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Swiger Run Historical Research Center is in a race against time

by Mary Beth Stenger

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CENTER POINT -- Every little town, even every hollow in West Virginia, is rich with its own history. Anne Mish, director and founder of Swiger Run Historical Research Center in Doddridge County, is interested in recording these histories before the stories and pictures are lost forever.

"I feel like I am racing against time," said Mish. She knows that the knowledge that the elderly of our communities hold within will likely be gone forever when they pass. You might call it a mission for Mish, this quest to preserve as much of this history as possible.

It all started with a photo of a hotel in Center Point in Doddridge County. The mid-1800s photo was given to Mish by Dale Boyce in 1986. That photo and Mish's desire to learn more about her father's people started Mish on a journey that continues today. "I feel such a passion for these old photographs," said Mish.

She began traveling around to local people copying their photos. As her materials accumulated, she opened a small museum for all the memorabilia. She even came into possession of a wooden leg, which once belonged to someone's great-grandpa. Mish has gathered copies of more than 1,200 photos for her museum along with old clothing, antique dolls and more.

Mish has put together more than a dozen books on the photographs. "My preservation efforts are 80 percent pictorial," said Mish. She has recently begun some audio work as well. Last week, she went to Big Flint to do a video with two women aged 89 and 92. She said she'll go wherever she is wanted.

The state archive office has gotten involved. Mish had Fredrick Armstrong, director of archives and history with the State Department of Education and the Arts, up to the area three times to record pictures. "We come to any area where we are invited," said Armstrong. He and his team will take photos and histories of other's photographs. This actually produces a better print as the archive team uses special filters to remove the yellowing brought on by age, according to Armstrong.

One of Armstrong's trips for Mish was to a one-room schoolhouse in St. Claire in Doddridge County. "The first person to bring in pictures had actually attended the schoolhouse in the '20s and '30s," said Armstrong, "and he had class pictures identifying all the school kids from that era."

Armstrong said the state tries to help groups such as Swiger Run preserve history. "Anne is doing a great job of finding and identifying the area's pictures and making them accessible to the public," Armstrong said

The Swiger Run Center is open to the public on Thursdays and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m., and on Friday evenings beginning at 3 p.m. The center is located on Route 23, just 212 miles from Center Point. You can call Mish at 782-3926 for information. Mish said the center is getting crowded, and her long-term goal is to open a larger Heritage Center.

"What Anne really needs is a good carpenter and a bucket of money," said friend and fellow historian Frances Edgell. Like Mish, Edgell would like to see the artifacts moved into a more spacious environment. Edgell notes that Mish does all this work strictly on a volunteer basis. She said that Mish has great enthusiasm for the work.

A native of the area, Edgell grew up on Sycamore Run and moved just a hollow over to Talkington Run during her adult years. Mish has been helping Edgell with her family history and with the history of Five Points Church.

Five Points Baptist Church no longer holds Sunday services, but it has been a part of the community for nearly two centuries. The original building was a log structure built in the early 1800s. Today's building dates to 1878. Edgell and Mish have been studying the history of the church and its members.

Edgell was presented with a quilt made in 1930 for then-Pastor Roscoe Mace. The quilt lists the names of most of the members of the time. Edgell went to the church in her youth. "When I was just 9 years old, I was secretary/treasurer. No one else wanted to do it," she said. She and her family used to walk the two miles to services every Sunday. They would carry their shoes in a bag until they got to the church.

"We didn't know we were poor. Guess cause nobody ever told us," said Edgell.

Edgell said Mish found a lot of information on the church that Edgell didn't even know existed. Mish was loaned the original church ledger. She discovered some wonderful stories as she delved through the ledger. One member was thrown out of the church for horse racing on a Sunday. And one woman got a strong talking to from the church elders for cussing at her husband. That didn't make much of an impression on the woman, however, as she promptly turned on the elders and gave them a piece of her mind too.

Without Mish, these stories and pictures may have been lost forever. "I am real proud of her," said Edgell. "The whole community is."

People go down to the center and see a picture, and that sparks their interests, said Edgell. Mish "has made people interested in the history."

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