445, or by e-mail at best4cheap@yahoo.com; or Becky Leach, RCHS secretary, at 304-673-4771 or e-mail, bkylch@aol.com.

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