Learning Washington County History "Pandemic" Style

Learning Washington County History "Pandemic" Style

In this history-making year, the Washington County Historical Society is helping students connect with our region’s storied past.

Article by Kathleen Hondru

Hundreds of years from now, students across the globe will discover how a global pandemic changed the way people lived, worked, and learned.

Recognizing the unprecedented challenges that students, educators – and parents – are facing with remote learning, the Washington County Historical Society and the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency saw an opportunity to assist.

“Part of our mission is to promote awareness of Washington County’s remarkable history,” shared Clay Kilgore, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society.  “And while we are not able to do that right now through in-person educational programming at schools or field trips to our historic sites, now more than ever, we understand the need to provide educational support to our region’s educators.  So we came up with a new way to do it.”

For Kilgore, it is the stories of the past that bring history to life.  With the help of the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency, Kilgore is sharing the region’s stories in a new educational web series, “Laid Back History: Student Edition.”

“While the dates in history are important, in my experience, it is the stories that students remember, and it is the stories that spark their interest and curiosity.  Our new web series aims to teach our region’s history through storytelling."

“We chose topics that are covered in our state’s grade school and high school American History and Social Studies curriculum and believe we have made the information accessible for students of all ages, while still informative.”

Initially launched in 2020, the web series currently consists of five episodes, with four more in production.  The episodes range in length, from 12 to 22 minutes, and feature Kilgore sitting on the couch in his living room, telling stories about the region’s past.

“The response has been very positive,” he shared.  “Because of the strong response to the initial episodes, and requests for additional topics, we decided to film four more."

“And while the episodes were created with students in mind, we are pleased that others in our region, and beyond, are watching and learning about Washington County’s history and our historical sites – sites that we look forward to welcoming visitors back to in the not-so-distant future.” 

Topics covered in the initial web episodes include the Whiskey Rebellion, the National Road, Native Americans of Western Pennsylvania and our region’s involvement, and passageway along the Underground Railroad.

“One of the topics that we cover in an upcoming episode, something I think many will be surprised to learn, is that one of the last battles of the American Revolution actually took place at Rice’s Fort, outside of Claysville.  Many people do not realize that one of the final battles of the Revolutionary War took place right here in Washington County.” 

Today the land where Rice’s Fort once stood is now farmland, but a historical marker at the location commemorates how the Battle at Rice’s Fort and the battle at Fort Henry, located in Wheeling, West Virginia, took place as the Revolutionary War came to a close.

The web episode about Rice’s Fort also addresses a popular myth, told for generations in Washington County about how the defenders of the fort melted pewter to make ammunition when they ran out of traditional lead musket balls.  In the Laid Back History web episode about this historic battlefield, Kilgore shares information that was literally uncovered while making a show about the fort for National Geographic Channel’s TV Show “Diggers.” That TV show was filmed in 2015 at the site where Rice’s Fort once stood. 

As the executive director of Washington County’s Historical Society, Kilgore is passionate about sharing and promoting Washington County’s treasured history.

“To understand who we are today, we really need to understand who we were two hundred years ago,” shared Kilgore.  “Understanding how we dealt with things in the past, and why, provides some clues to understanding our region’s character traits today.”

Kilgore explained that two hundred years ago, the power and decision-making for the state were located east, in Philadelphia and Harrisburg.   People living in southwestern Pennsylvania believed they needed to counter that power imbalance by standing up for themselves and defending their rights, as witnessed by the events of the Whiskey Rebellion.  They were fiercely loyal to, and protective of, their homes and livelihoods, traits that Kilgore sees today in how citizens of this region are fiercely proud of their hometowns, traditions, and their sports teams.

“While we navigate the unprecedented challenges before us, as a society we are all coming up with new and different ways of doing things, much like how our region’s ancestors did while they were forging a new life for themselves on what was then called the ‘Western Frontier’ and is now known as Washington County.” 

“The ‘Laid Back History’ web series is one of the ways we are doing things differently to support our mission and helping students connect with Washington County’s remarkable history – and hopefully in the process, helping them gain a new perspective of how the lessons of history can help us better understand and navigate the challenges we face today,” said Kilgore.

In announcing the series, Jeff Kotula, President of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Promotion Agency, stated, “The WCHS and we partnered on this series to not only build upon the successful Laid Back History web series, but also to provide our teachers, parents and students with ways to supplement their curriculum during the COVID-19 emergency.  We understand that many parents are working with their children at home and wanted to provide additional educational opportunities for them.”  Kotula noted that the agency and society received input from local school superintendents to ensure the series would be effective and valuable to teachers, parents, and students.  

Watch the full web series on YouTube.

For more information about the web series, produced with the support of the Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency, and to learn more about other educational resources available to school districts and teachers – including history lesson plans, please visit the Washington County Historical Society’s website at www.wchspa.org.

This blog post is sponsored by Washington County Tourism Promotion Agency