Posts Tagged ‘History’

Following Cherokee Footpaths

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 - posted by molly

A quest to document and preserve Southern Appalachia’s indigenous trails

By Kevin Ridder

“This trail system is the circuitry and the main arteries of all the main transportation systems today, especially the older transportation systems,” Lamar Marshall says, standing in an ancient Cherokee footpath later used as a U.S. Army wagon road and a Trail of Tears corridor. Photo by Kevin Ridder

“This trail system is the circuitry and the main arteries of all the main transportation systems today, especially the older transportation systems,” Lamar Marshall says, standing in an ancient Cherokee footpath later used as a U.S. Army wagon road and a Trail of Tears corridor. Photo by Kevin Ridder

Hundreds of years ago, before interstate highways drove through the mountains, a network of trails winding around the Southern Appalachians served as the arteries of the sovereign Cherokee nation. Carved by man and beast alike, the trails evolved following the curves and contours of the land.

Lamar Marshall, cultural heritage director of Wild South, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the South’s wild places, has spent the last eight years pairing historical maps, surveys, journals and oral histories with geospatial mapping technology to bring this vast interconnected web to life. A background in engineering and land surveying provides him with an expertise in map reconstruction — a lifetime as an outdoorsman gives him everything else.

“What really got me was reading about Native Americans and how free they were,” Marshall says. “They lived off the land, they were totally independent and self-sufficient before the Anglos came in. I just admired the way they could live in the outdoors.”

Winding around the Appalachians with very little help from my GPS to Marshall’s homestead in Cowee, N.C., I soon found that his admiration extends far beyond that of a casual scholar; Lamar and his wife Kathleen live almost completely off the land.

Luckily, Marshall sensed my status as a city-dweller and had sent me in-depth instructions to his little house on the mountainside. After only three wrong turns and one stop for directions, I was pulling up their driveway with a trio of baying hounds close behind.

1747 map

A 1747 canvas map of the Provinces of North and South Carolina drawn by Englishman Emanuel Bowen. It shows several historic Cherokee towns and settlements. Scan courtesy of Lamar Marshall


“Most of the food we eat is either hunted or grown out back in our organic garden,” Marshall says as we walk into his house. “Deer season starts up soon so we’ll have to make some space in our freezers. Remind me to give you a few bags of veggies.”

Walking upstairs to his office, Marshall pushes aside a heavy blanket that he says prevents their small but powerful wood stove from overheating the bedroom.

Countless papers and artifacts are stacked around his office, with just enough room for two people to sit in front of the four monitors lining the desk. Near the window hang several name badges from conferences where Marshall has presented his life’s work.

Various scans of 18th-century era maps and journals pop up on the monitors as the computer starts up. Marshall double checks the Wi-Fi hotspot on his phone; the fact that the internet company has yet to extend their service this far up the road hardly slows him down.

“In 1991, I moved into the Bankhead National Forest in Alabama, and the [U.S. Forest Service] was mowing it down,” Marshall says. “They were cutting down 200-year-old hardwood ridges, replacing them with monocultures of loblolly pine. Converted 90,000 acres into these plantations.”

Except it wasn’t just trees they were cutting down, Marshall explains. One of those clearcuts exposed Indian Tomb Hollow, an archaeological site in the heart of Bankhead National Forest sacred to regional Native Americans. Looters soon invaded the area and dug up several of the graves.

Outraged, the Blue Clan of the Echota Cherokee teamed up with Marshall and other locals to form the publication Bankhead Monitor and the nonprofit group Wild Alabama, with the goal of preventing future clearcutting of sensitive areas. Their efforts led to the protection of roughly 180,000 acres in the Bankhead National Forest.

In 2007, Wild Alabama became Wild South, an Asheville-based nonprofit that currently has more than 15,000 members dedicated to preserving the South’s environmental and cultural landscape. Since its inception, Wild South has helped protect half a million acres of land and numerous species of wildlife in North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee and beyond.

Delving into the Archives

With grants and a seal of approval from the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit group funded by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Marshall and his team from Wild South have used archival records to map well over 1,000 miles of Cherokee foot trails and around 60 historic Cherokee towns and settlements in the last eight years.

“I not only map the trails and towns, but we also go to archives all over the East, including the National Archives in D.C., photographing old records to the extent that I have over 100,000 images,” Marshall says. “Instead of trying to pick and choose records, we go box to box and photograph them all for study when we get back. We’d never have time to go through them all when you’re at the archive.”

“By reading these old documents, letters and affidavits, you glean out these tidbits of geography and ecology,” he continues. “You begin to put together the big picture: that the trail system is continental wide.”

These files don’t just gather dust on Marshall’s hard drive, either. Every archival document he photographs is gifted to the Qualla Boundary Public Library in the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for genealogical research.

