Written by Kristina Estle
The idea of this historical society did not happen overnight, nor is it your typical historical society.
It all began with Dr. John Mattox. Founder of the Underground Railroad Museum where I began my internship back in January of 2018. Honestly, I avoided American History like the plague. I did not have an intriguing history teacher in high school, in fact, it was quite the opposite. If you stayed awake through history class, it was a good day. Immediately after high school, I wanted out of Barnesville as fast as my legs would carry me, back in 2005. I wanted to be a photojournalist and travel the world until I took my first Art History class. I immediately switched majors to Art History. I continued down that path until my junior year when I discovered I was pregnant. It took me 9 years to return to school to finish my bachelor's degree at Ohio University Eastern. They did not offer an Art History major, therefore, my senior year was all... you guessed it... American History, to meet the requirements for a bachelor's degree in History. However, Dr. David Castle was an amazing history professor, tough but intriguing. It was his idea for me to interview Dr. John Mattox about the Quaker's involvement in the Underground Railroad for my research paper on the History of the Churches in Barnesville.
I fell in love with the Underground Railroad Museum and asked to intern under Dr. Mattox. He quickly agreed though I did not realize it then, soon I would run the organization. After I graduated with my bachelor's degree, I decided to stay at the museum and continue volunteering. In July 2019, Dr. Mattox unexpectedly passed. I decided to step up as Director and continue running the museum in his honor. However, a month before his passing, he convinced me to return to school to get my master's degree in Public History and Museum Studies. I had no clue what public history was and I did not realize that I was already working in that field. As I began working on my thesis, I quickly realized that Dr. Mattox was on the same path that I was treading. I kept encountering people who would say "That is funny, Dr. Mattox was here a month before he passed asking the same questions."
I completed my thesis and mapped 25 stops of the underground railroad in Belmont County. It was such an incredible feat. During that time there were many thoughts going on in my head, "We are losing so many historical sites." "Wow, if only I had a team to help me." "Does anyone know of this amazing history?" "Are there other history nerds out there like me?" I began planning this historical society in my mind before I even knew what I was wanting. One thing I realized is how far you can go with the help of others. There is no way I could have completed my research on my own. Therefore I decided that we need a team of history-loving nerds who want to come together and preserve and educate Belmont County History. All of our members bring so many different and unique talents to the table, but we all share one thing in common, we love history.