When Joseph Goss and his wife, Lynne, purchased an old farmhouse outside of Shepherdstown, the retired engineer never dreamed the acquisition would lead to many countless, happy hours of research and, eventually, a book.
“This project did not start out as a book,” said Goss. “I was merely interested in solving the mystery of who first owned our apparently long-forgotten house and the approximate year it was built. I had unearthed so much fascinating historical material that itself had long been forgotten, I decided it needed to be published rather than merely left where it came from,” he said.
Thus, Frontier Cabin Story: The Rediscovered History of a West Virginia Log Farmhouse was born, and Goss became a first-time author.
After purchasing the property, Goss was told, anecdotally, the house dated from 1780. After coordinating and overseeing some renovations to the house after its purchase, he dove into the task of learning who built the farmhouse and trying to substantiate the date. Neither proved easy to lock down.
As he writes in the book, “In the beginning, I thought this endeavor might be a simple matter of visiting the Jefferson County courthouse to look up a few past deeds to the property. Instead, to my surprise, it turned into a labyrinthine odyssey, which eventually led me to realize the original aims and much more.”
Goss maintained that he loved the research aspect of it all. “Digging through thousands of old documents, especially the primary sources, deciphering the handwritten script from centuries ago, winnowing out the relevant ones, and then trying to piece them together into a coherent narrative. It was in every sense a detective assignment.”
Goss had many ports of call, aside from the Internet, to gather the needed information, including both the Berkeley County and Jefferson County Historical Societies, the County Clerk’s Offices of each county, Duke University’s Library, Shepherd University’s Library, and the Shepherdstown Historical Society.
He was able to trace the ownership of the land through many well-known names and families, including Lord Fairfax, the Morgans, the Shepherds, and the Williamsons. A complete listing of the land transactions can be found in the book.
His work with both the house and the book leads Goss to encourage others to consider not only purchasing historic homes, but also documenting their history.
“I would say to them, go ahead and do it [buy an historic home] if you are truly interested in preserving history. We need to save these old homes for what they can teach us about the past.”
He calls the sheer endurance of his house “… over almost 240 years” an inspiration—making it the most rewarding part of the purchase nearly ten years ago.
Goss’s book goes above and beyond creating a narrative simply around his home. He touches upon prominent citizens of Shepherdstown, the impact of the various wars in the area, slavery, and the historical and contemporary owners of the property on which the house sits.
Goss was born in Pennsylvania, studied at UC Berkeley and Stanford, and joined the Peace Corps in 1967, where he was assigned to the Ministry of Agriculture in Kabul, Afghanistan. Frontier Cabin Story: The Rediscovered History of a West Virginia Log Farmhouse is his first book and can be purchased at Four Seasons Bookstore in Shepherdstown or on Amazon.Review by H.S. Leigh Koonce