Lamar Marshall compares archival materials like this 1759 hand-drawn map to archival journals and land surveys to help find the location of old Cherokee trails and towns. Scan courtesy of Lamar Marshall

Lamar Marshall compares archival materials like this 1759 hand-drawn map to archival journals and land surveys to help find the location of old Cherokee trails and towns. Scan courtesy of Lamar Marshall


Russell Townsend, tribal historic preservation officer with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, says his work has benefitted greatly from having access to these files.

“We use those archive materials daily to research Cherokee history and culture,” Townsend says. “They run the gamut from some of the earliest English activity in the area in the late 1600s up to [Bureau of Indian Affairs] activities in the 20th century.”

“The knowledge gained from them is really important because it shows [the Cherokee foot trails] connected these communities in ways that the automobile roads don’t,” Townsend continues. “You realize that some places divided today by a 15 or 20 mile drive around a long ridge was really just four or five miles of a hard walk. Back in the 20th century and before, that kind of hike was nothing. So really a lot of communities are more connected historically than we thought, and that affects linguistic patterns, cultural patterns, material patterns — everything.”

Stepping Through Time

After exploring the history behind the trails, Marshall and I drive to the Needmore State Lands to hike a section of an ancient Cherokee foot path that eventually became part of the Trail of Tears.

Coming to a stop by a swinging foot bridge, we cross the Little Tennessee River and begin our trek through the trees. Marshall deftly outpaces me as I attempt to fend off the thorny underbrush. Reaching the edge of the trail, I stop next to Marshall as a feeling of reverence settles over me.

“What you’re seeing right here are the exact mountains, the exact views that the Cherokee thousands of years ago saw,” Marshall says, looking off into the distance. “This is the vantage point where they were when they moved through the woods. To me, this isn’t just something that connects you to the past — it’s a portal to it.”

The path is clearly defined, with banks up to four feet high carved by a millennia of hooves and silent footfalls. A resounding crunch amplifies each step I take through the autumn river of leaves.

Lamar Marshall stands near the mouth of Brush Creek as he looks out over the Little Tennessee River. Photo by Kevin Ridder.

Lamar Marshall stands near the mouth of Brush Creek as he looks out over the Little Tennessee River. Photo by Kevin Ridder.


Once a Cherokee foot trail has been mapped and turned over to the U.S. Forest Service, Marshall tells me, it is automatically protected under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 until it has been studied for its significance. Afterwards it can be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. All of these trails are open to the public, save for the sections that run through private land. Many continue to be in use today as roads and hiking paths.

Due to its status as a Trail of Tears corridor, Marshall informs me, the trail we are walking on will almost certainly be nominated.

“There’s no way to tell how old these trails are,” he says. “They say Paleo-Indians got here 13,000 years ago. Now I don’t know if they’re that old, but it dates at the very least back to the Mississippian culture [between 800 CE and 1600 CE].”

“This is a natural walkway, too,” Marshall continues. “The buffalo could’ve even tunneled it. This right here is a jewel, it’s priceless. Not only to the Cherokees, but to everybody. And it could’ve easily gotten bulldozed away if we hadn’t identified it, mapped it and turned it into the state.”

To date, Marshall has mapped over 1,000 miles of trail with GIS and topographic maps and field-mapped over 200 miles by foot. He inputs each trail’s GIS data into a yet unfinished ArcGIS Story Map with the hope that it can eventually be used as an educational tool. Its completed form will have narrative, text, images and multimedia content layered over the trail network to provide a glimpse into our region’s past. Samples of the maps Marshall has created are available on the Wild South website. Out of respect for the Cherokee people, no sensitive, sacred or archaeological sites are shared with the public.

1837 U.S. Army map

As this 1837 U.S. Army map to the left shows, Brush Creek was once known as Raven Creek. This map was used by Marshall to help put together the storied history behind the trail section we hiked. Scan courtesy of Lamar Marshall.


To thank him for his contributions to Cherokee cultural preservation, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians gave him a name: Usdi-nvno Awatisgi, or “Trail Finder.”

“It’s really cool when you look at a map and see how interconnected things really were,” Russell Townsend of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians says. “There are stories about people who traveled on them regularly, various incidents that happened on them that are prominent to our history and culture. I think our elders are very pleased that the knowledge of these old foot trails is not going to be lost.”

To view some of the maps Lamar Marshall has created and find out more about the Cherokee journey, visit cherokee.wildsouth.org.

Service, Music and Community at Appalachian South Folklife Center

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 - posted by molly

Influential center in southern West Virginia celebrates 50 years

The chapel is used for spiritual gatherings, weddings, meetings and concerts. Photos courtesy Appalachian South Folklife Center

The chapel is used for spiritual gatherings, weddings, meetings and concerts. Photos courtesy Appalachian South Folklife Center

By Peter Slavin

The Appalachian South Folklife Center in southern West Virginia has weathered many storms over the past half century, yet continues to provide help to residents in need, education for youth, and a safe harbor for activists. Despite early denunciations of its founder’s political views, government harassment and a fire, the center has become a gathering point for locals and visitors drawn to the center’s beautiful setting, music and opportunities for service.

