Shelter house project makes New Philadelphia site "more visitor friendly"

John Wood Community College construction and trade student Nathaniel Goehl, left, and instructor Dan Arnsman look over metal shingle installation diagrams while working to build a shelter house at the New Philadelhia site. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: May. 11, 2013 5:12 pm Updated: May. 25, 2013 9:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

BARRY, Ill. -- Cody Boots stood balanced on a ladder, hammering a modern touch into a historic site.

Boots nailed in sections of soffit while classmates in the construction trades class at John Wood Community College worked on a plywood ceiling and shingled the roof of a shelter house under construction at the New Philadelphia site near Barry.

The New Philadelphia Association designed the 30-by-30-foot shelter house, and "we're just the manpower to help get the job done," JWCC instructor Dan Arnsman said. "We donate all our time to help them."

The shelter house is a first step in an effort to make the site "more visitor friendly," NPA President Phil Bradshaw said.

Plans call for adding walking trails by this fall indicating the sites of houses, the blacksmith shop and the school, and placing informational signs in the shelter house, which will have electric service and be available for programs. Long-range plans call for putting up ghost, or skeleton, structures at the site "to show people really how small, almost like cabins, these houses were," Bradshaw said.

Financial support for the projects came from the Illinois Rural Electric Cooperative. The Winchester-based co-op in 2012 pledged $7,500 each year for 10 years to develop physical structures and improvements at the historic site. The co-op's donation was leveraged by support from JWCC and labor from its construction trades program -- a key to stretching the funding as far as possible.

"It's been just great the way the John Wood folks stepped forward. Labor would have taken half the money," Bradshaw said. "It looks like they're doing great work."

Bradshaw said the shelter house will cost around $15,000 to $17,000.

"We spent a little bit more money than we had to, but we put something up with minimal maintenance," he said.

Using Decra metal shingles, for example, should last longer than traditional shingles and require less ongoing care.

"It's a nice hands-on experience," Boots said. "This is definitely a bigger project compared to some stuff we do. It covers everything we're learning about -- framing it, roofing it, vinyl siding and all that."

Scott Mills, another JWCC student, cut pieces of soffit to size, then handed them off to Boots. Mills said working on the project is good for the students and for his community of Barry.

His grandma Pat Likes long has been involved in the New Philadelphia Association, working to promote the site, the first community platted by an African-American, Free Frank McWorter.

"They come out here almost every summer, and they're always dealing with tents. What we're building is more convenient for them ... and under shade, too," Mills said.

Arnsman said the shelter house also provides a focal point for activities at the site.

"It gives everyone a visual of where it starts out here," he said.

Tyler Cannell, a student from Quincy, saw one more benefit to the project.

"It's nice to not be in the classroom," he said.

Weather permitting, Arnsman expects the roof and ceiling to be done this week.

"I'm hoping to be done with (the whole project) by the time we're out of school," he said. "That gives us all next week."

Working on an active archeological dig site added some unique elements to the project.

"There was a lot of different steps we had even to put concrete in," Arnsman said. "It's a challenge these guys haven't had to deal with before. It's a good learning experience."

Representatives of the Archaeology Conservancy, which owns the site, sifted through the excavated dirt last fall searching for artifacts before the concrete was poured, then construction work began this spring.

"I think everybody around here in the area will appreciate what we did," Mills said.

"We had a lot of people honking their horns, giving us thumbs up," Boots said. "It seems like everybody knows about it."