History — whether that of the world, nation, state or region — is real and powerful. However, to educate and inspire us, it needs dedicated people to bring it to life for us.
Perhaps we can remember a particularly gifted social studies teacher or college history professor who made connections for us, whether commenting on a passage in a compelling text or bringing an artifact from a certain period to class.
Some of the best history lessons come from outside the formal school setting, in a museum or a state or national historical site. West Virginia has many such sites, and the Cool Springs Farm, adjacent to famed early settler Morgan Morgan’s cabin in Berkeley County, is one of them.
A group of volunteers, led by local resident Matt Howard, has been delicately excavating a site at Cool Springs. This site was a farm developed over 200 years ago by Morgan Morgan’s nearly equally famous son, Revolutionary War hero Col. Zackquill Morgan.
The younger Morgan was known for raising his own regiment to help the Americans win at the important Battle of Saratoga, in New York. He went on to become the founder of Morgantown, with no less than Gen. George Washington helping him to lay out the town.
As a result of Col. Morgan’s contributions to his country and region, the volunteers have a natural interest in his days at Cool Springs Farm, and believe others will, too, after their archaeological dig is complete.
Just one problem: The Berkeley County Historical Preservation Review Commission has issues with the dig, resulting in quite a back-and-forth between them and the volunteers.
One issue is the need for such projects to have a professional archaeologist on hand to supervise.
Sounds reasonable, but as volunteer leader Matt Howard points out, the state and county don’t seem to have such staffers in their budgets, or at least not one available to assist with the Cool Springs Farm project.
A turf issue has arisen. Howard says the owner of Cool Springs Farm, who still has a life estate in the property, wants the dig to proceed. Howard further claims that the part of the farm they are excavating is not part of the property already designated as a historical site.
Game, set and match to Howard and crew, right? But wait one minute, says the Berkeley County Landmarks Commission, pointing to another section of State Code. It says all artifacts dug up belong to the state of West Virginia.
If neither the Berkeley County Landmarks Committee nor the state has professional staff to supervise such projects, perhaps they could hire a consultant or two to make sure such digs are done properly.
That seems far more constructive than the approach the Landmarks Committee has taken lately, namely to issue two cease-and-desist orders, eventually threatening potential penalties and jail time after they were ignored.
Howard is not a professional archaeologist, but he sounds like a man leading a group of dedicated people with a deep love of history who want to do such activities with great care.
Moreover, Howard’s group has been transparent throughout their efforts at Cool Springs, inviting members of the Berkeley County Landmarks Commission to view their work.
They also have pledged to put any discovered artifacts into government hands for the benefit of the public.
The people of West Virginia deserve to know their state’s history. If volunteers are willing to be trained and to put in the long hours necessary, under proper supervision, the state and county governments should not quench their enthusiasm.
They should harness it.