Since 1965, the center’s staff and volunteers have worked to improve the lives of Appalachia’s people and to instill in them pride in their heritage, while also giving others an appreciation of the region. The center has focused on educating young people and dispatching volunteers to assist local residents who need home repairs. The center has also opened its doors to people needing a place to meet, from Miners for Democracy and opponents of a high-voltage power line to campaigners against mountaintop removal coal mining.

The center is also known for its music festivals, ranging from the early Mountain Music Festivals that drew thousands to hear both traditional and contemporary folk songs to the more recent CultureFest, an annual event featuring world music. Pete Seeger, Merle Travis and Hazel Dickens as well as local singer-songwriters and garage bands have played on its stage. “Hardly any event doesn’t include music,” says Mary “Meno” Griffith, who first came to the center in 1969. “Even after long meetings about serious issues, someone gets out an instrument and starts singing.” Music, Griffith says, is central to the center’s mission, because it brings people together and “helps us understand our history.”

Still, if music has been the soundtrack of the center’s life, making Appalachians aware of their history and culture and its value has been its central purpose.

The Folklife Center was the creation of Don West, a north Georgia farmer and champion of displaced mountain people, tenant farmers and union workers, and his wife Connie, a portrait painter. A man of many talents, Don was a leading poet in his day, and a respected educator, political activist, labor organizer and minister.

Don West was raised on a North Georgia mountain farm in an area that had flown the Union flag during the Civil War and nonconformity was part of his heritage.

Don West was raised on a North Georgia mountain farm in an area that had flown the Union flag during the Civil War and nonconformity was part of his heritage.

According to “The Cry Was Unity: Communists and African Americans, 1917-1936,” West was “wanted dead or alive” for defending a black man who was on trial for leading a hunger march, and fled Atlanta under a pile of sacks in a car. Because of his civil rights activism, the Ku Klux Klan once burned down his home. In 1932, he cofounded the historic Highlander Folk School in Tennessee — now the Highlander Research and Education Center — a critical training ground for the labor and civil rights movements. Almost forgotten today, Don West attained near-legendary status in the South in the era before the civil rights movement.

The Wests saved enough while teaching for a decade in Baltimore to purchase a 600-acre farm in the beautiful hills north of Princeton, W.Va., so they could build a new folklife center in 1965. Over the years, the United Church of Christ, Quakers and other progressive churches have been the center’s primary financial supporters; many individuals have also donated.

In the beginning, Don West used produce from a big garden on the farm to help feed those at the center, and raised and sold hay. The farm is no more, having been divided among his children at his death in 1992. The center now occupies 63 acres.

In the early years, people in the community who were facing tough times, including striking coal miners, knew they could go to the center for help. “If they needed a meal, there was always food there and always something to do to earn it,” says BobMac MacMillam, who has worked at the center on and off since 1973.

Between 400 and 500 people come to do service work each year for up to 40 families. Photos courtesy Appalachian South Folklife Center

Between 400 and 500 people come to do service work each year for up to 40 families. Photos courtesy Appalachian South Folklife Center

Griffith tells one story about Don West’s influence on someone who became a noted writer. “Jeff Biggers was hitchhiking … just young and figuring what he’s doing in world. Don West picks him up, takes him to the Folklife Center, feeds him, charms him with stories, and becomes a mentor to him. And you hear that story over and over again [from] people who are associated with the Folklife Center.”

From 1968 to 2000, the center sponsored a residential summer camp, bringing in as many as 50 disadvantaged 11- to 16-year-old boys and girls from all over Appalachia. The aim was for the kids to enlarge their horizons, learn about the region’s history and heritage, counter stereotypes they faced, and boost their self-esteem. The kids learned about coal mining, black lung, organizing and unions as well as outside domination of the region and its impact in holding Appalachia back. Many campers came back year after year.

Because of Don West’s politics, some people in the community felt animosity toward the center. For years, the Wests took part in political demonstrations and marches, and sometimes they brought along summer campers, says former executive director David Stanley.
So when the dining and meeting hall, long the heart of the center, burned to the ground in the early 1970s, some believed the fire might have been set. But the cause was never determined, and the hall was soon rebuilt.

Several women in the back-to-the-land movement founded the Learning Day Camp in 1985. The camp continues today and reportedly has a powerful impact on children. Photos by Brandi Massey

Several women in the back-to-the-land movement founded the Learning Day Camp in 1985. The camp continues today and reportedly has a powerful impact on children. Photos by Brandi Massey

Stanley says in the late 1980s two men came to his office and demanded to know where the center got its financing. They said they were from the state, but displayed no badges. He refused to produce his records and told them to leave. A year or two later, he says, Internal Revenue Service agents “took Don West out of his house … at 2-3 in the morning, took him down to Princeton to interrogate him about his finances.”
Stanley calls the incidents government harassment.

