Posts Tagged ‘Appalachian Culture’

Appalachian Millennials and social media in Wyoming County

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note } Donald Welch is a writer and educator currently living in Brooklyn, N.Y., who recently interviewed AmeriCorps members working with the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in West Virginia. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Day Hikes Near Denver, Grow Anywhere, and elsewhere. He writes about the intersection of environmentalism and technology at The Frontier Blog.

Photographer Brady Darragh and activist Chuck Nelson stand outside the abandoned union hall in Lindytown, W.Va. Lindytown's population, like that of Coalville, was displaced by the mining industry.

Photographer Brady Darragh and activist Chuck Nelson stand outside the abandoned union hall in Lindytown, W.Va. Lindytown’s population, like that of Coalville, was displaced by the mining industry. Photo by Brandon Lavoie.

In Mullens, W.Va., there’s a model town made from Popsicle sticks. While these sorts of projects are a fairly common hobby, this particular display is a replica of Coalville, a town that no longer exists.

The artist who made the model, once a resident of Coalville, constructed it from his memory and old photographs. The display sits in the Mullens Opportunity Center, home to the Rural Appalachian Improvement League, or RAIL, an organization focused on sustainability and creating social change in southern West Virginia. Like so many other towns in the Mountain State, the residents of Coalville left in search of new jobs when the area mine closed.

“Wyoming County and Mullens has a lot of people leaving,” says Nathan Tauger, a 23-year-old AmeriCorps alumni who served with RAIL, later adding that Wyoming County mainly has “older folks left so you get a lot of memories.” Tauger is a West Virginian himself, he hails the Morgantown area and elected to stay and volunteer in his home state. While memories were the motivating force behind the Coalville display, millennials like Tauger are volunteering throughout Appalachia and as they enter the region they bring an enthusiasm for technology and social media.

The millennial disposition — or “technology intuition” as Tauger describes it — helps small non-profits build a media presence in the community and beyond. Tauger says Twitter has helped RAIL “engage with outside stakeholders.”

“We were retweeted by a couple of government organizations, regional media outlets, bigger nonprofits, and universities over this past year,” says Tauger. “That helps us because visiting spring break groups see those tweets when they google us, grant makers see the tweets, potential volunteers and visitors see them. Earl Gohl, co-chair of the [Appalachian Regional Commission], follows us on Twitter.”

One of Tauger’s videos that is regularly tweeted from the RAIL account is of a community health initiative started by Patty Scott, a local pharmacist who donates her time at the Mullens Opportunity Center to run a free line dancing class. This class is an hour-long, once a week and encourages people to think positively about their bodies, have fun and bust a move.

“The Internet community in Wyoming County was probably not very big, but it felt very dense. Information can move quite quickly in Wyoming County,” Tauger recalls of the success of sharing local news and promoting events over social media. But he acknowledges the shortcomings of social networking as well. “It brought something of a false sense of belonging too. Hundreds of Facebook followers do not equal the kind of relationships built in person.” In a region where home broadband is only now becoming readily accessible, interpersonal relationships are still incredibly important for spreading information.

While RAIL’s outreach encourages plenty of groups to visit the Mullens area for volunteering, Tauger worked to engage youth in the community to create opportunities for Wyoming County residents. To that end, Tauger “interviewed leaders of successful mentoring programs, as well as lots of young folks who felt strongly about staying in or leaving Wyoming County.” Tauger went to work scheduling meetings with Volunteer West Virginia, Citizens Conservation Corps WV, WorkForce West Virginia, and Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College in order to coordinate youth initiatives.

RAIL is still building upon the groundwork Tauger laid during his AmeriCorps service and local volunteers continue to be integral to the organization’s community outreach and service projects. However, Tauger says, “Folks blame some of the region’s problems on character flaws, things like a lack of initiative among young people.” But the work of Tauger and other millennials all over Appalachia demands a change in the country’s perception of Appalachian youth.

“The character of young people reflects society’s investment in them,” says Tauger. “A sense of worth comes from how we’re treated and what we see in our communities, on the Internet and in media. To complain about the absence of personal responsibility in today’s youth is to conceal civic responsibility.”

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Common Connections: An Appalachian-Romanian Exchange

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015 - posted by interns

By W. Spencer King

High school students from different sides of the world recently took part in a year-long cultural exchange program that involved frequent communication and highlighted similar folk traditions, arts and music.

In fall 2014, four Romanian students visited Wahama High School in Mason, W.Va., for two weeks, exploring the connections between traditional Romanian folk music and music from Appalachia. The students found that both cultures share a history of coal mining, and the music from both areas reflects themes of wages, labor and class.

