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Newly formed Glenwood Center to promote scholarship in the humanities associated with history of Charleston and region
The center is based at Glenwood, the pre-Civil War mansion on Charleston's West Side that was home to several of the Kanawha Valley's pioneer families, including the Quarriers, Summers and Laidleys. Before her death in 1983, the last occupant of the house, Lucy Quarrier, passed it on to the then West Virginia College of Graduate Studies (COGS) Foundation.
Under the auspices of the COGS Foundation the exquisitely preserved estate hosted numerous cultural and educational events before it was turned over to the Historic Glenwood Foundation, which now owns and manages it. Through the years, a series of seminars and symposiums, as well as classes, have taken place there, mainly under the auspices of Marshall's Graduate Humanities program. One class built an elaborate traveling exhibit, Window to the West Side, which has been taken to schools, libraries and other educational and cultural venues and is still being circulated.
In the short term, the newly formed center will work toward hosting regular speaker series, classes and workshops in conjunction with academic programming in Marshall's Graduate Humanities program and West Virginia State's History program, according to Dr. Luke Eric Lassiter, center co-director, and director of MU's Graduate Humanities program.
Long-term plans call for supporting humanities-based research through the two universities, hosting visiting scholars, involving students in archival work and other preservation projects at Glenwood, and advancing collaborative grant and fund development, Lassiter said.
"We've been doing partnerships involving Marshall, West Virginia State University and the Historic Glenwood Foundation for some time and we decided to make it official," Lassiter said. "We wanted to bring the resources together to undertake more ventures and to do more community-based projects. Our goal is to continue to have classes held at the estate, to host scholars who will work with the archives or various projects that will involve the region and state, and to promote both research and teaching."
"We're providing the location and the historic background for all this to occur," said Kemp Winfree, vice president and operating officer of the Historic Glenwood Foundation. "The documents that will be a part of this are all a part of the Glenwood Foundation, all 30,000 of them. There are 30,000 sheets of paper that the families saved, which contain everything from wills, to bills of sale, to correspondence of all types."
Students in previous classes held at Glenwood have uncovered a treasure trove of relics in its archives, Lassiter said and archival work will continue in future classes. The biggest find to date was two perfectly preserved Abraham Lincoln presidential campaign posters, which a WVSU student doing an internship discovered in a large ledger book.
"Faculty and students have come across a lot of unknown items in the house and archives and there will be more uncovered as our research continues," Lassiter said. "Another item of interest was a set of old film that had not been viewed for many years. We recently had a presentation as a result of a Graduate Humanities History of Charleston seminar, taught by Dr. Billy Joe Peyton, where the students could show off their finds and the film was included."
Fortunately the families that lived in the house had a keen sense of their place in local history and preserved prodigious amounts of documents including letters and journals, according to Peyton, associate faculty in the Graduate Humanities program. a faculty member in the history program at West Virginia State University and center co-director.
"They had a very good sense of history and were very conscious of their places in it. These documents have allowed us to get a glimpse into their daily lives. It was Miss Lucy Quarrier's foresight that allowed the materials to remain on the estate," Peyton said.
"The property and the house from the very first day it was constructed have been home to leaders of West Virginia and the availability of these items will give new insight into how things happened and why they happened," Winfree said. "The foundation is grateful for the two universities for suggesting that we partner together because without them, we wouldn't be able to take full advantage of the material that was saved for over 100 years. The two universities are the ones that will help interpret all these documents and how they fit together in the history of West Virginia. We're just happy to be a part of it and look forward to the future with the two schools."
Students in Peyton's Marshall humanities seminars and WVSU classes at Glenwood have been poring over a cache of hundreds of archival documents located in the quarters building, a smaller adjacent house that was once used as servant quarters and a summer kitchen. They've been transcribing letters, some dating to the 1850s, as well as journals that range from the 1850s to the 1920s. And through the letters of Lewis Summers, the students have been able to follow an intriguing 19th-century love story as it unfolded.
Lewis Summers was the only surviving child of George and Amacetta Summers, who moved into Glenwood in 1857, and he was something of a Romeo, according to Peyton. "He had girlfriends and when he met his future wife, Lucy, who lived in Marietta; they courted by post. Through their correspondence we have almost a complete record of their courtship and their early years of marriage." Lewis, who lived between 1843 and 1928 and spent most of his life at Glenwood, also kept journals and Peyton said there are hundreds of documents yet to be gone through that date into the 1920s.
"Future classes will help us use the materials and help us interpret Glenwood and preserve the legacy of the house and the families that lived there as well as the larger history of our area," Peyton said. "George Summers was a lawyer and judge, as well as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and was a staunch advocate of the Union so the entire history of West Virginia is contained in that house. We hope to provide a service not only for the area but for the state, and of course, our institutions."
Administrative offices will be located on the estate. The center's website is hosted by Marshall University at www.marshall.edu/glenwoodcenter.