Thank you so much for the article in the September 26 edition of the Virginian Review highlighting the Alleghany Highlands Industrial Heritage and Technology Discovery Center being developed in buildings located at 227 N. Maple Ave., in Covington. I want to stress the wording of your opening sentence. The Discovery Center was developed “thanks in part to Dr. Paul Linkenhoker.” There were hundreds of supporters and contributors who made the realization of this project possible. I will mention some key individuals and ask for forgiveness from those I may miss.
Teresa Hammond and her staff at the Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Tourism took the lead in taking the concept from an idea to a reality. The Alleghany Historical Society stepped in to offer its status as a charitable organization and to become the lead agency for the development.
Key to the initial selection of the site and subsequent development and rehabilitation of the buildings was Gordon Specht, a retired engineer who had worked for Hercules and AET before his retirement. After retirement, he did contract work for the paper mill. He has been the project manager working with engineers, architects and contractors, to repurpose the buildings for their present use.
Specht was initially hired to conduct the work but when initial funding needs were found to be underestimated, he volunteered to continue in an unpaid status. Beyond his role as construction manager, Specht’s contacts with his former employers enabled the Center to obtain exhibit development items used in the manufacture of fiber, film and paper products. In addition to his supervisory duties, Specht has provided many hours of manual labor to construct exhibits and move materials in and out of the building.
Mike Wade was another retired engineer with experience at Hercules, AET and MeadWestvaco/ WestRock and became the lead supervisor for exhibit development. He has developed most of the hands-on activities as well as the exhibit displays. There were numerous volunteers who assisted Wade during the process and he has also devoted hundreds of hours to the project.
Wade was one of the last employees of AET and was able to preserve much of the history of the Industrial Rayon Corporation, Hercules and AET. His interest in history, curiosity about how materials are made, and eye for how to teach these concepts are fundamental to how the exhibits are developing, and for that we are grateful.
The late Howard Hammond was a retired art educator, genealogist, historian and photographer. Prior to his passing, he donated a diorama of a pre-Civil War blast furnace and designed the display which became the centerpiece for the iron industry exhibit.
Bucky Mottern worked closely with Hammond. Mottern is well known for his knowledge of the people and places which shaped the history of the Highlands. His daughter and son-in-law, Debbie and Steve Bennett, constructed Hammond’s display. They spent countless hours, donated materials and built the structure in their shop. It was then disassembled, transported to the Discovery Center, and reassembled. Mottern was able to share pictures of the display with Hammond just prior to his death.
Steve Sams of Sams & Co. was the general contractor for the building construction and he worked with Specht to ensure that everything was coordinated among the different subcontractors on the job. Local contractors were eager to be part of the project and were generous in their time and estimates. Steve and his wife Robin were also donors to the Capital Campaign.
While The Alleghany Foundation and WestRock have been major donors, I need to mention the support from the City of Covington, the Nettleton Foundation, Ingevity, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, Dominion Energy, and numerous business and individual contributors. The Capital Campaign has generated nearly $2 million in funding support.
In closing, I want to reiterate the fact that hundreds of individuals have had a part in the development of the Discovery Center. I have purposely not tried to mention all but I hope they know how much I appreciate their support and contributions. Many of their names are listed on plaques inside the Center. The success of this project is due to the financial and volunteer support of those individuals. The Society has no membership restrictions and all are welcome to be a part of the organization. There are many opportunities to volunteer. Call our office at the restored C&O Passenger Depot, 540-965-0149, or my cell phone, 540-969-6908, for more information on how you can be a part of this project. Please visit the Discovery Center. It is open to the public from 12-4 pm on Tuesday-Friday.
Paul Linkenhoker, President
Alleghany Historical Society