This past spring, four students from Wahama High School traveled to Anina in Gorj County, Romania, to spend two weeks learning about Romanian customs and heritage, and to share some of their own Appalachian culture.

The Clay Center in Mason received a grant that paired them with museums from around the world. “It was sort of like speed dating,” says Melissa Rhodes of the Clay Center. “People from other countries and people from [West Virginia] got onto the site and tried to find similarities … we have a lot in common with Romania with our folk music, geology and geography.”

“[The Romanian people] are very proud of their heritage and their history,” she says. “Tradition is very important to them, and they’re very family oriented just like we are here in West Virginia.”

“You go to another country and expect things to be really different,” says Jamie Adamik of the Clay Center. “But when you get there you realize that everybody there are people just like us, teachers, students, we got to visit their homes and see where they lived.”

The students and teachers remain in contact through email, Facebook and letters. The Clay Center is working on a grant that, if approved, will continue the project with new schools from West Virginia and Romania.

Paying Tribute to a Beloved Daughter of Appalachia

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Kimber Ray

Jean Ritchie, Kentucky-born folk hero, environmentalist and activist, died this June in her Berea, Ky. home at the age of 92. Widely regarded as “The Mother of Folk,” Ritchie was born in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains. Her family is renowned by folk music scholars for their astounding repertoire of traditional songs and centuries-old ballads, but it was Ritchie’s sweet, distinct voice which carried these Appalachian tunes to a broad audience of listeners.

This same voice also spoke out against environmental and social injustices, particularly those surrounding coal mining communities in Appalachia. Among Ritchie’s most celebrated songs is “Black Waters,” which describes the painful realities of surface mining in Kentucky.

In recent years, her friends — including artists such as Kathy Mattea and Pete Seeger — produced a tribute album called “Dear Jean,” and Appalachian Voices had the opportunity to celebrate with Ritchie at a concert in her honor last year. As per her wishes, Ritchie’s family is donating a portion of the proceeds from the album to Appalachian Voices.

Author, activist and Appalachian Voices board member Silas House considered Ritchie a dear friend. “She was a source of incredible pride for my people,” he writes. “Everyone I knew loved Jean Ritchie, and they especially loved the way she represented Appalachian people: with generosity and sweetness, yes. But also with defiance and strength.”

“The hillside explodes with the dynamite’s roar
And the voices of the small birds will sound there no more
And the mountain comes a-sliding so awful and grand
And the flooding black waters rise over my land”

— “Black Waters” by Jean Ritchie, 1971

Read House’s full remembrance at

Ginseng’s growing role in the new Appalachian economy

Monday, July 20th, 2015 - posted by Adam
The cultivation of ginseng, a medicinal plant native to Appalachia,

The cultivation of ginseng, a medicinal plant native to Appalachia, could provide a boost for local economies.

Most people who live in or come to visit the mountains know that just being here, surrounded by lush green hills and clear, fast-flowing rivers, can have a healing effect on the soul.

But not as many people know that many of the plants that make the mountains’ forest floor so lush and green have real medicinal properties and, when used properly, can help treat ailments ranging from sore throats to cancer.

Growing and marketing those wild medicinal plants and herbs was the subject of a recent workshop offered by the group Appalachian Communities Encouraging Economic Diversification (AppalCEED) in Norton, Va. Based in the heart of Virginia’s coal country, AppalCEED works to promote sustainable ways to diversify the local economy. The workshop focused on helping local landowners, farmers and gardeners gain the information they need to break into this innovative and sustainable market.

Turnout to the workshop was a testament to the possibilities and enthusiasm for new ideas to boost local economies. The room was overflowing with interested people who came from as far away as Williamson, W.Va. — an hour-and-a-half drive.

Part of the draw was the expert panel that AppalCEED assembled for the workshop, which included three experts on the cultivation of wild and medicinal plants and herbs. Scott Persons, Jeanine Davis and David Grimsley are each highly regarded as “gurus” in their niche field of study, and each gave detailed presentations on their respective areas of expertise. Persons and Davis have co-authored a book together that is held as The authoritative text on growing and marketing the plants.

Another big draw is the fact that wild ginseng, perhaps the best known of Appalachian wild medicinal plants, fetches anywhere from $700 to $1,200 per dried pound. While it’s possible to cultivate ginseng on a commercial scale in large fields, the resulting crop is deemed to be of lower quality than its wild-grown counterparts.

Persons has spent his career developing a technique known as “wild simulated” cultivation, where ginseng plants are deliberately planted in small patches in woodlands. This allows for resources and energy to be concentrated, streamlining the process. He’s also developed techniques that can produce a product identical to that of ginseng that would pop up naturally in the wild.