Every year 400 to 500 out-of-state high school students come for a week to participate in service work, assisting local communities while learning about Appalachia’s culture and history. In groups of 15 to 20, the students work on home repairs for low-income, elderly and disabled people — painting, building a new porch or deck, replacing rotting bathroom floors and the like.

“You have to prepare yourself for it,” says Briddy Blankenship, a previous executive director. “It’s very humbling to see how some people are living.”

Upcoming Events at the Folklife Center

    Earth Day, April 23, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. — Music, arts, and activism, including an herb walk, panel on local foods, sustainable building demonstration, yoga, drum circles, live music, open mic and jam session. Free. Call: (304) 466-0626 Visit: earthdaywv.com

    Culturefest, Sept. 8-11 — World music & arts festival with four stages for music and dance, unusual workshops, children’s activities, roaming dancers acting out stories, and on-site camping. $10/day; $50/weekend. Call: (304) 320-8833 Visit: culturefestwv.com

  • Want to bring a group on a service trip? Email Laura Lavernia at appalachianfolklifecenter@gmail.com

The groups only work for five days and don’t do electrical work or plumbing, says Blankenship, “but we can still do a lot to make a difference in someone’s life.”

Not only the homeowners benefit, notes Griffith. The young volunteers — mostly middle class suburban kids — have their eyes opened to how some people have to live, she says, and learn they can “give back for the blessings in their lives.” The kids also make their own meals and sleep in dormitories. In the evening they learn about Appalachian life, from mining history to pottery and square dancing. Some groups have been coming back for 15 years.

The center also offers a unique day camp program for one week each summer for at-risk children ages four to 12. Families pay what they can afford. The campers and their counselors — junior high, high school and college students, virtually all of whom attended the camp as children — go together to classes such as science, math, journaling and yoga taught by certified teachers. The counselors provide powerful role models, says assistant director Sarah Justice.

“Everything we do is hands-on,” Justice says. “Kids leave each day with things they’ve made in arts and crafts.”
“Many kids live way down a dirt road with the closest neighbor maybe being two miles away,” she notes. For them, she says, the chance to socialize with kids their age is special.

Citing the slurs against Appalachians on TV and other media, Justice says the kids’ camp combats the “cultural shame associated with being from Appalachia.” The camp celebrates their West Virginia heritage.

For Griffith, being part of a community of like-minded progressives at the center who put their values into practice through programs like the kids’ camp means a great deal. She has served on the board for 28 years. “It’s like the Folklife Center is my church,” she observes.

But it wasn’t through a program that the center touched local resident Doris Irwin’s life. She first went there to listen to music as a 20-year-old high school dropout who had felt the sting of Appalachian stereotypes growing up. After she started spending time at the center, she came to see her culture and herself differently. Irwin learned “you don’t have to be limited by your past,” and saw that education “was not something out of my reach.”

Several women in the back-to-the-land movement founded the Learning Day Camp in 1985. The camp continues today and reportedly has a powerful impact on children. Photos by Brandi Massey

Several women in the back-to-the-land movement founded the Learning Day Camp in 1985. The camp continues today and reportedly has a powerful impact on children. Photos by Brandi Massey

She wound up going to college, earning two degrees and having a long career as a registered nurse and social worker.

Over the decades, the center has changed, too. In recent years local people have started holding their weddings, celebrations of life, family reunions, church services, and Boy and Girl Scout meetings at the facility, notes Nancy Aldridge, co-director of the Learning Day Camp. Such events, together with the day camp, she says, have given the center “a respectable place” in the community. Irwin’s children also attended the center’s residential camp and are among the many people whom the center has benefitted.

For more information about the Appalachian South Folklife Center, visit folklifecenter.org

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.

TRAILING THE PAST

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_logo
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!

The Girls of Atomic City

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015 - posted by molly

The Untold Story of Women Who Helped Win World War II

By Denise Kiernan
GirlsAtomicCity

Back when African Americans and Caucasian Americans couldn’t drink from the same water fountains and women were an anomaly in the workforce, a team of young women unknowingly helped enrich fuel for the world’s first atomic bomb in the hills of East Tennessee.

In this New York Times bestseller, author Denise Kiernan unravels the secrets of Oak Ridge, Tenn., the administrative headquarters of the Manhattan Project. The classified town, cloaked in secrecy, was practically built overnight to house 75,000 people by the end of World War II. Through dozens of conversations with surviving workers and residents, Kiernan reveals an astonishing history. — Review by Meredith Warfield

Read an interview with Denise Kiernan.

