West Virginia Calling Me Home

The following is part of a Vandaleer series from partner Preservation Alliance of West Virginia.  The series focuses on young adults in West Virginia.

As a native of Jefferson County, West Virginia, the idea of coming back to my home state and county brought a sense of service and excitement at the very thought. Having spent the previous three and half years working for the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, a great organization, I felt as though I needed to redirect my career trajectory. I was aware of AmeriCorps prior to applying for my current service position, but I was not aware that there were opportunities to serve in the capacity of historic preservation. Once I found that I could serve in Jefferson County with an amazing group, the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission, I was all in.

Rob Aticheson

Throughout my life, West Virginia has called me back home for various reasons. After graduating from High Point University, I wandered somewhat aimlessly doing odd jobs and unsure of my career path. I knew I couldn’t just work a normal job. It had to be something I cared about it. The thing I care about the most, outside of my family, friends and my dog, is history. Realizing this, I soon opted to pursue a Master’s degree in history. I found an excellent program through American Military University to do this, and moved back to Charles Town, West Virginia to find a job that would support my educational objective. Two years later, and a couple of months after completing my graduate degree, I found employment with the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation. I would spend almost the next four years working to preserve the Shenandoah Valley’s hallowed Civil War battlefields. A cause that has become near and dear to my heart.

In the fall of 2015, although content in my work, I felt like my career might be getting pigeon holed into one set path. On top of that, I knew that the window might soon close on other opportunities within the field of historic preservation and field history that I knew I wanted to pursue. I just wasn’t sure I had done everything I hoped I could do. So I decided to take some time to myself, spending hours up on the Massanutten Mountain in Shenandoah County, Virginia. I was actually sitting at the base of a tree, squirrel hunting, when I found the announcement for the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program’s AmeriCorps member opening in Jefferson County. I knew I had found the answer to my questions. I would commit to a year of service in my native county, preserving the historic resources that helped to define the passion for history that influenced my chosen career path today.

After interviewing with Danielle Parker, Executive Director of the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia and Martin Burke, Chairman of the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission, I was offered to the opportunity to serve. I was elated. I was going back to my roots, to serve a cause that I truly believed in.

Summit Point Battlefield Tour

Since beginning my service with the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission (JCHLC), I have been extremely fortunate to undertake many interesting and compelling projects.   Battlefield preservation continues to be a focal point for me, now centered on the five federally designated Civil War battlefields in Jefferson County. Specifically, I have been able to take part in projects to protect land at the Shepherdstown Battlefield and Summit Point Battlefield. Additionally, I have led volunteer projects to clean up and protect the historic ruins of the Cement Mill at Shepherdstown. I have also been able to gain hands on project work at the historic Peter Burr Farm, an extremely well preserved 18th Century farmstead that JCHLC stewards and undertaken the restoration of an 18th Century family cemetery near Kearneysville, West Virginia.

Another compelling aspect of my service with JCHLC has been to develop interpretive and heritage tourism materials for the various historic sites in Jefferson County. I designed and installed interpretive markers at the Peter Burr Farm to enhance visitor services and am closing in on completing two driving tours of the county, featuring the 1862 and 1864 campaigns in Jefferson. Another interesting fascet of my service has been to plan, promote and facilitate public events, aimed at supporting historic sites and their preservation. Most recently, I led a tour of the Summit Point Battlefield for the engagement’s 152nd anniversary which had a great turnout. And on October 27th we will host a workshop for realtors on historic preservation and marketing historic homes, we have already had nearly 40 people register to attend!

While I can only mention so many of the projects I have been fortunate enough be involved with during my time with JCHLC, I cannot understate the great work they do. Between documentation, education, preservation and heritage tourism projects, JCHLC has been and continues to be a wonderful preservation advocate and partner in Jefferson County, West Virginia. It has truly been a pleasure serving with JCHLC and I look forward to the remainder of my service year!

Publisher’s Note 

A statewide service initiative, the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program places service members at historic non-profit sites or local government agencies for a one-year period where they complete specific projects aimed at improving historic resources and managing volunteers for special events.  The end goal of these projects is community revitalization, with a focus on long-term historic preservation and increased use of historic properties and museum collections.