Since March 2003, when the Marshall County Historical Society entered into a lease agreement with the City of Glen Dale to preserve the Cockayne property, the Society has focused on preserving the House and its valuable contents. Completion of the roof replacement phase of the project, underground electric service and restoration of the Cockayne Mound are accomplishments visible to the community. Less visible is the work inside the house. Since October, 2004, Jamie and Emma Vosvick, preservation archaeologists, have donated hundreds of hours categorizing the written documents and identifying and logging each item within the house.
As the written documents were reviewed and researched, the prominence of the Cockayne Farm became ever more evident. Samuel A. J. Cockayne (1841-1904 ) brought the farm to international prominence for the fine Merino wool it produced. He purchased purebred stock (hogs, sheep and cattle) from distant farms to cull fine herds of livestock. In addition to winning a medal and diploma for “one fleece of good Merino Wool” at the International Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, British and Australian breeders requested the pedigree of his animals at the Exhibition held in Paris, France in1878. That year, the Cockayne entry again won notice. In honor of its status, Samuel Cockayne commissioned an engraved print of the Cockayne Farm “sketched from life,” by S. B. Smith, which print was distributed in an 1877 Illustrated Atlas of the Upper Ohio River Valley from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati. The certificates, bronze medal, exhibit book and several letters regarding these exhibitions, awards and the engraved print remain in the house.
What was once a sprawling 567 acre farm spanning all of lower Glen Dale from the banks of the Ohio River on the west and across the valley to the top of the hillsides on the east is now encapsulated in less than ½ acre. One major challenge to the Society’s preservation work is how to provide adequate parking and federally mandated handicapped accessible facilities within the limited space available. The Society is now expanding its efforts to assist the City in securing funding to purchase the south front lot where Sam Cockayne was so often observed tending his lawn as well as the Lisa Cockayne House, historically connected to the property.
The Society’s vision for the south lot is to plant trees and flowers to not only enhance the project but to be used for educational activities as well as artisan and fundraising events. Perhaps weddings and other social events could be planned on the south lawn with the House as a backdrop. Lisa Cockayne’s House was built by the Cockaynes in the 19th Century, and it is said to be the house lived in by the family while the big house was built. If this smaller home was reunited to the property, it would not only provide the required bathroom and other handicapped accessible facilities, but it could serve as a welcome center and gift shop.
“The change of emphasis from house to farm is important,” pointed out Society President Elliott Grisell. “Prior to the mid-Twentieth Century, agriculture was West Virginia's primary source of income. By 1952, only coal surpassed agriculture as income for the State, and sheep or wool was a big part of that agriculture market.” Grisell went on to add that, “In 1922, the fair market value of wool produced by West Virginia was worth ten million dollars, and Marshall County led the state in total number of sheep. By 1954, wool was bringing in $4,000,000 a year to West Virginia farmers, much of its fine quality wool bringing the highest market price. Thus, not only was agriculture important to West Virginia’s economy, but it was important to Marshall County farmers as well. To bring the emphasis to the farm expands the scope of our very important work.”