West Overton Village Wins Prestigious 2023 AASLH Award of Excellence

Nashville, TN – The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) congratulates West Overton Village for receiving an Award of Excellence for their exhibition, Forging Ahead and Falling Behind: Industrial Growth in a Rural Community. The Award of Excellence is part of the AASLH Leadership in History Awards, the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation of state and local history.

Forging Ahead and Falling Behind: Industrial Growth in a Rural Community follows the lives of eight individuals of 19th century West Overton and how industrialization affected their lives. The exhibition highlights the “pros and cons” of industrialization and how impact differed by socioeconomic status. This was completed with real examples such as by contrasting the efficiency of the Overholt company’s new 1862 reaping machine (forging ahead) with that same progress costing the jobs of laborers (falling behind). Because we too live in a period of rapid change, visitors encounter “guiding questions” inviting them to draw connections between the lives of those workers and their lives today.

In each section of the exhibition, visitors are introduced to eight individuals who worked as farmers, housekeepers, millers, distillers, coopers, weavers, store owners, and coal miners at West Overton. The exhibition pieces together glimpses into their lives using diverse primary sources ranging from censuses to historic ledgers. The careers, wages, and shopping habits gathered from those sources make possible comparisons between owners and workers and between men and women. Visitors discover these stories through artifacts, images, interactive elements like a historic fanning mill and washing machine, and immersive elements like the grain bin and recreated general store.

The exhibition, which opened in June 2022, was a major milestone in West Overton’s broader effort to update the museum. Work is underway on the museum’s second floor to include new exhibitions, a classroom, and other experiences to engage visitors with history. This year, AASLH is proud to confer fifty-one national awards honoring people, projects, and exhibits. The winners represent the best in the field and provide leadership for the future of state and local history.

The AASLH awards program was initiated in 1945 to establish and encourage standards of excellence in the collection, preservation, and interpretation of state and local history throughout the United States. The AASLH Leadership in History Awards not only honor significant achievement in the field of state and local history, but also bring public recognition of the opportunities for small and large organizations, institutions, and programs to make contributions in this arena. For more information about the Leadership in History Awards, contact AASLH at 615-320-3203, or go to www.aaslh.org.