Mounds of dirt lay in front of Joshua Manley on his first day as director of Ninety Six National Historic Site – 245 years of American history steeped in the ground.
Only the grassed earthworks remain of the Star Fort, which hosted the first land battle of the Revolutionary War in southern New England, in 1775. But Manley saw more than the paved path, historic markers, and the tower. simulated rifle.
âIn 2021, not only do I see 18th century stuff, but I watch 19th century stuff,â he said.
History is ingrained in every square inch of the park, including the history of maintenance efforts and the old trails in the woods that are now closed. At one point, the cleared lawn at the Star Fort site was covered in trees, Manley said. They were clear cut to provide a clearer view of the battlefield, but seeing photos of wood piled up on the fort gave Manley a different picture of the natural history of the battlefield.
Even the path leading park visitors around the fort has only been paved for the past two years. Manley seems to see the potential of the story throughout the park; these woods were home to the Cherokee people long before Major General Nathanael Greene led 1,000 Patriots in a siege against Loyalist troops at Star Fort.
âThis site was well used before the Revolution happened,â Manley said. âThis place is not important just because a group of white people have settled there. Lots of people have stories here.
Manley grew up in southwest Ohio and joined the United States Army at the age of 17.
âAs a child, I didn’t go to national parks at all. I think the first time I went to a national park was in my early twenties, âhe said. âI remember being a little upset. Why didn’t I grow up here? “
After six years of military service, Manley wanted to start a career and settle down with his then-girlfriend, now wife, Lucy. After working for some time in baseball leagues and college athletics departments, he and his wife took a vacation to Colonial Virginia.
âI had written my main thesis on Jamestown, the original colony,â he said. “My wife said ‘I know what you should do.'”
He put his history degree to good use and applied for various federal jobs, landing a position in 2014 as part of the National Park Service’s 21st Century Ranger program. The unit was intended to create complete rangers with extensive experience.
In just a few short years, Manley worked in incident management, then in communications and firefighter education for the three NPS regions on the east coast. He supported regional and local fire bureaus and implemented educational programs from Maine to Florida, and as far west as Alabama. He served as a firefighter at the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida.
âI’ve had great mentors, great supervisors, and lots of people willing to point me in the right direction,â he said.
He eventually moved with his family to western Pennsylvania, where he served as a management analyst for five associated parks. When he and his family were ready for a change of scenery, they started looking for their new home and Manley looked for a new park to serve.
Manley moved here on October 21, although his wife and children are still in Pennsylvania. He remembered a road trip he took when Max was 5 and Stella 2, going from Philadelphia to Yellowstone and back. They stopped at nine national parks and the kids are still talking about the trip today.
âFor me, professionally and personally, for myself and for my family, it was like you put a card, all lines would always end here,â he said.
Manley’s son Max loves to ride dirt bikes. He wanted his son and daughter, Stella, to grow up in the wilderness he missed as a child. Manley himself is a bass fisherman and had previously gone fishing in Lake Murray. Once they started looking in this area, it didn’t take long for them to find their new home.
âFor me, as a father of two young children, I know that after visiting I think somewhere in the range of 80 national parks. â¦ I see what it means for our children, what it means for a community and what it means for our family, âhe said.
âI compare it to ‘Field of Dreams’. Is this paradise? No, it’s ninety-six.
IF YOU BUILD IT
Manley has an ambitious vision for the park, and the 96 and larger communities of Greenwood County play an important role in this regard.
âI see a lot of opportunities in working with people who can help us identify the missing pieces in the untold stories here,â he said. âThere is a lot of history we can delve into about how Native Americans used this land. My long-term vision is to get more involved in the community.
Shortly after starting his work, he met with officials from the city of Ninety Six to express his interest in a stronger partnership and arranged a meeting with county tourism staff. He wishes to join them for the next 250th anniversary commemorating the first battle at the site, scheduled for November 2025.
But the day-to-day operations of the park are key to building strong bonds in the community, and Manley said he couldn’t ask for better staff. Gray Wood and George McCarty do a monumental job of maintaining the grounds of the park, and he said Ranger Adrian Stewart looks forward to welcoming guests and planning educational events. The park has other helping hands, such as visitor service assistants Sydney Shepard and Matthew Grubb.
âI’ve been to national parks with three or four times the staff who don’t look that friendly,â Manley said.
McCarty has worked at the park for about 20 years. He said he got the job while unemployed and looking for a job, and initially was just a casual worker a few days a week. He stayed with it, because what he said was one of the best perks.
âI worked for Greenwood Mills for 30 years. Sometimes you didn’t see the sun all day, âhe said. âIt’s rather gratifying to know that you take care of a place where the first American soldiers gave their lives. “
When he’s not cutting grass, mowing weeds, or pruning trees, he usually has to deal with maintenance issues. As with any job, he says there is a certain routine, but often he quickly jumps from task to task.
âNo one can do it on their own, it has to be a team effort,â said McCarty.
Inside the Visitors Center, Stewart manages the front desk and helps answer guest questions. She joined the National Park Service after two varsity placements in parks that interested her in teaching the public about the stories these parks preserve. Her father is a huge fan of Revolutionary War history, and she said she knew the Ninety Six site on a childhood visit, but didn’t remember much when she took over as a ranger seven years ago.
âWhen I finally came of age, I just thought it was so nice and calm, but there is such a deep story,â she said. âThis opens up the possibility of many variations in programs and interpretations. “
Part of her job is to educate the public about the history of the park, and she plans and coordinates events at the park to teach it. As a volunteer coordinator, she also works with living historians to bring these stories to life for the guests.
âYou can kind of see it on people’s faces when they click for them. I love to see this bulb light up, âshe said. “This little spark is very encouraging.”
Stewart is eager to find other ways to engage and involve people in the park, which Manley says is perfect given his interest in finding more volunteers. He wants to look into after-school programs for local students and encourage school trips and outdoor learning opportunities. He said he wanted to create a âFriends of Ninety-sixâ park group that will serve as the park’s official philanthropic partner with passionate volunteers who will take responsibility for showcasing this public land. Opportunities seem to be everywhere, Manley said, and he can’t wait to see what park staff can do with them.
âThere is so much history around us here,â said Stewart. “If you take a moment and dive a little deeper, you may find something that you somehow connect to.”