It took three years to complete, but for former Cass Scenic Railroad State Park AmeriCorps Abi Smith, the interpretive sign project was worth the time and extra effort.
Smith began her service work at Cass in 2019, at which time she was given the task to take the brainchild of the state park and Mountain State Railroad and Logging Historical Association and turn it into a reality.
That brainchild was a series of interpretive signs to be placed around the historical town of Cass and the state park.
“It had been a long work in progress, so it was my goal to take all these ideas and put them down on paper,” Smith said.
Smith set to work, gathering photographs and information about the history of Cass and its people. While the train and logging industry are large parts of that history, Smith said she wanted to focus on the people who lived and worked in the town and made it the thriving community it was.
“They really focus on the social side of Cass,” she said of the signs. “The town and the people who lived here. Obviously, the [train narrator] does such a great job of talking about the technology, but the technology doesn’t work unless the people are here to work it, unless the people are here to operate the sawmill, so I really wanted to focus on those stories of the community members.”
Usually, an AmeriCorps position is for one year. When Smith’s time at Cass was over, she moved on to a position as AmeriCorps with the Greenbrier County Historical Society. But that didn’t stop her from continuing her work on the Cass sign project.
“At that time, I’d finished all the research, I selected all the photographs and we were pretty well on our way with the design, so to me, it was a project I had a lot of emotional connection to and I wanted to see it done,” she said.
With the help of Zoom meetings, Smith was able to work with sign graphic designer J.T. Arbogast and the MSRLHA members to put finishing touches on the project.
Installation of the signs began in the spring and was completed by the end of the summer.
Although Smith is now working at a museum in Seneca Falls, New York, she returned to Cass Saturday to see the fruits of her labor.
“It’s very exciting,” she said. “People have such a strong emotional connection to this place. Those stories are always fun. I collected oral histories from people, I worked with the Pocahontas County Historical Society and I went to the library. Getting out into the community, you get to know the people and their stories.
“To be able to share those stories that I love – to get to share them with all of these people; I’m very proud of that,” she added. “It’s incredible the stories that the community members hold. Just sit down and chat with anyone and they have the most wonderful stories to share.”
It seems that Cass has made a lasting impression on Smith and she has been added to the community’s history.
The signs are placed throughout Cass and visitors can follow the self-guided walking tour. There is a brochure available at the visitors center next to the Cass Company Store.
The tour, “Cass: The Boom Town Behind the Train,” takes visitors through town – from the town jail, community building, Masonic Lodge, down to the Company Store and depot.