NEW CUMBERLAND - Jackson Wilson is convinced that one of the greatest windows into a community's history is its cemeteries.
The gravestones, the markings, the people remembered there, all make Hancock County's public cemeteries worth preserving and maintaining, Wilson told county commissioners Thursday.
Wilson, 20, of Chester, wants to offer his services to the county free of charge to clean and, in some cases, restore gravestones in public cemeteries such as Flats Cemetery, Union Cemetery and Methodist Cemetery, all in New Manchester.
Flats Cemetery, he said, is the worst.
"It just needs a lot of tender loving care - a lot of damaged tombstones and tombstones that could use a good cleaning. There's a lot of unmarked graves. It's just a mess."
Wilson, a 2011 graduate of Oak Glen High School, started getting interested in Hancock County history five or six years ago while investigating his own family genealogy. Involvement with paranormal investigations took him into area cemeteries, which was an education in more ways than one.
"Seeing the disrepair, I was just motivated to do something about that," Wilson said.
Wilson took his cause to commissioners this week in the hopes of getting their permission to do the work. Commissioners said they'll get back to him after seeing a written proposal and consulting with Assistant Prosecutor William Fahey on the legal issues.
"Your ideas are great," Commissioner Jeff Davis said.
County commissioners maintain several cemeteries in Hancock County, including Flats, Union, Methodist and Three Springs Cemetery in Weirton.
Wilson said his work would involve cleaning gravestones, resetting fallen, leaning or sunken gravestones, and repairing broken ones. Cleaning would require, depending on the stone's condition, a soft-bristle nylon brush, water, a mild detergent such as Dawn, or an ammonia-water solution, he said.
"I would just start with one stone at a time. I'd evaluate each one and evaluate what needs to be done with it," he said.
Wilson, a history student at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va., said he has received training in preservation techniques from Dr. Keith Alexander, coordinator of the school's Historic Preservation Program. Last year, Alexander took his students to a nearby Lutheran cemetery to restore historic gravestones that had toppled over, sunk into the ground or begun to crumble.
Wilson also is founder of the "Memories of Hancock County & Brooke County, West Virginia" Facebook page, which has 478 members.
In other business this week, commissioners:
Approved an agreement with Sky Construction Inc., of Fairmont, for the construction of 14 new outdoor kennels at the Hancock County Animal Shelter, 715 Gas Valley Road.
The current kennels are at the bottom of a slope and get muddy easily, said Ruthanne Danford, treasurer of the Hancock County Animal Shelter Foundation. The new kennels will be halfway covered, she said.
Cost of the project is $195,000, none of which is coming from the animal shelter levy or the county commissioners, Danford said.
"The foundation is funding the whole project," she said.
Commissioners had to approve the project because they own the building, Commissioner Dan Greathouse said.
Approved a request from Circuit Court Clerk Brenda Jackson to purchase a 55-inch TV for use in video conference calls and trial procedures. Cost is $850.
Approved an architectural services agreement with LBRA Architecture, of Weirton, to provide plans and engineering services for a new secured entrance to the Hancock County Courthouse.
Approved a request from Sheriff Ralph Fletcher to purchase computer systems and a four-channel DVR to replace outdated equipment. Cost is not to exceed $6,600.
Approved a grant agreement with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services. The $150,000 grant is for juvenile mediation services for 2013-2014.
Agreed to re-advertise an open position for the Hancock County Parks and Recreation board following the April resignation of board member Cathy Colabrese. Applicants must be from the Butler District.
Approved the hiring of Teddy Adkins as a summer employee.
Approved the delinquent tax list for the 2012 tax year.
Learned that longtime Hancock County Clerk Eleanor Straight is retiring at the end of August. Thomas Zielinsky, executive director of the county's Office of Technology and Communications, is retiring at the end of the month.
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