KEYSER, W.Va. — The unveiling of a new sign on campus at WVU Potomac State College may prove to be a boon for both history buffs and tourism in Mineral County.
Tourism Director Ashley Centofonti said she is hopeful about the prospects presented by the county’s participation in the Civil War Trails program, a nonprofit that helps communities showcase historical sites connected to the war.
Centofonti, a Romney native, said she’s familiar with the signs from her time growing up in Hampshire County. According to the group’s online map, there are multiple Civil War Trails signs along U.S. Route 50 in Romney, as well as in nearby Scherr, Moorefield, Old Fields and Baker. There are also multiple signs in Allegany County.
A ribbon-cutting was held Monday afternoon for the sign at Potomac State, the former site of Fort Fuller, a Union stronghold during the Civil War. The newly-debuted sign, which sits near the campus library, is the first Civil War Trails sign in Mineral County.
When Centofonti began in her role as tourism director two years ago, she said, participation in the Civil War Trails program was one of the most common suggestions she heard during conversations with community members about ways to boost local tourism. She began investigating the program and reached out to its staff, and recalled being pleased with “what a great group of people” they were and their enthusiasm.
The folks at the Civil War Trails program encouraged her to work with local historical groups to designate a site, Centofonti said. From there, she ended up working with Dinah Courrier of the Mineral County Historical Society and Potomac State librarian Nick Gardner to compile information for the display.
“We gathered as much information as we could, all these different photos and everything,” Centofonti said. “When I submitted it to Civil War Trails, they were really excited. And, what was really kind of cool was as they were reading what we had put together, we actually drew out a secondary story from our original story. I don’t want to give too much away, because I want to encourage people to go up and read it for themselves, but it’s really cool that we now have two different stories that people can learn about.”
As there are multiple other sites connected to the Civil War in Mineral County, Centofonti said, she hopes others will be added over time.
“With this job, I learn something new every day,” Centofonti said. “The more I research and find out, the more stories I collect. That’s more opportunities for us to add more signs.”
She’s also optimistic about the program’s potential to bring new visitors to Mineral County. In the six states where there are currently Civil War Trails program signs, Centofonti said, the organization said participants reported good side effects for the local economies.
“What’s really cool about the Civil War Trails program is that yes, it’s a historical program, but it’s also economic development,” Centofonti said. “They’ve done lots of studies that have shown that these people who have an interest in Civil War history, when they go to a city or a county, they’re not just visiting the sign. While they’re there, they want to hike the trails, they want to shop in the cool small businesses that the town might have, or they might stay the night in the hotel. It’s another opportunity for us to not only talk about our history, but to also showcase the other things that we have going on in the county.”
At the event Monday, Gardner touched briefly on the site’s broader significance.
“History is not just the places, the events, the land, but it’s the people,” Gardner said, per a release following the event. “When you think of Fort Fuller, there were people stationed here that moved on to become authors or political figures. Some are remembered as heroes and others as criminals. Thousands of men passed through New Creek Station to help defend it. Afterwards, many went back home to their families, and countless men never made it back home.”