An Era of Undoing: The State of Appalachia’s Labor Unions

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 - posted by Rachel

By Brian Sewell

In the wake of Patriot Coal's broken promises to union miners and retirees, The United Mine Workers of America have represented their members' sense of injustice in cities and courtrooms across the region. Photo by Ann Smith, special to the UMW Journal

In the wake of Patriot Coal’s broken promises to union miners and retirees, The United Mine Workers of America have represented their members’ sense of injustice in cities and courtrooms across the region. Photo by Ann Smith, special to the UMW Journal

“We are union,” the marchers chanted. Blanketing the streets of downtown Charleston, W.Va., with bystanders shouting in support, the vocal crowd stretched for blocks behind a banner that read “Fighting for Fairness at Patriot.”

Shortly after Patriot Coal declared bankruptcy in July 2012, the company announced plans to rescind its promise of healthcare benefits to 1,800 union miners and retirees. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, quickly declared that the union would do “whatever it takes” to protect the benefits of active miners, retirees and the families of Patriot Coal employees.

Since then, in courtrooms and cities across the region, the UMWA has rallied to represent its members’ unified sense of injustice at the path taken by Patriot and its parent company, Peabody Energy.

Hard work, resilience and organized struggle are hallmarks of American history epitomized by the labor movement. But for decades membership in labor unions has been on a downward slope. Now, as they have in the past, economic challenges are forcing unions to reckon with the corporate strongholds they struggle to change.

A History of Hard-won Battles

When President Franklin Roosevelt ushered in the New Deal in 1933, pro-labor legislation came with it. Five years later, the president pushed Congress to pass the Fair Labor Standards Act, saying, “We are seeking, of course, only legislation to end starvation wages and intolerable hours.”

In addition to establishing a national minimum wage, the bill prohibited “oppressive child labor,” a practice associated with coal mining since the 18th century.

With these pro-labor laws, union membership around the nation grew — especially in manufacturing and mining hubs such as Detroit, Pittsburgh and Appalachia, where the United Auto Workers, the United Steelworkers of America and the UMWA wielded wide influence. Gone were the days in Appalachia of bloody mine wars and the mass evictions of miners and their families from company-owned housing for sympathizing with the union.

In the ‘40s, some of the labor movement’s most enigmatic figures emerged, including Philip Murray, the founder of the United Steelworkers of America, and John L. Lewis, a burly, brash former miner who came to personify the plight of the American coal miner as president of the UMWA.

In her book “Coal: A Human History,” Barbara Freese writes that Lewis “filled stadiums with cheering supporters wherever he went.” Under his leadership the UMWA became one of the nation’s strongest unions.

During World War II, however, Lewis’ popularity declined as he continued to compel miners to strike even in the midst of an all-hands-on-deck war effort. President Harry Truman’s disdain for Lewis was no secret; in a 1949 letter responding to a request that Lewis be appointed ambassador to Russia, the president wrote he “wouldn’t appoint John L. Lewis dogcatcher.”

Despite his contempt for Lewis and other labor leaders, Truman vetoed the Taft-Hartley Act, legislation which would have substantially limited the power of unions. Siding with organized labor, Truman said Taft-Hartley “abused the right, which millions of our citizens now enjoy, to join together and bargain with their employers for fair wages and fair working conditions.” The Senate, however, easily overrode Truman’s veto by a vote of 68-25 in June 1947.

In the journal, Democracy, Rich Yeselson recently wrote that Taft-Hartley forced unions “to weigh the economic and political costs of doing anything too aggressive in their efforts to grow,” and required them to begin fighting to protect the gains they had already made.

Coal as a Case Study

Throughout the 20th century, perhaps nowhere have the political struggles and uprisings of the labor movement been more evident than in Central Appalachian coal-mining communities. From the mine wars to violent labor drama in Logan and Mingo counties in West Virginia, several decades of discord have led to alliances between prominent politicians and the UMWA.

If pro-labor politicians standing up for mine safety are revered, it is the tactics of mine managers and coal companies that unions most revile. Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was infamous for his anti-union views, referring to strikes as “union terrorism.”

Long after the days of union-busting brigades and hired thugs, more recent labor battles have been fought with wages and benefits rather than weapons. In the late ‘80s, Pittston Coal Company terminated contracts with the union in an effort to protect profits after coal prices declined. Today, Peabody Energy is accused by the UMWA of willingly packaging up and shedding its union mines by creating Patriot Coal, a company the union claims was made to fail — a message that is resonating widely now that Patriot is in bankruptcy.

Cecil Roberts, president of the UMWA and the heir to John L. Lewis’ rallying rhetoric, has called Patriot a “house of cards” created by Peabody to “get out of its obligation to pay for the pensions and health care of thousands of people.” Over the past year, Roberts, union members and supporters have sat with clasped arms in the streets of St. Louis, Mo., where Peabody is located, Charleston, W.Va., and other cities until being led away in handcuffs.

In mid-August, after a year of protests and pronouncements, the UMWA ratified a new contract with Patriot Coal that undoes most of the wage cuts and health benefit reductions planned by Patriot. While the new contract is a step forward, Roberts says it does not guarantee lifetime health benefits for retirees, an obligation he contends is owed by Peabody Energy.