While Scott’s presentation was exclusively on ginseng, Davis and Grimsley focused their talks on other plants, such as goldenseal, black cohosh and even some medicinal plants native to China. All three presenters stress how cultivating these plants in our woodlots and gardens can help to preserve threatened wild stock from being over harvested.

They also discussed strategies for cultivators to supplement their income through strategic marketing. Grimsley in particular is working to develop co-op-like arrangements among consortiums of growers in Floyd County, Va., to reduce production costs and increase collective selling power.

At the end of the day, we’re still talking about farming, even if it’s on a small scale. And while farming these plants won’t make anyone a millionaire overnight, the extra income can certainly help. Anything helps these days.

The coal bust has created some harsh economic realities here in Central Appalachia. The implications of our reliance on one major industry for a century are finally becoming unmistakably clear. No one industry or sector can or should replace coal as it fades into history. We could do well to take a lesson from Appalachia’s forests: there’s strength and healing in diversity.

Appalachian Regional Commission receives citizen input

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 - posted by interns

By Michael Shrader

The geographic area covered by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

The geographic area covered by the Appalachian Regional Commission.

On June 4, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) held one of its five 2016-2020 Strategic Plan Listening Sessions in Morehead, Ky., to gather ideas from Appalachian citizens that will inform the commission’s plan for improving economic opportunities in communities across the region.

The Morehead Conference Center was full of forward-thinking minds from Kentucky and surrounding states who explained opportunities and barriers they see in their own communities. Many common themes emerged related to tourism, and adventure tourism in particular. Some attendants cited the need to cultivate and support family farms to create a local and sustainable Appalachian food system. Others spotlighted the opportunity for renewable energy generation in their communities.

The Obama administration’s POWER+ plan was mentioned several times as an opportunity that must be capitalized on. POWER+ invests in Appalachian workers and jobs through unique programs, many of which bear semblance to those discussed in Morehead. Appalachian Voices’ economic diversification campaign is currently building support for this proposal in Southwest Virginia.

Some attendees had a difficult time differentiating between opportunities and barriers to progress in their communities. Where some saw a vast, employable and idle workforce, others saw a lack of educational opportunities and substance abuse posing serious barriers to workforce development. Concrete barriers to development include a lack of local infrastructure such as highways, water systems and, especially, broadband Internet connectivity.

The massive amount of land owned by absentee corporations and extractive industries presents a unique challenge to regional development throughout most of central Appalachia and was mentioned several times throughout the session. Many residents cited less concrete barriers to progress such as a lack of hope and progressive leadership, and the enduring negative stereotypes associated with the region. Finally, there were many who stressed the need for the restoration of the landscape after mining and the resources to create jobs to do so.

Attendees outlined what they saw as ARC’s role in taking advantage of the opportunities and breaking down the barriers for development in their communities. The resounding consensus was a need to access capital and workforce development resources. In addition, attendees felt that ARC needed to work harder to make sure that groups in Appalachia could gain easier access to resources outside of ARC. Some felt that we needed to find ways to craft new language to talk about our problems and solutions. Others cited the need to address to vast health and wellness issues in the region.

Ultimately, many agreed that ARC, as a federal-state partnership, needs to broker change in Washington, D.C., on behalf of Appalachia. One attendee remarked that ARC must facilitate the conversation to look beyond Appalachia to other struggling regions across the nation to solve systemic problems and implement a new ‘true cost’ economic model.

The listening session brought a wide range of individuals and regional stakeholders together to share their unique perspectives. But some still felt that a representative range of people had not been able to participate. In fact, with the all-day session held on a Wednesday, many in attendance argued that it was impossible for the majority of working people to provide input, and stressed need for better stakeholder involvement and opportunities for public involvement.

Silas House: A Remembrance of Jean Ritchie

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015 - posted by guestbloggers

{ Editor’s Note } Silas House is an author, Kentuckian and activist, who also serves on Appalachian Voices’ board of directors. Silas shares this remembrance of Jean Ritchie, the Kentucky-born folk icon, who died yesterday. Last May, Appalachian Voices was graciously invited to participate in and benefit from “Dear Jean,” a tribute concert to Ritchie in Berea, Ky. Portions of this tribute are excerpted from the 2009 book Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal by Silas House and Jason Howard, University Press of Kentucky

Silas House (middle) with Jean Ritchie, and his partner Jason Howard, editor of literary magazine Appalachian Heritage.

Silas House (middle) with Jean Ritchie, and his partner Jason Howard, editor of the literary magazine Appalachian Heritage.

