HARDY, Va. (AP) — A lifelong love of history led Jim Bailey on the path of becoming a park ranger at some of the nation’s most historic parks. It also led him to his newest position as the superintendent of Booker T. Washington National Monument in Franklin County and Appomattox Court House.
At 8, Bailey decided to study history. He said the interest grew out of the trips with his father to several historic battlefields as well as to reenactments.
“I was hooked,” Bailey said. “I knew that is what I wanted to do.”
That passion continued through his youth and into college at the University of Maryland Baltimore College, where he obtained a master’s degree in American history. It was there that he met a park recruiter who offered him his first opportunity in the National Park Service as a volunteer at Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore.
Bailey accepted a full-time park ranger position at Fort McHenry a few years later. He remained at the position until 2016, during that time finishing college, getting married and having his first child.
“I literally grew up at Fort McHenry,” Bailey said.
From there Bailey took a job in the National Park Service overseeing operations for large scale events at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. While in the position he oversaw major events such as the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Independence Day celebrations and presidential inaugurations.
“It was a unique experience that really helped me understand the value of effective teams,” Bailey said of his time at the National Mall.
In 2021, Bailey took a position as the chief of interpretation at the Manassas National Battlefield Park in Northern Virginia. It was a job he had no intention of leaving until he happened upon a listing for a job opening for Booker T. Washington National Monument and the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park. The job opening was to oversee both parks simultaneously as superintendent.
Bailey said he jumped at the chance to be superintendent at two parks that told such an amazing story. They both show two critical parts in American history, he said.
“They tell the end of one story and the beginning of another,” Bailey said.
That ending came in Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House. The beginning was the story of the enslaved who were finally emancipated. One of the most well known of those former enslaved was Booker T. Washington.
Bailey said in doing research on the park he became inspired by Washington, his hunger for knowledge and his ability to accomplish so much from where he started. “It’s a compelling story,” he said.
Bailey is still easing into the position since starting in late April, splitting his time between the two parks in Appomattox County and Franklin County’s Westlake community. His family is in the process of selling his home outside Baltimore while they look for a new home in Bedford County.
While at Booker T. Washington National Monument, Bailey said he enjoys walking the park and taking in the sights as well as speaking with visitors. He has also met with local elected officials and county staff to continue building a relationship between the park and the surrounding community.
Now several weeks into the job, Bailey remains excited about the history he is able to share as superintendent of Booker T. Washington National Monument and Appomattox Court House National Park.
“There are still times when I pinch myself,” Bailey said. “I think how fortunate I am.”
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