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What the History of Salt, Slaves and the Mine Wars Teaches Us About Change in Appalachia

Roger May
Lilly, a member of the kids' church congregation at Cedar Grove United Methodist Church, examines a sound recorder

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of a series of novels called The Beulah Quintet.  The novels are by the late Mary Lee Settle, a writer who set out to capture moments in West Virginia history when a revolutionary change was at stake. Today's economic uncertainty here in Appalachia has many people wondering whether we are also living in the midst of a transition.

Producer Catherine Moore was inspired to capture all this in an hour-long radio documentary called Cedar Grove, featured in this week's episode of Inside Appalachia. "There's just kind of a feeling in the air, right now, in central Appalachia, that we have reached a moment, or a crossroads, where we're gonna have to choose a path for our future. So yeah when I discovered that aspect of Mary Lee Settle's work it really resonated with me, as we face the projected long-term decline of coal.

"So that was a big inspiration for me to make this documentary. I wanted to explore that idea of what these times are like, and I do think that if we're going to survive here we're gonna have to look for new ways of being," Moore said.

Moore said, "[Mary Lee Settle] set each of her books in her Beulah Quintet in what she called "pitch points" or "seed points", which she thought of as moments right on the edge of a deep and profound societal change. She wanted to see the kinds of choices people were making and how those choices were impacting the future."

Credit Roger May
Shirley Stennett and Patty Thurmon are sisters who own and operate The Haven, a rest home, in the Cedar Grove mansion, which was the Tompkins ancestral home.

Credit Roger May

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Southern W.Va. Bureau Chief, Reporter/Producer, jlilly@wvpublic.org, 304-384-5981, @JessicaYLilly
Former Reporter/Producer for Inside Appalachia, @RoxyMTodd
Catherine Venable Moore is a writer and producer based in Ansted, West Virginia. She serves as one of the editors of the WVPB show Inside Appalachia. After graduating from Harvard with a degree in Literature, she earned an MFA in Poetry from the University of Montana. Her nonfiction, poetry, and radio stories have been featured in Best American Essays, Oxford American, VICE, public radio stations across the U.S., and on the BBC. She is the co-founder of several public history projects, including the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum. Her current projects include two works of narrative nonfiction set in Appalachia, to be published by Random House.