Above all, kindness always lit up the face of Jean Ritchie, who passed away June 1 at the age of 92. And she possessed the same kindness in her hands, in the slight, humble bend of her neck, in her beaming smile. And of course that kindness came through the clearest — the cleanest — in her voice.

It was there in her speaking voice, but also in her singing, the very thing that caused The New York Times to proclaim her “a national treasure” and the reason she became widely known as “The Mother of Folk.” But along with that kindness was a fierceness that led her to become one of the major voices in the fight for environmental justice.

I grew up in Southeastern Kentucky, two counties away from where Ritchie had been raised. She was a source of incredible pride for my people. Everyone I knew loved Jean Ritchie, and they especially loved the way she represented Appalachian people: with generosity and sweetness, yes. But also with defiance and strength. By the time I first met her in 2006, Jean was a true legend. Although I was in total awe of her, it didn’t take me long to feel right at home and we became fast friends.

I loved visiting with her and her wonderfully devoted husband, George Pickow, who passed away in 2010. Anytime I would comment on her legendary status, she’d brush it aside, embarrassed. But she was a true inspiration to so many of us. Her accolades are too many to list. In 2002 she was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest award given in the nation to traditional artists and musicians. Her original compositions have been performed by such artists as Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Judy Collins, Emmylou Harris, the Judds, Kathy Mattea, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and many others.

Jean Ritchie, 1922 - 2015

Jean Ritchie, 1922 – 2015

Born in 1922, she went to New York to work in a settlement school and was amazed to find that she eventually became well-known for her singing, playing, and songwriting. By the end of the 1960s Ritchie had recorded twenty albums, served on the board of and appeared at the first Newport Folk Festival (where her iconic performance of “Amazing Grace” is still talked about by anyone who was there), and was considered one of the leaders in the folk music revival.

She had also single-handedly popularized the mountain dulcimer. And steadily throughout her career she had become more and more concerned with the environmental injustices facing her homeland. She wrote her first environmental-minded songs under the pseudonym of Than Hall so her parents wouldn’t be harassed and because she felt using a man’s name might make them easier to become published. But eventually she embraced the fight for environmental justice and became a symbol of the movement.

In 1974 she recorded what many consider the first of her three true masterpieces (along with None But One and Mountain Born) out of her forty albums. Clear Waters Remembered contains three of the original compositions she is most often recognized for: “West Virginia Mine Disaster,” “Blue Diamond Mines,” and “Black Waters.” It would also be the album that would solidify Ritchie’s position as an environmentalist and activist.

“Black Waters” in particular became a rallying cry for an ever-growing outrage against the environmental devastation being caused by strip mining, a form of coal mining that became prominent in the 1960s. The practice was giving many Appalachians pause, especially since most of the coal companies were able to mine the coal with broad form deeds, many of which had been sold decades before. Ritchie became a part of this movement with “Black Waters,” which became its anthem.

After struggling with writing “Black Waters” for awhile, Ritchie finished the song after being invited to participate in a memorial concert for Woody Guthrie. She performed it for the first time during that show and introduced it as something Guthrie “might have written had he lived in Eastern Kentucky.” Besides being a powerful environmental song, it also resonated with Appalachians who might not have identified themselves as environmentalists but certainly had a love for the land in their very blood.

1977’s None But One is Ritchie’s most critically-lauded album; it was even awarded the prestigious Critics Award from Rolling Stone magazine. The album contained two more of Ritchie’s most famous songs of social consciousness, “None But One,” a treatise on racial harmony, and “The Cool of the Day,” an ancient-sounding spiritual which demands environmental stewardship and is now widely used as one of the major anthems in the fight against mountaintop removal. It is a song that has already achieved classic status by being included in the hymnal of the Society of Friends. Ritchie allowed Kentuckians For The Commonwealth to use the song on their popular compilation Songs for the Mountaintop, which raised money for the fight against mountaintop removal. In 2007 Ritchie performed the song at The Concert for the Mountains, an event held in New York City with Robert Kennedy, Jr. in conjunction with a delegation of Appalachians who attended the United Nations Conference on Environmental Stability to speak out about the devastation caused by the form of mining.

“I never feel that I’m doing very much to help our poor mountains,” Ritchie modestly told me in 2008 after I told her she was one of the reasons I had become an environmentalist. “Beyond making up songs and singing them, I don’t know what else to do. It seems an accolade I don’t deserve.” I wanted to tell her that words and music were the main ways we had always fought back, and that her words and music had done more than she could ever imagine. But then I saw that there were tears on her eyes. Her face was turned to the white light of the window and she was lit as if beatific. I had always thought she was. In that moment, Jean was visibly upset. “Sometimes, when I think of how it’s all gone …” she began, but had to stop speaking.

