Workman Cabin Restoration

“There may have been a time when preservation was about saving an old building here and there, but those days are gone. Preservation is now in the business of saving communities and the values they embody.”
Richard Moe, National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Restoration Work on the Cabin
November 12, 2020
For several decades the 133-year-old homestead cabin of the Workman Family was open to the elements. The original doors, windows, and shutters had deteriorated or were missing altogether. Rain, snow, and invading critters took its toll on the exterior as well as the interior of the chestnut and poplar cabin.
Restored cabin with porch

As of this past Saturday, the cabin is once again impervious to the elements thanks to the abilities and devotion of one man, Wayne Pollard. Wayne is a board member of the Watoga State Park Foundation and also a skilled woodworker.

Wayne Pollard and Sollie Workman build shutters
Wayne had already done much towards the restoration of the historic Workman Cabin by securing grants from Mon Power, his employer. During the summer of 2019 the foundation of the cabin was repaired and several rotted logs were replaced on site by Ethan Burgess and his sister Vada.
Additionally, the Workman Cemetery was revitalized with a new fence thanks to David Workman and his son Travis. As well, volunteers cleaned up the overgrown gravesites and the Workman family took up a collection to purchase grave markers for some of the unmarked burials.
Before restoration

When Wayne heard of the wretched condition of the cabin’s two doors and three windows he offered up his own expertise to solve the problem.

Because the dimensions of the various openings are non-standard, as well as being insufficiently square, Wayne knew that he had to customize some of the fixtures on-site.
Wayne credits his parents for his spirit of helping others, saying “I have always been taught to use any God-given talents for the good of others.” Judging by his history with the foundation, Wayne demonstrates his parent’s credo in spades.
On Saturday, November 7, Wayne teamed up with Anne and Sollie Workman to install the custom-made shutters and doors. Sollie Workman is the great-grandson of Andrew Workman, who built the cabin at the head of Rock Run back in 1887.
Working shutters on the cabin installed by Sollie Workman (l) and Wayne Pollard (r)
I asked Anne, also a foundation member, how they managed to complete the project when the window and door openings fall short of conforming to any standard measurements. “Wayne built the three sets of shutters and two doors off-site, and we hauled them in with our truck and Wayne’s trailer. They were rough-sawn poplar and maple. Each window and door is a different size and nothing is plumb in the building.”

“Each opening had to be cut to fit and new hinges installed for all. Thanks to eBay, Wayne was able to match the old, unique style of shutter hinges on the original cabin.” Anne replied.

Job well done by  Sollie Workman(l) and Wayne Pollard (r)
She added that “Wayne plans to build some rustic windows using old glass donated from Cass State Park, but in case that doesn’t happen before winter, he wanted to get some shutters in place to protect the cabin from the elements.”

“While Sollie and Wayne installed the shutters and doors, I swept up decades of dust, spider webs, nutshells, and nests. I also replaced a piece of wood flooring to cover a hole in the floor.” Said Anne.
Imagine what just a few people can do in one day; particularly the folks of Pocahontas County who demonstrate time after time their self-reliance and sense of independence.

Many people here are just a few generations away from their pioneer ancestors. Uniquely, the skills and perseverance of mountain people are not lost to time as is often the case in urban areas; they are passed down as family heirlooms.
So on one Saturday in November three of the very best of our county came together and took one big step toward the preservation of one of the jewels of Watoga State Park, the Workman Cabin.

Wayne Pollard’s handiwork is impressive enough on its own, let alone having to make cor

The new fence and signage installed

rections on-site. When asked why he decided to put so much of his own time into preserving the Workman Cabin, he replied, “I have always loved woodworking and this is a great opportunity to leave a small legacy of sorts.”

A public hike out to the Workman Cabin is being planned for the summer of 2021 to celebrate the Bicentennial. The hike, led by Sollie Workman, will visit the historic Workman Cabin and Cemetery.
The story of life on this subsistence pioneer farm will be shared along the way. A side trip to view the nearby Old Growth trees is also in the works.
Ken Springer
The Watoga Trail Report
Workman Cemetery and Fence
October 23, 2019
The Workman Cemetery is but one of an estimated 244 cemeteries in Pocahontas County, many of which are small family cemeteries. This cemetery of some 14 or so members of the Workman family, is situated near the center of Watoga State Park, on a ridge above the headwaters of Rock Run. It is a prominent feature when hiking the Ann Bailey Trail.

