By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Reading and studying History – particularly West Virginia History – one may perhaps find a few chapters giving you a glimpse of what it was like during 19th century frontier days as settlers began to move and inhabit West(ern) Virginia. While reading about it may give you the information, there is nothing like walking into such a settlement and experiencing that time period for yourself. It is available to you right here in Harrison County at Fort New Salem, where the trades, lifestyles and structures of that era can be visited. The learning experience becomes more of a ‘living’ reality!
Preserving that cultural history is what the Fort New Salem Foundation, Inc. had in mind when it took over ownership of the Fort nearly a decade ago. The non-profit organization is dedicated to maintaining the Fort’s structures and enhancing programs offered there.
Foundation Chairman, Dr. Joseph Audia, explained, “The Fort has been in existence for about 42 years now, and the structures within the Fort are all authentic buildings that have been moved in from throughout the state of West Virginia. This concept began in the late 1960’s and the Fort served as an outdoor classroom for the History Department at what was then Salem College.”
As with any project such as this, the upkeep of all of these structures is an ongoing mission and a costly one. The Foundation board had already recognized that this spring, they would need to close the campus woodshop that had become ‘in poor condition’ … and they also understood that in the near future, updating restrooms would need to be addressed as well as looking more closely at repairs to both the Blockhouse and the Green Tree Tavern.
Sometimes, however, good fortune blesses what appears to be a bleak situation!
Dr. Audia noted that the 2014 season concluded with a very successful Spirit of Christmas in the Mountains program. Fort New Salem also received statewide attention with a DNR television program filmed at the Fort, and they were selected for a Wonderful West Virginia magazine feature article.
“I remember a board member once said that if we looked up into the heavens, doors would open and donations would come our way,” Dr. Audia continued. “And that is just what happened! Our board had begun preparing for a capital campaign to replace the wood shop, and within just a week, things changed that may reshape Fort New Salem.”
Significant donations were unexpectedly received from Dominion Foundation, Pratt & Whitney, and from private individuals. Board members at the same time were saddened by the loss of a longtime volunteer and strong supporter of the Fort – David Johnson – but they were notified that he had generously bequeathed the Fort a donation in his will.
The Board decided to seek when possible matching grant opportunities so they could maximize these monetary donations to the utmost.
Another piece of good news came when Dr. and Mrs. Bradley Franz approached them about donating a log structure on their property to the Fort. The two-story structure with a full attic, known as Reynolds House, is from the early 1800s and has been examined by a contractor who deemed it a “fine specimen of a cabin”.
Dr. Audia said this was wonderful news! “The structure is being disassembled now, which will entail about a month’s time. Reconstruction will take a while, and in the meantime, it will be stored in a manner that will keep it weather protected until its construction begins on site,” he noted. “Of course all of this will be contingent on weather restraints, but our builder says the reconstruction can be done in six months, so a reasonable timeline would be that it could be ready for opening season next spring in April.”
The Fort New Salem Foundation is reaching out to the public and to Fort supporters, asking for financial assistance for a new “Reshape The Fort’s Future” capital campaign. These funds will allow for necessary restoration projects to be done, and ultimately, they hope to offer even more programs and perhaps additional instructional classes at The Fort.
“Our contractor has offered us a substantial discount to do the rehabilitation and restoration projects that are needed if they are done at one time,” Dr. Audia concluded. “With the donations we have received, what we have been bequeathed from Mr. Johnson’s estate, our hope for possible matching grants, and our capital campaign, the Fort really does have the opportunity to have its future reshaped!”
To make a contribution, contact the Fort New Salem Foundation, Inc. at 304-695-2220 or visit www.fortnewsalem foundation.org. Participate in this effort to ‘reshape’ Fort New Salem so that it can continue to be a living history museum!