Preserving Pocahontas -Part 1
We recently spoke with BJ Gudmundsson, the County Historic Preservation Officer of Preserving Pocahontas to learn more about this non-profit historical organization. I asked her about the history of the organization which has been around since the early 2000’s. BJ.
“It started out of the Pocahontas County genealogy group, which had formed to help people locating their ancestors” BJ said. “They brought in some partners- Historical Society and other people and then decided it might be a good idea to have a Historic Preservation Officer who digitized historic records because a lot of our history is hidden in attics and closets and in the pages of the family Bible, and it would be a good resource for genealogists if we had all those records digitized. And that’s kind of how this got started.”
BJ explained that the effort began as an informal ad hoc group, but as time evolved the original Preservation Officer left and BJ took over that job. The group decided they needed to be more formally organized so they became an IRS recognized non-profit organization –Preserving Pocahontas. BJ describes the mission and purposes of the organization.
“Basically it’s to locate and identify historic records, which includes paper records, documents, photographs, video, audio –anything that is of historical record.” BJ said. “And to digitize it –make a permanent record of it, and then to make it available to the public via the Internet and other ways free of charge. In addition to that, we work with other groups in the County and help them with organization building and community building through the work that they do. Specifically Historic Society, all of the historic sites, Landmarks Commission, people like the Huntersville Traditions Days and all of these groups. So we do a lot (laugh).”
Preserving Pocahontas is currently working on a number of projects. One of these is the World War 2 project, which BJ explains.
“During World War 2, when the enlistees would sign up or be drafted to go into the war, they had to do it through the Selective Service up at the Courthouse” said BJ. “And when they were ready leave to go to their recruitment center, they’d line them all up in front of the Courthouse and Cal Gay or Harvey Bright would go up there and take a picture of them. We started realizing that we had a number of photographs of World War 2 guys in front of the Courthouse and none of them had any names attached to the faces. And I thought, wouldn’t it be a nice Idea if we gathered up what pictures we have, let people know what we are doing, figure out a way to set it up as an exhibit so people could come, they could look at them and maybe identify these people, and if they had other pictures, it would give them a way to share those photographs.”
So, how did this project work out? BJ answers that.
“We started out with, I think we had three photographs at the Historical Society, Harvey Bright’s family had a collection of about 10, so we started out with about 12-13 photographs” BJ explained. “I put together an exhibit and we started it out over in Sharps Country Store in Slaty Fork. Well, we’re now at the end of year three. We started out with nobody identified. We now have about 160 identified. We have 27 photographs that people have either sent in, they’ve emailed them, and they’ve brought them in themselves. And this exhibit has moved around the county, to Veterans events, events at the Oprah House and Pioneer Days and Huntersville and all of these places. So it’s one of those projects that’s taken on a life of its own now. And it just continues to live and we’ll keep this project going as long as we can. Pretty soon they’ll start put these pictures up on the Internet and give people a way to get on and identify them. That’s one big project going on right now.”
And there are other things happening at Preserving Pocahontas that we will talk about in Part 2 of this story. We will learn about what some of the historical papers found in the Pearl Carter Ward house on Route 39 are revealing about the County’s history. And how one very old photograph of a young woman with two children found in that house and placed on the Internet by Preserving Pocahontas has reconnected a man living in Maryland with his ancestral family history here in Pocahontas County.