Jean leaves behind a legacy of love and light. Of kindness and dignity and strength. She fought back with words and music, and she taught us to do the same. I can’t imagine a better way to be remembered than that.

Jean Ritchie’s “Black Waters” performed by John McCutcheon, Tim O’Brien, Suzy Bogguss, Kathy Mattea, Stuart Duncan and Bryn Davies.

Walking the Walk of Preservation

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

Experiencing Appalachia’s Past, One Frontier at a Time

By Matt Grimley

Warren Wilson College field school students help uncover Appalachia’s 16th-century Spanish history at the Fort San Juan excavation site near Morganton, N.C., in June 2014. Here, the students are sifting for artifacts. Photo courtesy Warren Wilson Archaeology Lab

Warren Wilson College field school students help uncover Appalachia’s 16th-century Spanish history at the Fort San Juan excavation site near Morganton, N.C., in June 2014. Here, the students are sifting for artifacts. Photo courtesy Warren Wilson Archaeology Lab

A small clay bead. A hunk of carved soapstone. A shattered pipe.

“You can’t put a shovel in the ground at the Berry Site without finding artifacts,” says David Moore, an archaeology professor at Warren Wilson College outside of Asheville, N.C.

Before Sir Walter Raleigh or the Puritans, there were the Spanish. Since nearly the start of the 1500s, they had marched through swamps and forests into the heart of the yet-to-be United States. They were fresh from conquests of native populations in Central and South America, and they wanted more. More state-level societies to manipulate for their economic gain. More silver. More gold.

In 1566, Juan Pardo and his troops built six forts as they plowed from the Carolina coast to the Appalachians. Historians knew the locations of these forts from Spanish documents, but no supporting archaeological evidence had ever been found.

That is, until a couple years back. The Berry Site, located on a tributary of the Catawba River near Morganton, N.C., was home to the Native American town of Joara, as well as Fort San Juan, which the Spanish built in 1567. After digging for years, Moore’s group finally uncovered a ditch outlining the fort, giving life to what they had only read of.

Now they had to show it to the world and keep it safe.

“Preservation in archaeology is a tricky subject,” says Moore. “For us, preservation involves as much education as anything else.”

Above the south end of the old Fort San Juan moat, Warren Wilson College students help excavate the site near Morganton, N.C. Photo courtesy Warren Wilson Archaeology Lab

Above the south end of the old Fort San Juan moat, Warren Wilson College students help excavate the site near Morganton, N.C. Photo courtesy Warren Wilson Archaeology Lab

Moore’s archaeological team is composed of students and fellow academics. They work mainly with private landowners who are willing to preserve their sites and allow access to researchers.

History, it seems, is lost every day: already, Christmas tree nurseries and other landscaping projects have ruined about 25 potential research sites in the area. Moore notes that Exploring Joara, an educational archaeology nonprofit that he helped to create, brings in school groups and kids to their dig sites. The group’s interpretive center has also helped educate local governments, businesses and people, totaling more than 10,000 contacts just last year. He hopes that Joara will encourage local residents to think back on the land and its layered history, and to help conserve it.

After building their fort, the Spanish lasted only 18 months in the Appalachians. The native people, realizing their gifts of food and services would not be reciprocated, burned down the strange forts and killed all but one soldier. The Spanish failure opened the way for the English and the dramatic morphing of the American frontier.

The Sense for Change

At the center of preserving history is the growing market of heritage tourism, where travelers schedule their vacations around historical landmarks. It’s a booming industry, according to a 2009 study from the U.S. Cultural and Heritage Tourism Marketing Council, with more than 110 million heritage-driven tourists pumping $192 billion into the U.S. economy every year.

Many communities find that investment into landmarks yields more money. The Appalachian Regional Commission reported in 2010 that every 40 cents the federal agency spent on tourism projects spurred another dollar in private investment. In the case of Burke County, N.C., for example, where Joara and Morganton are located, tourism jobs increased 5.8 percent in 2013 alone. That’s the largest jump in such jobs out of any North Carolina county that year, says Ed Phillips, director of the Burke County Tourism Development Authority.

History abounds underfoot, and yet material preservation is often facilitated only by a single mean: ownership.

“To control your own destiny,” says Rick Wood, Tennessee state director of the Trust for Public Land, “you have to buy a piece of property.” Landowners, he says, can also protect the land in perpetuity through an easement, a legal arrangement where an organization preserves the property and the landowner receives money or tax benefits in return. Bequesting land in a will to a favored organization will also do the job of preservation.

