By Shay Maunz | 10/17/2011
Fifty years ago, growing up in Shepherdstown, Jay Hurley just wanted to get away. He wanted nothing more than to leave Shepherdstown and make a lot of money so he could come back, buy the town and burn it to the ground.
“Now that has definitely come full circle,” he said.
After graduating from high school, Hurley did leave Shepherdstown. He spent 18 years away working toward an education and on various jobs, spending some time abroad and some time in Michigan. And 31 years ago, he came back.
But he didn’t try to burn the town down. Instead he made his mark on the community. When Hurley moved home to take over his father’s store on East Washington Street, he did it with gusto.
In his last 31 years in Shepherdstown, he’s worked in historic preservation and become a vocal commentator at city council meetings. He’s organized lectures , picnics and dinners—all, he says, for the love of the town.
His store, which he remodeled and revamped before taking it over from his father, has become a fixture in the community. It is filled with a mishmash of goods, from hardware and appliances to dresses and shoes and toys for children.
Everything in the store is dipped in a deep sense of nostalgia.
“I think the year 1900 is kind of stamped in my brain,” he said. “I like to think of us as the guinea pigs. We’re trying to stay the same in a simpler time, while everything else races headlong toward high technology.”
Mr. Hurley has been slow to adopt most technology, though he does now carry a cell phone and own a computer. Still, as a self-proclaimed man of many-projects, his calendar is quite full.
His many projects encompass his vast range of interests and often become huge undertakings – Mr. Hurley doesn’t do anything halfway.
An amateur pilot who is fascinated with airplanes, his shirts are chronically smeared with dirt and grease from a decade-long project to build a turn-of-the-century era bi-plane in his backyard. He’s also working to restore another vintage plane with the help of a group of “aviation enthusiasts” from around town. They hope to have that plane completed by spring.
His interest in religion – he doesn’t ascribe to any single faith, but believes in reincarnation and takes his spirituality very seriously – led him to host a monthly discussion on religion in his store, often featuring lectures from scholars in the field.
His affection for history and historic preservation yielded one of Shepherdstown’s foremost tourist attractions – a half-scale replica of James Rumsey’s steamboat.
Shepherdstown residents, and some historians, claim Rumsey invented a steamboat years before Robert Fulton. In the 1980’s, Hurley decided the town should have a project to honor Rumsey, and the idea resulted in the replica. It is fully functional, and both the boat and engine are identical to Rumsey’s.
And Mr. Hurley’s love of music led to a regular community event, “Thursday night jam sessions” at O’Hurley’s General Store.
Each week, more than a dozen local musicians come together at the store to play old-time music, a tradition that evolved organically over the years. When Mr. Hurley took over the store in 1979, he was in the habit of practicing his hammer dulcimer every Thursday.
Eventually, Charlie Cassibona , who runs a business making chocolate in Martinsburg, joined him to practice his fiddle.
Over the years more and more people joined the group. All of the musicians grew much more proficient with their instruments than they once had been, and they eventually gained a following. Some Thursdays as many as 50 people will pack into the store for the informal concert.
Mr. Hurley doesn’t socialize much with people his own age, saying they “can’t keep up” with him. A friend once called him the “Peter Pan of Shepherdstown,” a title Hurley likes.
But he is part of a close-knit community group, most of whom are both musicians and vegetarians, (though Hurley does eat meat occasionally.) These relationships, he said, have been honed through his involvement in the community, a fact that surprises him.
When he returned to Shepherdstown 31 years ago, Mr. Hurley wasn’t looking to do right by the community or immerse himself into Shepherdstown. But now, he’s glad he has.
“It’s kind of like, you just take things one step at a time. You don’t know what’s coming more than a step or two ahead of you,” he said.
“There were some things I needed to learn before I came back. I think humility was a big one. I didn’t expect it to turn out like this, but it definitely is something I relish.”
Mike Smith takes full advantage of the wildlife surrounding him. As park superintendent at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, Smith has acres of land to forage for food and hunt for animals. According to Smith, foraging provides a healthier way of living, but more importantly, a chance to get outside and connect with nature.
Michael Buttrill manages a 15-acre organic farm in Renick, W.Va., where he produces his own biodiesel fuel to power his vehicles and tractor. Michael has been perfecting his fuel for seven years with a goal to live more sustainably and rely less on non-renewable resources.
Innovation Zone has brought an entirely new learning style to Doddridge County High School. Every other Friday the school runs on a two hour early dismissal schedule when students separate into different groups to learn new skills from teachers and community volunteers.
Dr. Mark Cucuzzella has been a runner his entire life, but when injuries plagued him throughout high school and college, he searched for a remedy other than his doctor’s advice of “don’t run.” He began to shave the heels off of his own running sneakers, becoming a true pioneer in the minimalist running movement. After opening Two River Treads in Shepherdstown, W.Va., one of the first minimalist running stores in the United States, Dr. Cucuzzella solidified himself in the running community.
Shepherdstown, W.Va., native Carlos Niederhauser can look back on a life that had him participating in the world’s longest car rally, traveling the globe, fixing foreign race cars, developing real estate and becoming a landlord for over 100 Jefferson County properties.
After the death of her father Dr. John Moossy, Joan Moossy honors his memory by publishing his autobiography and working to preserve his art and home in Shepherdstown for aspiring artists. Coming from New York City, she is dealt with the decision on how to continue her father’s legacy within this tight-nit community. Joan looks to open the doors to her father’s house and welcome any artist who is looking to getaway from their everyday surrounding and rekindle their passion for art.
Story Synopsis- Sheila Brannan lived her life in a constant creative roll until a brain aneurysm in 2007 threatened her stained glass career. Since recovering from that, she is back in her home studio and has gotten to a place she considers to be the “new normal.”
Lars Prillman is a 28 year old organic farmer in Shepherdstown, W.Va. He spent his early 20s as a traveling musician in Knoxville, Tenn. He found his “calling” while doing an apprenticeship on the farm of one of his former 4-H counselors. He now runs his own farm with the help of his family.
Phil and Shanna Mastrangelo own Mellow Moods Café & Juice bar, an organic restaurant in Shepherdstown, W.Va. Their hope is to give people a vacation-like atmosphere in their everyday lives while serving locally-grown, healthy foods.