Exploring the Cockayne Farmstead

After adapting to the struggles of our first semester of college, the Honors Composition 150 class was ready to take on Honors Composition 250. As most of us from the fall semester returned to the spring semester class, the ones who did not return missed out on a remarkable historical learning experience. The fall semester of 2015 brought great opportunities as we traveled to Oglebay Park to construct digital stories of different historical aspects of Wheeling, West Virginia. Our group, for example, specifically focused on the historic Sweeney punch bowl. This semester, our class was given the opportunity to travel to Marshall County, West Virginia, the hometown of our beloved professor, Dr. Fisanick. From there we were separated into further groups as we were in the fall semester and were able to choose from several historical sites within Marshall County. Our group had researched all of the historical sites and decided to choose the one with the most emotional significance, the Cockayne Farmstead.

Before visiting the Cockayne Farmstead, the three of us, not being aware of where the house was actually located, looked at older pictures and assumed that it was located on a large piece of farming land. We learned shortly after driving around in circles for ten minutes that we were wrong. The Farmstead, located right across from John Marshall high school and set on a local highway, was the farthest thing from being on a farm. What used to be a large field used for the Cockayne’s to herd sheep, was now a very small piece of land surrounded by commercial development.

When discussing our ideas for our digital story, the three of us agreed that we would tell a ghost story or an aspect of the Underground Railroad that was once located there. Our thoughts were changed, though, after working with AmeriCorps service provider and executive director of the Farmstead, Elizabeth James. We decided to tell the story of the Cockayne family, an average family who made their mark on Marshall County, West Virginia by preserving the history of the home in the most natural way they could. Learning about the history of each Cockayne family member and how each had a special talent really drew us. Each of the daughters of Samuel A.J. Cockayne were able to paint, play various instruments, and write beautiful pieces of sheet music and poetry. Samuel A., the last Cockayne to live in the house, preserved most of the history of the house and eventually only used the two back rooms of the house to live in.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Farmstead, to us, was looking at all of the old pictures that they had kept for numerous generations. It was a great opportunity to see how photos have evolved throughout the years, and it was even more interesting to connect the family history of each member by looking at the similarities of family members from the 1950s until the present day with the last family member. Seeing how this average family gained so much recognition for the work that each generation had done with sheep herding was very impressive.

Stepping inside the Cockayne Farmstead was like a trip back in time when one family could rise to great heights through perseverance and the desire to be the best at what they did. Their stories prove that anything is achievable through hard work.

by Vanessa Martik, Maria Martik, and Rebecca Wockley


California University of Pennsylvania Honors Writing Class

Dr. Christina Fisanick, Associate Professor of English at California University of Pennsylvania, and Robert Stakeley, Education Outreach Coordinator at the Heinz History Center, have been collaborating for over three years with historical societies throughout Western Pennsylvania to tell their stories. First-year students from Dr. Fisanick’s Honors writing courses work with several different sites each semester to create digital stories that spotlight their vast and diverse collections. In 2015 they decided to come to Wheeling, where Dr. Fisanick lives, to explore the city’s rich heritage. They worked with five different sites: Oglebay Institute’s Glass Museum, West Liberty University’s Rare Books Room, Oglebay Institute’s Mansion Museum, West Virginia’s Independence Hall, and the Ohio County Public Library’s Special Collections. This is one of those digital stories, along with a brief narrative written by the student creators exploring their creative process and thoughts about making stories about Wheeling.