On Sept. 27, a federal judge threw out a class action lawsuit filed by the UMWA to require Peabody to pay for Patriot retiree benefits. The same day, Roberts announced the union will appeal that decision.

An Open-Door Policy

The shuttered union hall is a symbol of the decline of unions in Appalachian coal-mining communities. At the turn of the 21st century, membership in the United Mine Workers of America had declined to nearly half what it was in 1950. Photo by Earl Dotter (earldotter.com)

The shuttered union hall is a symbol of the decline of unions in Appalachian coal-mining communities. At the turn of the 21st century, membership in the United Mine Workers of America had declined to nearly half what it was in 1950. Photo by Earl Dotter (earldotter.com)

Falling from nearly 30 percent in 1950, today less than seven percent of private sector employees are members of unions, a level not seen since the early 20th century. After an era of undoing, the largest federation of unions in the country is taking steps to ensure the years ahead will see a renaissance in the ways unions organize and operate.

In September, the atmosphere at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations’ annual convention in Los Angeles reflected that approach.

By the end of the convention, delegates had started down a progressive path in a movement that, after more than a century, continues to evolve.Among other outcomes, the AFL-CIO committed to creating a road map for immigrants and aspiring Americans, and passed a resolution calling for improvement in international trade.

Perhaps most significantly, the federation announced plans to develop an organizing strategy for the southern U.S. states, where they say corporations’ efforts to divide the white working class and minorities have broken communities and negatively influenced U.S. labor and social policies.

The announcement has led some onlookers to recall Operation Dixie, a campaign in the mid-20th century that fell far short of its ambitions to organize the racially segregated South. Others contend that it will be difficult to organize in states with right-to-work laws — a statute of the Taft-Hartley Act allowing states to prohibit “union shop” agreements that require an employee to join the union associated with their trade. Currently, right-to-work laws exist in every state in the Southeast.

“We’re trying a lot of things, and some of them will work and some of them won’t,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and a former president of the UMWA, said of the labor federation’s expanded vision. “We’ll try to amplify those that work, and we’ll jettison what doesn’t work.”

Finding ways around right-to-work statutes will likely require new approaches, but there are examples for organizers to follow.

In North Carolina, Working America, a non-union partner organization of the AFL-CIO, organized 25,000 workers over the last year to promote an agenda including tax reform and retirement security. The North Carolina AFL-CIO believes that amount of interest, even from non-union employees, could be a boon for labor’s interests in the state.

In Chattanooga, Tenn., Volkswagen is working with the United Automobile Workers to create a German-style works council, bringing factory floor workers and management together on issues such as workplace safety and sustainable business practices.

But as organized labor looks ahead, the cloud of uncertainty over even the most established unions is unavoidable. Accordingly, marchers at UMWA rallies hold signs high with a question that could be posed to members of all labor unions, private and public, nationwide: “Are You Next?”

The Spirit of Foxfire is Alive in Appalachia

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 - posted by Rachel

By Peter Boucher

In 1966, a high school teacher in Rabun County, Ga., tried a new teaching approach in order to win the attention of his disobedient, disinterested students. He assigned his English class the task of interviewing Appalachian homesteaders about the essential skills, passed down from generation to generation, that enabled them to survive without money, modern plumbing or electricity.

Barry Stiles, curator of the Foxfire Museum, demonstrates blacksmithing skills in a traditional cabin maintained by the Foxfire Fund.

Barry Stiles, curator of the Foxfire Museum, demonstrates blacksmithing skills in a traditional cabin maintained by the Foxfire Fund.

These interviews were recorded, compiled and published as the first Foxfire magazine, named after the bioluminescent glow from a certain fungus in the area forest. The magazine eventually expanded into a series of books that drew national fanfare due to their candid portraits of these innovative Appalachians. More than 45 years later, students at Rabun County High School continue to publish Foxfire.

Today, the Foxfire Museum at Black Rock Mountain, Ga., sits on a site that students and teachers purchased in 1974 with royalties from the magazines and books. It serves as a place of pilgrimage for fans of Foxfire, who come from all over the world for group tours and to see demonstrations of traditional art forms.

The curator of the museum, Barry Stiles, emphasizes that throughout its history, the organization has pursued the same goal of preserving the culture of Appalachia. Stiles credits the success of the books to their value as primary sources, citing the “authenticity of the people who were interviewed” as giving the books universal value and appeal. The books passed down the knowledge directly from homesteaders, “not people who were interpreting it.”

Book sales and visits to the museum have increased dramatically in the last few years, an occurrence that Stiles believes is due to the recent economic turmoil. “People have comfort in knowing how to do something … some of it’s nostalgia, some of it’s people learning how to be self-reliant.”