Wood notes that even in rural places, historical preservation garners growth. In Charleston, Tenn., for example, the community has invested in trails and a greenway around its historical Fort Cass, which served as an internment camp for Cherokee, Creek and enslaved African Americans at the beginning of the Trail of Tears in 1838. Of the 15,000 people who were forcibly removed from their homes, it is likely that several thousand died in such internment camps or along the cruel march to their new home in Oklahoma.

History, whether good or bad, provides a sense of place. And more and more, Wood says, communities want to build their own place in history.

What Could Have Been

View of the ancient Serpent Mound in southeast Ohio. Photo courtesy Arc of Appalachia

View of the ancient Serpent Mound in southeast Ohio. Photo courtesy Arc of Appalachia

It winds through the rolling farmland and forests of southern Ohio, lifting just above the Earth, stretching to 1,348 feet long and weighing innumerable tons.

The Serpent Mound, under consideration for UNESCO World Heritage site status, is the world’s largest surviving example of an animal effigy mound. A huge number of original earthworks in Ohio — placed along livable rivers and arable valleys — are already destroyed.

Serpent Mound, thankfully, was protected from the get-go, says Crystal Narayana, program director for the Arc of Appalachia, which manages the site as well as thousands of acres of regional wilderness and historical sites. The mound was made a publicly-accessible archaeological park in the late 1800s, and has been in the hands of Ohio History Connection for more than 100 years. Dense forest buffers the 60 acres and a tributary of Ohio Brush Creek, home to endangered fish and mussels, from potential development.

A few earthworks exist in government or nonprofit hands, Narayana says, but many lie with private owners, who may not always have preservation in mind. Twice, she says, the Arc of Appalachia has stepped in to save earthwork sites from the auction block. Her organization, which has saved 4,000 acres of wilderness and historical sites since 1995, will soon start fundraising to buy another site back from a mining company.

“The people who live here are just not very aware of their significance, and that is unfortunate,” she says in an email.

More than 40,000 visitors come every year to Serpent Mound, a little more than an hour east from Cincinnati — which, incidentally, was built over an earthwork. Tourists at the serpentine effigy can visit a museum, walk on trails and take in the panoramic view from an observation tower.

Unlike other earthworks, Serpent Mound was not a burial site. It holds no attributable artifacts. Instead, current research suggests it may have been built to direct spirits of the dead to farther-on resting spots. Nearby conical burial mounds suggest the builders may have been from the Adena Culture or the Fort Ancient Culture, whose timeframes run separate from each other by more than a millennia.

“I think the modern people of Appalachia have a lot in common with the ancient Native Americans,” Narayana says. They lived off the land, hunted, gathered nuts and grew gardens. Native American blood persists in the region, though lessened from earlier times, and preserving this place of mystery may be just one more important step to connecting with the shared past.

Lost Time

At Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, reenactors commemorate the first crossing of the gap by European settlers in 1775. The trail marker denotes the beginning of the Boone Trace pathway at the park. Sam Compton, president of The Boone Society, notes that a gap in the trees seems to form a heart above Daniel Boone. Photo by Roberta Mills, Boone Society

At Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, reenactors commemorate the first crossing of the gap by European settlers in 1775. The trail marker denotes the beginning of the Boone Trace pathway at the park. Sam Compton, president of The Boone Society, notes that the light striking the trees seems to form a heart above Daniel Boone. Photo by Roberta Mills, Boone Society

The race to save history has always been a race against time. Stories fade without frequent telling, and for Sam Compton, who is married to a descendent of Daniel Boone, the retelling of Boone’s story is personal.

Compton, as president of The Boone Society, wanted to make a more perpetual reminder of his backcountry legacy. Using his background as a businessman, he began the process of making a heritage trail called the Boone Trace Corridor.

The corridor of roadside stops would follow the footsteps of famous frontiersman Daniel Boone. In 1775, on the eve of the country’s independence, he was paid by the Transylvania Company to take 30 axmen and clear a path for settlers from the Cumberland Gap about 119 miles north to Fort Boonesborough, Ky.

The trail currently passes a handful of historic cities, state parks and museums. Under Compton’s guidance, and with help from more than 120 state and local partners, the path will expand to include more sites and a series of self-guided education stations along the road. “The more places that you can create within your county, [the more the tourists will] slow the traffic down and they’ll spend more money in that county,” says Compton.

