This is Home: Preserving local history with the Wood County Historical Society
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - In 2015, the Wood County Historical Society purchased the Phelps-Tavenner House, one of the oldest buildings in the county, built by Hugh Phelps around 1800.
Since purchasing the house, the Historical Society has done extensive renovations and restorations and installed a research center on the property. The main house is also full of historical curiosities and artifacts.
According to Bob Enoch, the president of the Historical Society, the house has a great deal of historical significance to Wood County. “Hugh Phelps was instrumental in the creation of Wood County,” Enoch said. “The governor of Virginia authorized a group to meet in Hugh Phelps’ house, this is 1799. And that is what they did and that is where they created Wood County, named after Virginia Governor Wood.”
The renovations the Historical Society have done to the house include putting a new roof on it and repainting it. At the same time, they’ve made sure to maintain as much of the original construction as possible.
Enoch said that when they bought the house, they had to undo some renovations the house underwent in the 20th century. “As was common in the 50s and 60s, they put paneling up and little square ceiling tile, and we took that stuff down,” he said. “Tried to make the house look like it would’ve looked when Hugh Phelps built it and the commissioners were here.”
Dotty Bibbee, the Historical Society’s First Vice President, emphasized that they didn’t want the house to feel like a stodgy museum. “You come and you visit, and we want you to feel at home in this home,” Bibbee said. “You can touch things here, we eat here. We want you to feel like you’re in this home, and we try to make it so that it’s a living home, so to speak.”
In addition to maintaining the house itself, the Historical Society has also installed a repository of written Wood County history, including old newspapers, yearbooks, genealogical materials, and government records.
Bob Enoch spoke about some of the other work they’ve done. “Well, throughout the years, we have, there’s several monuments and markers around town that we’ve erected,” he said. “Certainly one of our main goals is try to preserve not just the written history, but buildings. And it’s sometimes tough to do in Parkersburg. We’ve had a couple of victories, and as a matter of fact our historical society was created primarily when they tried to save the city building. Jim Vaughn, who created our historical society, was also instrumental in saving the courthouse.”
Enoch and Bibbee spoke on why the work the historical society does matters.
“If you don’t know your history, you don’t know where you’ve been. You make the same mistakes your forefathers did,” Enoch said. “That’s kind of an old cliché, but it’s right.”
“We want to share the history,” Bibee said. “History’s fun. It’s not something that’s just all facts and dates. You know, history, it’s about people. It’s the people in the past and how they lived and what they did and how it affects us today.”
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