The Alleghany Highlands Industrial Heritage and Technology Discover Center (“Discovery Center”) located at 149 S. Maple Ave. in Covington provides educational opportunities for students and much more thanks in part to Dr. Paul Linkenhoker.
Linkenhoker, the president of the Alleghany Historical Society that owns the complex which houses the Alleghany Highlands Industrial Heritage Technology Discovery Center, helped spearhead the project that aims to create a timeline from 1822, the creation of Alleghany County, to the present and onward into the future as industrial and cultural development takes place.
The Discovery Center is housed by two buildings that have been combined into one center, brick buildings erected in 1899 and 1909. A top story was added to one of the two in 1916, and another building located behind the two has been added to form the complex.
Standing on the street outside the Discovery Center, Linkenhoker pointed out the dates on the buildings and noted that the decorative glass bricks were designed differently because of the top story addition being added several years after the ground-level structure was built.
Inside, Linkenhoker pointed to the Time Line Wall that reveals the industrial development that has driven the economy of Alleghany County which was formed in 1822 from parts of Bath Co., Botetourt Co. and Monroe Co. The Time Line Wall reveals wood products and paper dominated the economy before the fiber and film industry blossomed along with Iron mining and energy conversion.
The Discovery Center features displays of machines and tools that were used in the various industries, including farming and the mining of iron ore. Energy conversion and various older industries are featured as well.
There are interactive displays designed to educate students who take the tour.
Interpretation of each stage of the journey features maps that indicate the when and where about industrial, educational, and cultural development that has taken place in the Alleghany Highlands.
The tour of the complex enables students to view materials and processes in order to gain insight into the culture of the time and the way local people lived.
Interactive displays and hands-on activities provide students with the opportunity to better understand local history and culture.
Looking back to the concept for creating the Discovery Center, Linkenhoker remarked, “This came out of a group headed up by DSLCC, the chamber and the Economic Development Corporation as a Vision 2025 Plan for the development of the Alleghany Highlands.”
Committee members met and developed the plan to enhance the quality of living in the Alleghany Highlands, and some of the goals have been achieved, the creation of destination gardens such as the one at the Clifton Forge School of the Arts, beautification of entrance ways via new signage and cleanup of entry areas, the identification of building sites for economic development and the creation of a Heritage Trail.
The Heritage Trail developed includes the Historic C&O Heritage Center, Wrightsville Museum, C&O Depot in Covington and the creation of the Industrial Heritage and Technology Center.
Linkenhoker, the son of Bill and Mary Linkenhoker of Covington, was born in 1948, the youngest of seven surviving children.
He remembered, “My oldest brother was 19 the year I was born.”
The Alleghany Historical Society was formed in 1958, and after moving to numerous locations, the Discovery Center is now its home, and Paul’s office is located on the top floor of the Discovery Center adjacent to a large meeting room where both the Alleghany Highlands Arts Council and the Alleghany Historical Society hold their meetings.
As for the way the location for the Discovery Center was determined, Paul said, “To make a long story short, after many locations in Covington were considered, the vacant buildings on Maple Avenue were the most suitable.”
He explained, “There are concrete floors on the bottom, and they are handicap accessible with 17,000 feet of space on two levels.”
A new elevator has been installed to replace the freight elevator, providing those with physical disabilities access to the top floor.
“The upstairs is being developed for learning centers and maker spaces, and the whole Discovery Center is interactive,” Paul added.
He noted that the biggest challenge for the Discovery Center is generating financial support, and he revealed that The Alleghany Foundation and WestRock along with other donors have contributed greatly to the current stage of development.
Paul offered, “We have some gift store items, and those will be increased.”
Currently, tours are being conducted free of charge with donations for the tours being accepted.
“After further development, we will have a set price for tours, and we receive funds from membership fees,” Paul observed.
On the top floor, there is a large room devoted to music and school construction where older seats from schools are on display along with theatrical displays provided by the Alleghany Highlands Arts Council.
Paul noted, “There’s a lot of static displays, and we also have a meeting room that can be rented near a small kitchen where caterers can set up.”
He hopes to generate funds to support the Discovery Center by renting the space for wedding receptions, birthday parties, anniversaries and other special occasions.
Paul praised the Rooklin family who owns the Rooklin Real Estate Company for donating one of the buildings.
He expressed his thanks to Mike and Elizabeth Warwick and Elizabeth’s brother, David Rooklin, for their charitable contributions to the project.
Paul married Brenda Ervin of Covington in 1970, and the couple have two daughters.
Mary Rebecca Gudgeon and Mike, her husband, have two children, Andy, 18; and Sophie, 13.
Sara Elizabeth Nicely, their other daughter, is married to Stephen Nicely, and they have two daughters, Olivia, 14; and Amelia, 12.
Paul concluded, “Our mission is to preserve the heritage of the Alleghany Highlands to encourage the study of local history.”
Those who wish to become members of the Alleghany Historical Society, rent the meeting room, arrange for field trips or provide financial support for the Discovery Center may visit alleghanyhistorical.org, discoverycenterva.org or call (540) 965-0149.