A trail marker denotes the Boone Trace as it begins it's pathway across the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Photo by Sam Compton

A trail marker denotes the Boone Trace as it begins it’s pathway across the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Photo by Sam Compton

Tourists are no longer the byproduct of historic preservation; they are mechanisms by which it happens. As such, Compton is focused on making an adventure of the Boone Trace. Towns and highways block a fully walkable trail such as the Appalachian Trail, but the corridor can still step off to dramatic destinations. Just off the road, beyond the education stations and history signage, visitors could step in the exact footsteps of Daniel Boone, canoe the rivers, walk the trails and take horses into the backcountry. Activity becomes meaning felt through cultural memory, and the end result is something that everyone can keep.

“There would be no Oregon Trail or Santa Fe Trail or Gateway to the West in St. Louis had it not been for Daniel Boone making those first steps,” says Compton.

He says that Boone is already vanishing from school curriculums. The Kentucky Department of Education is working on new Daniel Boone lessons, but he’s still worried that it won’t be enough.

History becomes old, tired. Kids will stop learning about Boone, and then one fine day, he’s gone. One of the society’s Boone impersonators, speaking about the disappearance of frontier history, once said to Compton, “It’s almost like God created man and then there was the Civil War.”

Like all history — that which you can still hear or feel or touch — it was and is so much more than that.


Lewis and Clark Eastern Legacy Trail:
Though still needing a final study and congressional approval, a proposed road route would follow the pair’s fascinating trip back to Monticello and Washington, D.C, from Louisville, Ky. Did you know Lewis took an astronomical observation at the Cumberland Gap in 1806? Or that Clark was a month behind Lewis because he was courting a Louisville woman?

Trail of Tears:
A section of the the Unicoi Turnpike Trail — one of the oldest known trails in North America — was used by prehistoric Americans, later tribes and European settlers before serving as part of the Trail of Tears for Cherokee and Creek tribes. A two-and-a-half mile segment of the trail was recently transferred to the U.S. Forest Service for public access and preservation.
Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail:
The Overmountain Men of the Appalachian frontier won the Battle of Kings Mountain and helped win the Revolutionary War. Nowadays, you can follow these frontiersmen’s footings through 330 miles of roadways or a separate 87 miles of walkable paths from Virginia to South Carolina. Fun enough to start another Whiskey Rebellion!

Appalachian Voices Book Club

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - posted by interns

Appalachia’s triumphs and tragedies, its beauty and mystery, and its people’s tenacity, love and good humor have long been enshrined in fiction. This year, stories of the region’s struggles with coal are reaching a national audience thanks to John Grisham’s bestselling “Gray Mountain,” a legal thriller that pits a small but dedicated team of individuals against a rapacious coal industry. Also spreading awareness, the debut novel from Christopher Scotton weaves the impacts of mountaintop removal mining into a poignant story of humanity and healing.

Across the region, writers are offering brilliant new work of all stripes, including several don’t-miss endeavors reviewed here. We also take a look at the many ways regional writers are taking advantage of the freedoms afforded by the self-publishing movement.

To find more of the best recent writing on Appalachia, we suggest a visit to your local librarian!

Gray Mountain by John Grisham

Museum Celebrates Birthplace of Country Music

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - posted by Dac Collins

By Megan Northcote

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe listens to a Bristol Sessions tune with Jessica Turner, the museum’s executive director. Photo by Jonathan McCoy

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe listens to a Bristol Sessions tune with Jessica Turner, the museum’s executive director. Photo by Jonathan McCoy

When Salt Lake City native Thomas Richardson took a family trip to the city of Bristol on the Virginia-Tennessee line, in 2003, he had to admit he was a little disappointed.

Having grown up in a family of “old-time music living-room pickers,” Richardson had hoped his cross-country journey to a town where country music got its start would have had a little more to show for itself than a downtown mural depicting a smattering of country music greats.

Last August, Richardson, who holds a master’s degree in ethnomusicology and is pursuing a doctorate in folklore, got his wish with the opening of The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Va. where he currently serves as curator of education and outreach.

The museum is housed in a historical brick building just three blocks away from the recording studio of the renowned 1927 Bristol Sessions. These recordings were the first widely successful recordings of country music, although there were recordings as early as 1922.

In 1927, Ralph Peer, a record producer from the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York, traveled to Bristol, a booming railroad town where regional musicians often jammed together while waiting for the next train. In Bristol, Peer set up a portable recording studio inside the Taylor-Christian Hat Company on State Street.

Over the course of 10 days, he recorded 76 songs by 19 different acts originating from New York to Atlanta, including yodeling sensation Jimmie Rodgers, American folk group The Carter Family, and Ernest Stoneman, the recording veteran who encouraged Peer to travel to Bristol.

