By: Michael Campbell, News Editor
Appeared In: August 23, 2017 edition
DINWIDDIE – The history surrounding the birth of this nation courses through much of the Southern Virginia region as much of the area played a key role in various conflicts, including the Civil War.
That continues to be the case for Dinwiddie’s Pamplin Historical Park just off Boydton Plank Road, which also serves as the home of the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier. Given the region’s rich history, it’s not uncommon for local school children to be taken to the part to get a glimpse at the artifacts of the war and learn more about the battles that shaped the region and the nation at that time.
Years ago, Ashley Gilbert was one of those students, visiting the park as a student of O.B. Gates Elementary School in Chesterfield, being guided by park staff through the sprawling historical facility, further increasing her love for history.
Flash forward to 2017, Gilbert is now back at Pamplin, now as an educator herself and the park’s newest ranger, completing a transition from the student to the teacher. For her, history wasn’t just a subject in school, it was something that was passed down from generation to generation in her own family as a child.
“I was the only girl on my mother’s side of the family and my grandfather was very big into history, so when all the boys wouldn’t let me play with them, I sat down with him and he taught me everything that he had known,” she shared, noting her grandfather’s time in the service as a World War II veteran and his talks with her helping to grow her interest in the subject.
During her studies beyond high school, Gilbert spent her undergraduate time studying the American Indian removal during the 1800s while looking at aspects of the Civil War before transitioning to graduate school where she extensively analyzed the 18th and 19th Century before writing her Master’s thesis on the 18th Century.
Even as she worked through her studies, Gilbert said coming to Pamplin was in the back of her mind during that time.
“Had I known Pamplin did internships, I definitely would have done my internship here,” she shared, noting she completed an internship at Chesterfield’s Magnolia Grange House Museum. “When I saw the opening here for an education assistant, I hoped and prayed that I would be able to come onboard here”
Before long, her wish came true and Gilbert was brought onboard as one of Pamplin Historical Park’s educators, who are tasked with leading groups of students through the park’s various exhibits, structures, and other facilities while engaging with students along the tour.
“We are their gateway to history,” Gilbert remarked. “We take them around the park and talk about all aspects of the Civil War, before the war with the Agricultural South and all aspects of that. We also move through the war and eventually talk about Reconstruction after the war, too.”
For Gilbert, it is a role reversal of sorts as she has transitioned from student to teacher in a matter of decades and, while she admits she was a bit nervous working as an educator, she never regretted her decision to take the job.
“I absolutely love this and it’s so much fun,” she said. “You have a different group of kids every day so it was never the same, but then again, it was because you are teaching the same thing, but the student responses are different and how you go about teaching it is different.”
“I definitely have a bigger appreciation and respect for teachers and what they have to do on a daily basis,” Gilbert continued.
As Gilbert transitions from educator to park ranger, Pamplin Historical Park’s Director of Marketing and Development Colin Romanick believes her personal experience, paired with her time as an educator will only help to bolster her abilities during her time as park ranger.
“We think having Ashley here is ideal because she is able to take her personal experience from when she visited as a student and she knows what the other side is,” he remarked. “The way that you tailor the experience to the different age groups is so different so I don’t think the educators get a lot of credit for that because that is challenging, especially the homeschooled groups where you have the little ones to high school-aged and you have to kind of hit in the middle.”
Romanick continued by saying Gilbert represents the park’s commitment to internal promotion as she moves into a new role with the park instead of hiring from outside, when possible.
“I think that is important too with the diversity and being able to have that knowledge of educator is going to strengthen her ability as a park ranger in being able to fill in and address visitor concerns,” he added.
People like Gilbert and others at the park will play a key role in a number of upcoming events at Pamplin Historical Park, including a $1 admission weekend this month on September 23 and 24 and the new “Reflect and Respect: African American Weekend” on November 18 and 19 at the park where the community is encouraged to come out and about the richness of the African-American story at the Dinwiddie site where various attractions, historical portrayals of key figures, including Harriet Tubman, and other demonstrations are expected.
To learn more about upcoming events at Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier, visit their website at http://pamplinpark.org or call 804-861-2408.