At the Wild Abundance Living Skills School in Barnardsville, N.C., which teaches homesteading skills much like those in Foxfire, many students echoed Stiles’ claim about the resurgence in popularity and it’s connection to the economy. One student, Jacquelyn Dobrinska, noted that the living skills classes help her learn the original stories behind the essentials she buys, and engender “an appreciation for the time, the ingredients [and] the work,” put into those products.

For Stiles, the difference between past and present is that people don’t necessarily have to develop skills to live off the land in order to survive. He says that recently, the dwindling population of Appalachian homesteaders who reside “off the grid” has challenged Foxfire students on the hunt for stories. “That type of person has nearly vanished,” Stiles says.
foxfirecover

Many modern homesteaders, however, might disagree with Stiles’ claim. The frontier spirit that Foxfire tries to preserve is alive and well in people like Natalie Bogwalker, director at Wild Abundance. After years of experience organizing classes and events with other sustainable skills teachers and traditionalists, Bogwalker claims that the “number of people who were practicing [self-sufficiency skills] in the past is equal” to that of today. Bogwalker runs programs on her land that teach basic life skills such as log cabin construction, wilderness survival skills like recognizing edible plants, and primitive arts such as clay pottery.

Corinne Lee, an apprentice at the living skills school, prefers to call the techniques that Bogwalker teaches “heritage skills,” explaining that the term “primitive” has too much of an antiquated meaning. Both Bogwalker and Lee are dedicated to bridging the modern, technological world with the wild, natural world to make sustainability accessible to a wider community.


That mentality seems to be growing among the classrooms at Isaac Dickson Elementary School, an Asheville City School in North Carolina. Its curriculum is inspired by the values of the Foxfire Teaching Method, using a list of core principles to empower students with increased choice and involvement in the local community.

Principal Brad Johnson credits the success of the school to the experience-based learning and instruction drawn from the Foxfire method. During one project on the cycle of economy, students planted a garden, harvested seeds, designed seed containers, and sold seeds at the farmer’s market. According to Johnson, the value of an Isaac Dickson education is “not just reading or writing about it, but doing it, seeing it, feeling it.”

The school, which currently has a waiting list, serves as an example for other Asheville City Schools. “Eight years ago we were the only school with gardens,” Johnson says. “Now all the schools have gardens.”

The spirit of Foxfire lives on across Appalachia. Camps such as the National Youth Leadership Program for boy scouts in Hiwassee, Va. and classrooms like those of Appalachian Feet in Greenville, S.C. practice Foxfire’s ideals by passing on self-sustaining and traditional skills. Foxfire inspires and teaches, perpetuating Appalachian practices from generation to generation.

Stiles describes the familial cycle that keeps Foxfire relevant to communities worldwide: “I was raised that way — [if] you wanted something, you did it yourself. My dad was raised that way, his dad was raised that way, and, probably, his dad’s dad was raised that way.”

Historical Hidden Treasures of North Carolina

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 - posted by Rachel

By Rachel Ellen Simon

Junaluska Memorial Site, Museum, and Medicine Trail

Photo by Kirk Savage

Photo by Kirk Savage

Cherokee warrior Junaluska was among the thousands of Native Americans that were forcibly relocated via the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. Unlike most, however, Junaluska was eventually able to return to his former home in North Carolina, where he died in 1868. Near the Trail route that marked the Cherokee exodus, Junaluska’s burial site is surrounded by a seven-sided monument, in honor of the seven Cherokee clans.

A nearby museum contains artifacts and information about Cherokee culture and history, and an adjacent medicine trail showcases plants traditionally used by the Cherokee. The trail is less than half a mile in length, with a moderate climb.

Open year-round. Free.

More info: Located in Robbinsville, N.C. Visit: main.nc.us/graham/junaluskamemorial.html

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Fort Defiance

Photo by Ken Thomas

Photo by Ken Thomas

The Revolutionary War was all about defiance, so it is fitting that when General William Lenoir built a home at this former fort site, he named it “Fort Defiance.” Best known for his account of the Battle of Kings Mountain — a key Patriot victory — Lenoir served as a state legislator and the first president of the Board of Trustees at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Completed in 1792, the home is now a historic site. Visitors can explore the five-acre estate, which includes a 200-year-old garden and family cemetery.

Open year-round. Tours: adults $6, children (5-15) $4, under 5 free.

More info: Located in Lenoir, N.C. Visit: fortdefiancenc.org

Historical Hidden Treasures of Virginia

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 - posted by Rachel

By Rachel Ellen Simon

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Pocahontas Exhibition Coal Mine

Photo by Brian M. Powell

Photo by Brian M. Powell

Most may know it as the title of a lullaby, but “Baby Mine” is also the name of the first mine to open in the Pocahontas coalfield in 1883. During the mine’s 73 years of operation, over 44 million tons of coal were exported. Now a National Historic Landmark, the original mine is an exhibition site and museum. Visitors can take an underground tour, learn about early mining methods, and view the famed 13-foot Pocahontas #3 Coal Seam.

