Elizabethtown College Honors Students Work with RiverStewards to Promote River Towns Like Marietta

Photo above: Senior History and Anthropology double major and class TA (teaching assistant), Benjamin Erickson, shares his findings on the Huston, Bowman, Hiestand Marietta Community House.

What makes a community worth protecting? Is it the number of historical buildings within its limits? The presence of thriving businesses and industries? The quality of its scenic outdoor sites and natural resources? Or a combination of all of the above?

RiverStewards recognizes the myriad beneficial qualities of river towns along the Susquehanna and wants to raise awareness about these treasured places. That is why we began working with Jean-Paul Benowitz, Director of Student Transition Programs and Prestigious Scholarships & Fellowships, as well as an Honors College history professor at Elizabethtown College, and his students in the spring 2019 course, “Honors/History 201: Elizabethtown History: Campus and Community”, to showcase all that Pennsylvania’s river towns have to offer, starting with Marietta, in Lancaster County.

Freshman Fine Arts and Psychology double major, Cheyenne Lawyer, and freshman Accounting major, Kyle Cappucci, discuss the Sunnybank Hiestand Manse and the Watts Riverview Manse in Marietta.

On April 16, 2019, Benowitz and his students gathered together during the college’s 12th Annual Scholarship and Creative Arts Days for a poster session to present their findings. RiverStewards’ Executive Director, Jessica Aiello, and Founder and Board Chair, Mark Gutshall, were on-hand to hear the students’ presentations and ask them questions about the process.

Freshman Sociology-Anthropology major, Rebecca Li, and freshman Political Science, Philosophy and Legal Studies major, Allison Melnikoff, discuss the Benjamin Long Tipling House and Kramer Eagle House in Marietta.

“Having the students work on mapping the significant properties and features of Marietta is what we hope will be the start of an ongoing initiative with Elizabethtown and other schools in the Susquehanna River watershed to educate the public about the importance of river towns and the river in general”, said Gutshall. “We at RiverStewards want to work with the younger generations to ensure that environmental conservation and an appreciation for all things local remain important to them.”

Freshman Political Science and English Literature double major, Zoe Williams, and freshman Political Science and Communications double major, Ashlee Reick share their findings about the Hoyer, Huston, Cresswell House and the Bailie, Eagle, Hiestand House in Marietta.

The Importance of a Historical Perspective

The college’s Honors Program follows the National Collegiate Honors Council’s (NCHC) City as TextTM program to “develop local history courses, engage students in local historic preservation projects, and utilize the digital humanities to publish student scholarship.” Through the program, students immerse themselves in aspects of their local community to explore its culture and geography.

For the spring 2019 semester, Benowitz’s students focused Marietta’s history, architecture, people of note, businesses and industries – both past and present, and other topics. During the poster session, each student team talked about several buildings in Marietta and why they were historically significant.

“The depth of knowledge these students showed truly impressed me,” said Aiello. “I never did a poster session when I was in college, so I can only imagine the level of research required to be that fluent, and to have the poise to discuss their properties without relying on notes…these students are learning many skills to prepare them to do well in the future.”

Take a Virtual Stroll Through Marietta

The final project of the students’ work was the creation of an online, interactive “walking tour” of Marietta. The content was generated by all the course’s students, while the Story Map was designed by honors student Kyle C. Cappucci, class of 2022, and will be further enhanced over the summer by a Summer Scholarship Creative Arts and Research Project student.

Highlights of the “walking tour” Story Map include:

  • An interactive map that you can zoom in and out of to see the many properties covered in the project
  • 13 historic properties, with photos and text about what makes them special and unique, including the people who designed them and lived in them (now and in the past)
  • An overview of the project and what the National Historic Preservation Act is and does
  • A photo and list of all the students that were involved
  • And a description of how RiverStewards and other organizations are involved in the National Heritage Area designation for the region

The ultimate goal of the project is to get the town of Marietta on the National Register of Historic Places, which will then allow owners of individual buildings of historical significance – of which there are many in Marietta – to get their properties listed as well. It is also the hope of Benowitz, the students, and RiverStewards that calling attention to river towns along the Susquehanna will enhance the recent National Heritage Area designation for York and Lancaster counties, which our partners at Susquehanna Heritage have been pushing for many years.

How to Learn More and Get Involved

If you are a college professor interested in getting your students involved in this historical storytelling and GIS mapping of river towns along the Susquehanna River, please fill out the contact form at the bottom of our website.

To learn more about the Honors Program at Elizabethtown College, please visit https://www.etown.edu/programs/honors/index.aspx.

To view the story map of Marietta that the students put together, go to https://etown.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapTour/index.html?appid=ebed00cd3458472ab46775d3047b46b5.

Not pictured: Matthew Harnsberger and Nicholas Mich

About Jessica Sprajcar Aiello

Jessica S. Aiello is the part-time executive director of RiverStewards Collaborative, working to advance the organization and the work of its partners. She is also a freelance writer/editor specializing in conservation and sustainability topics. She has done work for The Patriot News, Central Pennsylvania Business Journal, and LandStudies, among others. Her online portfolio can be viewed at https://jaielloportfolio.wordpress.com.

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