PARKERSBURG - The Wood County Historical and Preservation Society's continuing mission is to preserve the past for the future.
Bob Enoch, president of the society, said he enjoys getting involved in the community and making a difference.
"Our mission has remained basically the same over the years; the preservation of artifacts, written materials, buildings, anything to do with Wood County and West Virginia's heritage. The society really grew out of the movement to save the courthouse and the city building during the urban renewal period," Enoch said. "Jim Vaughn and others were instrumental in that movement and in getting the society started."
The historical society board of directors are, front, from left, the late Ed McHenry, secretary; Gerry Kohler, first vice president; Bill Kohler, treasurer; back row, Bob Enoch, president; Joe Johnson, director; Paul Huffman, director; Carla Allen, Director and Jeff Little, second vice president. (Photo provided)
There is a $15 a year dues, but monthly meetings and programs are open to all. The society meets on the last Monday of the month in the Summers Auditorium at the Parkersburg and Wood County Library.
The meetings often feature speakers and presentations. Membership includes a newsletter containing history and local stories. The group has more than 200 members from around the U.S.
Gerry Kohler, first vice president of the society, coordinates meeting programs.
"For example, we had some vintage film Dr. Howard Blackburn had taken in the 1930s-1940s showing the trolley cars and we had some former trolley car operators. It brought back a lot of fond memories for many in the community," Kohler said.
Living history presenters have included Deborah Conner, as Margaret Mitchell; Patty Cooper, who does a number of historical figures, and Kohler has portrayed Mother Jones and Mary Chesnug, who kept a journal during the Civil War.
"Mary Chesnug was friends with President Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Her husband was the first senator to resign, before Fort Sumter, and he played a major role in the Confederacy. She recorded the everyday lives of the famous people around her in her journals and provided a first-hand account of the Civil War, from the southern viewpoint," Kohler said.
The society has members from all walks of life who became involved with the group for a variety of reasons. A retiree from DuPont, Enoch said he got involved while doing some personal historical research.
"I've been blessed with good health, an understanding wife and the time and energy to do this," Enoch said.
Bruce McCoy and his wife Barbara, who live in the Washington area got involved with the society about nine years ago.
"The society is involved with preservation around the area so we won't lose the history our forefathers before us left. They have wonderful programs monthly. We joined at the first meeting we attended. We were hooked and we've been there ever since. I've been on the executive board for three years," Bruce McCoy said.
Donna Briggs of Parkersburg, who is retired from a job at the Williamstown Welcome Center, said she used to get a lot of history questions at the center so she came to a society meeting to learn more about the area since she wasn't originally from here.
That was about five years ago.
"I've learned so much about the area. Bob (Enoch) is a great leader. He never thinks of himself. He's always out there working for others. He's really made the historical society what it is. Being involved has really opened my eyes to all the wonderful things the area has to offer, and it's fun. We have boat rides in the fall, a picnic in the spring and the newsletter is phenomenal, loaded with good information," she said.
She now volunteers at the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau where she often finds her knowledge of use in helping tourists.
Some of the many projects the society has been involved with include monuments and plaques of historical significance as well as preservation and maintenance efforts at the Tavenner, Dils and Holliday cemeteries.
The original Phelps markers, which were cracked in several pieces, were found, and in 2009 Enoch discovered the marker that covered Neal's grave, called a ledger. It has since been moved to the Blennerhassett Museum for permanent display.
The society sponsored a dedication ceremony at the historic Tavenner Cemetery on Camden Avenue for the dedication of a new grave stone for Capt. James Neal. The stone marks the original site of Neal's burial. In 1916, his body was moved to Mount Olivet Cemetery. A Revolutionary War soldier, Neal surveyed the land that would become the city of Parkersburg.
"Over the years, we placed several monuments and markers. One of the biggest projects was Fort Boreman Park. It was the society that really initiated that. It started when Brian Kesterson and Terry McVey issued a challenge, and the society picked up on that. The county commission gave us some money and we started working there in 1999 and then it was turned over the the county as a permanent reminder of the Bicentennial," Enoch said.
The Rural Cemetery Alliance was created by the society. "The term gone but not forgotten is unfortunately not true in many cases. There are many buried in these neglected rural plots who have been forgotten, but they all played some role and we need to do something to keep their memories alive," Enoch said.
"For 20 years we've been taking care of the Holliday Cemetery. For the last 5-6 years, Tavenner Cemetery and for about nine years, the Dils Cemetery," Enoch said, adding the society also set up a perpetual maintenance fund at the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation for those cemeteries.
Recently members of the society compiled a listing of all those, where records could be located, who are buried at the county pauper's cemetery located near West Virginia University, and those records are now available to the public. The society is currently raising funds for a monument for that cemetery.
"We have videotaped a number of area structures, like Parkersburg Steel, the Johns Manville plant and Blizzard Mansion for posterity before they were torn down," Enoch said.
Enoch and other members can sometimes be found at excavation sites to see if anything historic is uncovered.
"The street department probably gets tired of seeing me, but anytime I see them digging, I just go check," Enoch said.
Enoch is also often contacted by genealogists seeking their ancestors.
"Genealogy is very popular today and we get a lot of calls referred to us. We get to meet some very interesting people, some of them come to the area, some we never meet in person. A woman from Washington state contacted us last fall about an ancestor's stone, and Jeff and Christy Little found it at Tracewell. Last month she came here and we were able to show her the stone. She was just elated," Enoch said.
Those wishing to contribute to the pauper cemetery monument fundraising project or get additional information about the society can contact Enoch at 304-483-9863.
The group's website is temporarily down but should be back online by fall.