While many of the acts were pre-arranged, Richardson describes how A.P. Carter, founder of The Carter Family, just happened to see an ad recruiting local talent. Together, A.P., his wife, Sara, and his eight months pregnant sister-in-law, Maybelle, traveled 20 miles by truck in the heat of summer to record in Bristol, quickly becoming one of the most influential groups in country music history.

Yet, not all acts from the Bristol Sessions have endured such a lasting legacy. While Peer primarily produced “hillbilly records” featuring white, Southern talent, the museum does highlight a little-known record by El Watson, the lone African American act recorded at the 1927 session.

At the museum, visitors can watch the introductory film, “Bound to Bristol,” narrated by Johnny Cash’s son, John Carter Cash. Visitors can then hear all of the original Bristol recordings and learn about changes in technology that made the sessions possible.

The number of original instruments on display include a Gibson harp guitar, a guitar owned by Jimmie Rodgers, and an autoharp made for A.P. Carter’s daughter, Janette, built from wood reclaimed from her father’s old grocery store.

But, Director and Head Curator Jessica Turner says, the last thing the museum wants to do is “museumize” the living musical legacy these Bristol Sessions gave to the region.

“We want visitors to see that our musical heritage is a living tradition, and not just history,” Turner says. “Early country music is still very accessible to people, and we want our museum to help visitors relate to it.”

For this reason, the museum also includes the ultimate music “playroom,” featuring a listening station of contemporary artists’ remakes of these old-time tunes, a mixing station for visitors to recreate the Bristol Sessions songs, and a karaoke booth for guests to belt out the original lyrics — or yodels — as these artists would have done in 1927.

Photo by Malcom Wilson

Photo by Malcom Wilson

“I always thought this room would be the kids’ room, but I couldn’t have been more wrong,” says Richardson, who has caught grandmas pulling their grandkids into the karaoke booth.

This spring, the museum’s own WBCM-LP radio station and recording studio will begin broadcasting live from the 1920s building, and will feature old-time and bluegrass tunes around the clock.

The seatless Immersion Theatre exhibit presents an open dance space that invites visitors to partake in the ultimate music festival being shown on the curved screens surrounding them.

“Today, [visitors and] musicians who aren’t country music musicians are still being inspired by and learning from the artists who recorded at the Bristol Sessions,” Turner says. “We want to continue that tradition.”

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum

520 Cumberland Street
Bristol, Va. 24201

Throughout the year, special events and engaging programming include live regional music, Appalshop film screenings, guest speakers and traveling exhibits.

Open daily, except Monday
Tickets range from $11-$13 with children 5 and under free

“New Harmonies” Exhibit


On loan from the Smithsonian, this exhibit highlights all the different musical genres, from gospel to Cajun, that have influenced the sound of American roots music. Located in the Special Exhibits Gallery on the first floor of the museum.

Thomas Richardson has an MA in ethnomusicology and is completing a doctorate in folklore, but does not currently hold a doctorate, as was incorrectly stated in an earlier version of this article. Jessica Turner is the Director and Head Curator of the museum, but not the Executive Director. The Executive Director is Leah Ross. In an earlier version of this article, Jessica was misquoted as the Bristol Sessions were not the first recordings of country music, and the museum takes efforts to point that out. They were the first widely successful recordings of country music, but there were recordings as early as 1922. An earlier version of this article also incorrectly stated that the museum displays a guitar owned by Maybelle Carter, which it does not. The museum is 3 blocks from the Taylor-Christian Hat Company, not one block. We regret the errors.

Self-publishing: A Modern Avenue for Appalachian Authors

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - posted by molly

By Dac Collins


Self-publishing is on the rise in today’s progressive literary scene, and quite a few writers in Appalachia have foregone the traditional process of submitting their work to publishers in favor of publishing it themselves.

Julie E. Calestro-McDonald and Peggy Calestro self-published “Lost and Found in Appalachia” with the help of the CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, an online service. The paperback is a personal account of their road trips through central Appalachia, and the reader is given a glimpse of the region through photographs, anecdotes and hand-drawn maps.

Randall A. Wells self-publishes “Floydiana” as a serial book on his website,, which has been up and running since 2013. His inspirations for “Floydiana” are the events, people, places and scenes that characterize Floyd County, Va. Wells currently has around fifty chapters and counting.

While working at the Appalachian State University bookstore in Boone, N.C., Hugh Howey self-published his science fiction novel, “Wool,” as an eBook in 2011. By 2012, the novel was on The New York Times bestseller list, and Howey was able to sell print rights to Simon & Schuster while retaining the e-book rights. Howey advocates that self-publishing can be more lucrative than the literary establishment would like writers to believe, and he has already self-published and released “The Shift Omnibus,” a prequel to “Wool.”