David Workman left Pocahontas County in 1971 at the age of 24, bound for Florida. There he became a successful millwright, married his wife Bonnie Gail, and raised two sons. To keep up with news of his county of birth, he has subscribed to the Pocahontas Times for nearly 50 years.

It was in an earlier episode of the Watoga Trail Report that he read about the efforts to restore the Workman Cabin and the nearby family cemetery.

Back in the early part of the summer, I received a call from David in which he said that he would like to provide a fence to go around the border of the Workman Cemetery. He said that his son Travis is the vice president of a fence company and that they could travel up here to West Virginia in the fall and erect the fence.

At the time of David’s call, the Workman Cabin was in the process of restoration by the ‘log whisperer’, Ethan Burgess. The cabin was coming along nicely so attention had turned to the state of the Workman Cemetery. The best adjective I can think of to describe the cemetery at that moment in time is ‘forlorn.’

Nature was having her way with the final resting place of some of Pocahontas County’s earliest residents. Trees had been coming up among the native-stone grave markers for many decades, dropping large branches directly onto the graves.
Locusts and striped maple had encroached across the boundaries of the cemetery, leaving some of the graves in perpetual shade. Tallgrass and greenbrier had taken over the open spaces hiding some of the small stones that marked the graves of children. Other stone markers were lying askew, victims of freezing and thawing and the slow, but strong, grasp of tree roots.

Sollie and Anne Workman made several trips out to the cemetery to cut back the overgrowth and mark the graves with pin flags. Mark Mengele arrived in his vintage Dodge Powerwagon at the cemetery on several occasions armed with a weed eater and saw. Still, there were large trees to clear if we were to protect the graves from any further insults.

Then the big guns were called in and Dewey Burr and his crew took out the larger trees. It was starting to look like a cemetery again but something was missing, and it was obvious – a fence was sorely needed to define its borders. It was this fact that moved David Workman to contact me.

It needs to be pointed out that neither David nor Travis wish to attract any undue attention to their efforts. Both are, by all definitions, humble men. Knowing Sollie for some years now, I could be forgiven for assuming that humility is a family trait with the Workmans.

Travis, David and crew member Gustavo Gonzales arrived at Watoga State Park on Friday, October 11 in the mid-afternoon. They and two other employees wasted no time in driving their trucks laden with fencing materials out to the Workman Cemetery to stage the work that would commence first thing on Saturday morning.

Left to Right – All Workmans: Sollie, Anne, David and Travis during the erection of the Victorian era fence around the Workman Cemetery.
While the work crew got an early start out the Ann Bailey Trail on Saturday morning, David and I hiked into a location in the park that he had not seen since he was eight years old.

David recalled how his dad, Elmer David Workman, parked his truck up at the TM Cheek Overlook. Then he and young David had hiked down to the old Krause Place, now just a jumble of rocks concealed by barberry bushes. It was here David learned that this was his father’s birthplace.
It was clearly an emotional experience for David, so many years had passed, yet he remembers it like it was yesterday. I took this opportunity to ask David why he went to such great effort and expense to see that a proper fence graced the Workman Cemetery.

His answer revealed much about his character. He said, “I feel that those people buried in the cemetery deserve a nice fence around their graves. And my son and I are in a position to see that it gets done.” Clearly stated and succinct, just what I expected from David.

Although the rest of the crew headed home after the fence was installed, David and Travis attended the evening potluck prepared in their honor by the Watoga State Park Foundation. After the celebratory affair was over they got back in their now-empty truck and started the 14-hour drive back to Florida.

