Civil War trail markers

Jason Shaffer, who is in charge of installation and maintenance for Civil War Trails, Inc., does some leveling work on Tuesday on a replacement Civil War Trails sign that was installed at a new location a short distance from the old sign, which was adjacent to the Disability Action Center in Fairmont.

FAIRMONT — Jason Shaffer used a post-hole digger Wednesday as he prepared a new location for the marker of one of the six Civil War Trails, Inc. sites in Fairmont.

Located adjacent to the Disability Action Center, the marker was completely replaced with new materials and moved to a better location a short distance away.

"We're going to move this one to a safer location still facing the same way, still reading the same, so everybody understands what's going on," said Shaffer, who is in charge of installation and maintenance for Civil War Trails.

The marker was getting a new pedestal, as well as a sign, because it had been damaged. Shaffer believed it had been struck by vehicles previously.

The sign on the marker tells the history of the "attack" on Fairmont.

"You are standing at the northern end of the Beverly and Fairmont Turnpike," the sign reads. "Coming from Morgantown early on the morning of April 29, 1863, Confederate cavalry under the command of Gen. William E. "Grumble" Jones attacked Fairmont."

Although other markers in town weren't getting as much work, they were nonetheless being refreshed. In addition to markers telling of the attack on Fairmont, there are also ones about "The Battle for the Bridge," the "Graves of the Pierponts," the "Francis H. Pierpont Home," and the "A. Brooks Fleming House."

"All the rest of them in town will be repainted and have a new graphic put in them, so they'll look like they're brand new," Shaffer said. He said all old materials are begin recycled.

According to a news release from the organization, Civil War Trails is the "World’s Largest Open Air Museum" offering over 1,650 sites across five states. It notes that "145 Civil War Trail sites throughout West Virginia continue to be incredibly popular as the program experiences its largest and most dynamic audience to-date."

Locally, each site is supported by the Marion County Convention & Visitors Bureau or the city, which allow the Civil War Trails team to maintain and update the sign network as well as market the sites internationally through a variety of efforts, the news release states.

While the signs themselves are educational, the goal of the Civil War Trails program is to drive tourism, according to Civil War Trails. Alex Petry, program manager of economic development for the City of Fairmont, commented on this aspect of the program.

"Civil War Trails are great for tourism in Fairmont, especially history buffs," he said. "They're getting a brand new refresh today. We're moving one of the signs. It's exciting stuff."

In the Civil Wars Trails news release, Leisha Elliott, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Marion County, stated, ”History has always been important, but history travel is more important than ever.”

"This is a living and breathing program," said Drew Gruber, executive director of Civil War Trails, Inc., in the news release, which notes the signs are "specifically designed to be easy to maintain and allows content to be updated."

"This is essential as new historic photos and diaries are found but also as amenities and visitor expectations change," it states. "Each time a sign is updated it encourages repeat visitation by the dedicated Civil War traveler but also allows the program to become more relevant to their new, diverse audience."

    Since the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Civil War Trails Inc., and its partners have recorded several interesting statistics about history travelers, according to the organization.

"Their audience is growing, that audience is getting younger and they have very specific spending habits," the news release states. "They are attracted to ‘authentic’ experiences which cannot be downloaded or consumed elsewhere."

"They (visitors) want to go to a site and visualize for themselves the fighting, the passion, the victories, and defeats," Elliott stated in the news release. "Having signs that people can see and read is paramount."

According to Civil War Trails, "this younger traveler is also interested in B&Bs, hikes, farm-to-table restaurants, art and, of course, local beer. Just like Civil War Trails sites, these other amenities are resources you must seek out."

“These sites cannot be downloaded or consumed elsewhere,” Gruber stated in the news release. “You get a chance to stand in their footsteps and wonder what you might have done in that time and place.”

The news release notes that a survey by the National Trust for Historic Preservation showed that 71 percent of millennials were interested in visiting historic sites during their vacation and that 80 percent preferred to patronize businesses that supported historic preservation.

Besides an expanding audience, the program’s footprint is growing as well, according to the news release. It states that Civil War Trails is working with stakeholders in Pennsylvania to officially expand into a sixth state, and that even as it grows into new territory, it is continually solicited to add more signs in regions where it already has a footprint.

 “We are often asked to add new signs to tell the incredible stories of the Underground Railroad, or the enlistment of local African-Americans into the Union army,” Gruber stated in the news release.

According to the news release, a new GPS based webpage for visitors will launch the first week of September.

It states that this will help supplement the West Virginia Civil War Trails paper map which will be reprinted in the coming months. On Oct. 30, the Civil War Trails team will host its first partnership meeting in Charleston to bring their travel partners up to speed on these latest travel and tourism trends, it notes.

Eric Hrin can be reached at 304-367-2549, or ehrin@timeswv.com.