Open April 1 – Aug. 31. Museum is free. For tours, adults $8.50, children (6-12) $5.50, under 6 free.

More info: Located in Pocahontas, Va. Visit: pocahontasva.org/museum.html

Appalachian African-American Cultural Center

Photo by Jimmy S. Emerson, DVM

Photo by Jimmy S. Emerson, DVM

Though the Lee County Colored Elementary School closed its doors to students in 1956, they opened them again — for tourists — in the late 1980s. The former one-room schoolhouse now serves as a cultural center that aims to preserve the heritage of Appalachian African-Americans. The center includes a collection of oral histories, historic artifacts and a library of African American literature. It also hosts public forums and an annual Race Unity Day to encourage interracial dialogue in the region.

Open year-round. Free. Call ahead for tours: (276) 546-5144.

More info: Located in Pennington Gap, Va. Visit: virginiaheritage.org/lee_co.htm

Burke’s Gardens

Photo by Andy Duncan

Photo by Andy Duncan

Cue music: “Down in the valley, the valley so … high?” Not quite in tune with the traditional folk song lyrics, Virginia’s highest mountain valley sits 3086 feet above sea level. The result of a collapsed mountain, Burke’s Gardens resembles a massive bowl, earning it the nickname “God’s Thumbprint.” The Gardens is home to an abundance of wildlife – including a number of endangered species – and is an optimum location for scenic hiking and biking. Adjacent to the Appalachian Trail, Burke’s Gardens can also be viewed from State Route 623.

Open year-round. Free.

More info:
Located in Tazewell County, Va. Visit: visittazewellcounty.org/burkes.html

Historical Hidden Treasures of Tennessee

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 - posted by Rachel

By Rachel Ellen Simon

Lost Sea / Craighead Caverns

Photo by Brent Moore

Photo by Brent Moore

Sweetwater, Tennessee is home to the largest underground lake in America. Spanning over 4.5 acres, the Lost Sea lies hundreds of feet beneath a mountain within the Craighead Caverns cave system. Exploration has uncovered Pleistocene-era jaguar tracks, Cherokee artifacts and graffiti from Confederate soldiers who were sent underground to mine saltpeter during the Civil War. Fragile crystalline clusters known as anthodites adorn the cavern walls, a feature found in only a handful of caves worldwide.

Open year-round for guided boat tours. Adults $17.95, children $7.95, under 4 free.

More info: Located in Sweetwater, Tenn. Visit: thelostsea.com

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Oak Ridge

Photo by Ed Wescott (American Museum of Science and Energy)

Photo by Ed Wescott (American Museum of Science and Energy)

While World War II raged in Europe, an army of workers in Tennessee were creating the weapon that would end it. In 1942, Oak Ridge was established as a Manhattan Project site, and was quickly transformed into a secret government city; the town’s pre-war population of 3,000 shot up to 75,000 by 1945. With limited knowledge of their work, these uranium plant workers helped create the world’s first atomic weapons.

Today, visitors can explore the American Museum of Science & Energy or tour the grounds aboard the Secret City Scenic Excursion Train. Oak Ridge and the surrounding area are also home to the Museum of Appalachia, the Coal Miner’s Museum and the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance headquarters. Formed in 1989, OREPA raises awareness about the environmental degradation caused by the nuclear facilities.

More info: Located in Oak Ridge, Tenn. Visit: oakridgevisitor.com

Historical Hidden Treasures of West Virginia

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013 - posted by Rachel

By Rachel Ellen Simon

Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex

Photo by Tim Kiser

Photo by Tim Kiser

Well before humans began tearing down hills in West Virginia, they were building them — in miniature. Over 3,000 years ago, the area was home to the Adena, a society of Mound Builders that settled throughout the eastern United States. The Adena left behind massive burial mounds, only a number of which are still intact. The largest of these, the Grave Creek Mound, spans 295 feet in diameter, and reaches nearly 70 feet high. Visitors can explore the archaeological site around the mound, and learn more about the Adena at the adjacent Delf Norona Museum.

Open year-round. Free.

More info: Located in Moundsville, West Va. Visit: wvculture.org/museum/GraveCreekmod.html

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Pearl S. Buck Birthplace

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

World-renowned author Pearl S. Buck was born in the West Virginia mountains in 1892. Buck was the first American woman to win both the Pulitzer Prize — in 1932 for her novel The Good Earth — and the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1938. Though she spent most of her childhood in China, Buck maintained a deep attachment to West Virginia; in My Mother’s House, Buck calls her first home “a living heart in the country I knew was my own.” Now a museum and cultural center, the 19th-century house and estate display an array of Buck’s belongings and antique farming equipment, a log cabin and the Pearl S. Buck Memorial Garden.

Guided tours May 1 – Oct. 31. Adults $6, seniors $5, students (K-12) $3, under 5 free.

More info: Located in Hillsboro, West Va. Visit: pearlsbuckbirthplace.com