As I watched their truck head off into the darkness I thought out loud, “There go two rare types of individuals; in days such as these, we need more of them.” I know that my life has been further enriched just by getting to know David and Travis Workman.
From the mountain trails of Watoga,
Ken Springer
Cemetery Signage
The Foundation extends sincere thanks to Anne and Sollie Workman who with the help of Terry Hackney of Lens Creek Studios, installed the Workman Cemetery interpretive sign yesterday that was designed by Terry.   Terry’s mother is a Workman, so he donated his time and labor for the installation for this special project.
History of the Cabin
There is an architectural gem that has stood for one-hundred and thirty-two winters in the very heart of Watoga State Park, and now it needs help if it to continue its role as a reminder of the history of Pocahontas County. The Workman Cabin, as stout as it has proven to be, is now starting to surrender to the forces of gravity, weather, and deterioration of the foundation.
The cabin, built in 1887 by Andrew Jackson Workman, is a valuable part of the history of what is now Watoga State Park. It housed the Workman family until 1912 when the family moved to the Pacific Northwest. During their years in the cabin they lived a subsistence lifestyle, depending on hunting wild game, maintaining several garden patches where sunlight was available, and selling ginseng in what was by all definitions, a remote location.
A short hike up an old trail from the cabin leads to the Workman Cemetery, situated right alongside the present Ann Bailey Trail. It is well documented that the cabin was witness to a number of births and deaths over the years that the Workmans lived there. There are at least a dozen graves in the cemetery, although most of the stones are field stones and nameless; several of the plots are quite small and suggest the graves of children.
The only modern gravestone is that of Forest Workman; the 80-year-old man was laid to rest there in 1975. Sollie Workman, great-grandson of Andrew Jackson Workman, took part in that burial and tells of driving the coffin to the cemetery in the back of a 4WD truck. He said that the road up to the present Ann Bailey trailhead was unpaved and rough, as was the dirt road out to the cemetery. He reflected how, at times, the coffin was bouncing so much you could see daylight under it.
The Jarvis family occupied the cabin after the Workmans departed and remained there until 1922. In 1935 the area was purchased by the state of West Virginia and designated as a game refuge and state park. It was vacant for another 10 years after the purchase until remodeled by the Civilian Conservation Corps, which amounted to creosoting the logs and laying a modern roof, thereby leaving the original log framework in place.
Napoleon T. Holbrook was the first gamekeeper in West Virginia. He and his young wife and baby moved into the cabin in 1937 and were charged with raising and feeding various wildlife for restocking. The deer and turkey were maintained in pens located around and near the cabin. It is said that this situation of having the game so close to the cabin eventually contaminated the spring located just below the cabin and forced Nap to find potable water elsewhere; the location of which is often a topic of lively speculation among the trail workers.
The stories that arise from this cabin run the gamut from tragic to humorous; one, in particular, exemplifies the admirable character of Nap Holbrook as told to me by former Watoga State Park Superintendent Mark Wylie. On his final visit to Watoga State Park before his death, he was driven out to see the cabin one more time by Mark. While there, Nap told Mark this wonderful story that speaks of an age of humility and hardiness hard to fathom today.
Christmas Eve of 1937 was bitter cold and snow lay deep upon the footpaths leading in and out of the Rock Run headwaters where the Workman Cabin is nestled. As was their custom, the Dean family, Nap’s in-laws, had invited the small Holbrook family to their home for Christmas: Located at the western end of Chicken House road it would have been a minimum walk of seven miles one-way. (Mark Wylie adds “and uphill in both directions”) And to add to the challenge it was a trail with steep climbs, heavy snow and carrying a baby – not a leisurely walk in the park so to speak.
But walk it they did, and presumably enjoyed a nice Christmas with the Dean family. The Holbrooks departed for their cabin on the day after Christmas; having started late in the day, darkness was to overtake them on their journey home. Upon arriving at the now frigid and dark cabin they discovered to their dismay that they had no matches with which to start a fire.
Nap said that he covered up his wife and baby with every blanket, jacket and scrap of cloth he could find, and set out in the direction of the Watoga Civilian Conservation Corps camp located down in the Beaver Creek valley. When he arrived at the location of the present-day Ann Bailey trailhead he encountered a couple of young CCC workers who had snuck away from the camp with a bottle of whiskey for a little holiday celebration of their own.
They immediately offered Nap a drink of their “holiday cheer”, which he declined, and instead asked if he could borrow a match. (At this point in the story Mark Wylie stressed the point that Nap had asked for “A” match, translated by the CCC workers as a single match) Nap was clearly not a presumptuous man, and indeed, one of the young men handed him over a single match.
Nap did accept that precious match and returned to the cabin to start a fire that warmed the young Holbrook family through a harsh winter night in 1937. One can only imagine the care given to that match on that cold and gloomy hike back through the snow to the cabin. And further, with what care was given to the proper assembly of the kindling and firewood to assure that the single feeble flame took hold and erupted into a warm fire. Here was a man who had great confidence in himself, and likely a great trust in something beyond himself as well.
I hope that you have enjoyed this story that comes part and parcel with that little chestnut and poplar cabin that served so many dreams and aspirations of those who called it home. They left us with stories of another generation; tales that leave us asking ourselves “Would we have what it takes?” And if we carry the stock of those early residents of Pocahontas County within us, perhaps we do have what it takes.