English Historian Visits City

When Sir Neil Cossons, former chairman of English Heritage, spoke at West Virginia Independence Hall in Wheeling Thursday evening, May 9, it marked his second visit to the former U.S. custom house.

Cossons’ tour of the Mountain State last week was facilitated by his friend and colleague, Dr. Emory L. Kemp, founder of the Institute for the History of Technology & Industrial Archaeology at West Virginia University. Kemp was in the audience for the presentation.

The noted English historian said he first visited West Virginia Independence Hall in 1972 with Kemp, who is a member emeritus of the West Virginia Independence Hall Foundation. At that point, restoration of the hall was in its preliminary stages.

Admiring the now-restored National Historic Landmark, Cossons said WVIH has been called “the most important historic building in West Virginia.” He noted that the state’s birthplace has been returned to “its 19th-century glory in time for your 150th anniversary.”

“These are buildings that are built for a purpose,” he said. The hall is an example of a structure that can be “discovered and adapted for a new purpose and can become a vital part of the community again.”

Cossons first visited the United States on a travel fellowship in 1965, when he toured the country by Greyhound bus. “It has been a transformative experience in my interest in industrial history,” he recalled.

“We now live in a global society. It has been industrialized to a great extent,” he said, adding, “Having a vibrant past can be a real pointer to a brilliant future.” He said that techniques have developed “whereby we can grab that heritage and take it forward for future generations.”

While discussing the tin and copper mining industry in England’s Cornwall region, Cossons showed a photograph of a Cornish pasty and a bottle of Cornish Knocker beer.

A pasty is a traditional, hearty meat pie that Cornish miners carry in their lunches. Cossons said it is believed that a Cornish miner, when seeking a potential wife, looks for a woman “with a good crimping thumb.”

“You crimp your pasty with care,” he explained. “A pasty has to be reasonably robust.”

As for the beer, Cossons said the brand is named for the legendary fairies, known as “knockers,” who were thought to inhabit Cornish mines.

After Cossons’ presentation at WVIH, Wheeling resident Jeremy Morris, board president for the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, presented the British visitor with a special gift – a hand-blown glass piece created by West Virginia artisan Ron Hinkle – from the Preservation Alliance. (For more information on Cossons’ visit, see the article and photograph featured on Page D5 of today’s Life section.)

A large crowd gathered in downtown Wheeling Monday, May 6, for a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house at West Virginia Northern Community College’s new Applied Technology Center, located on the northwest corner of Market and 16th streets.

After the ceremony, Northern President Martin Olshinsky drew laughter when he collected the many pairs of scissors from the participants. “I need your scissors. We’re on a budget,” he quipped.

Meanwhile, visitors found the new interior of the facility (the former Straub Honda showroom) to be as impressive and attractive as the exterior of the renovated building. Project architect Vic Greco drew well-deserved praise for his innovative design and careful attention to detail, both to the center’s utility as a learning site and to the building’s footprint complementing the historic structures in the neighborhood.

Among the architectural features, guests admired the beautiful, original tin ceiling on the second floor. Officials noted that the ceiling dated to the time when the building housed a theater.

Linda Comins can be reached via email at: lcomins@theintelligencer.net