From Dollywood to the Magic City: Appalachia’s Alternative Enterprises

Mar 15, 2019

This week on Inside Appalachia, we take off-the-beaten-path tour of some of the region’s alternative cultures and economies. We’ll visit a factory where workers are reviving the art of glassmaking. We’ll hear how farmers and chefs are returning to some of our old-fashioned recipes for inspiration and attempting to reshape our region’s economy in the process.


And we’ll go back to the 1970s, to hear what it was like to be part of the LGBT community in Roanoke, Virginia.

We’ll also meet entrepreneurs experimenting with an old Appalachian crop: hemp. We’ll hear the hidden backstory behind Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s iconic theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee and take a chili bun and slaw dog tour across Southern Appalachia. We’ll also hear from a father and son-in-law who are preserving the time-intensive craft of traditional furniture building through a family business in rural West Virginia.

Think back to the last time you went on a road trip. Most of the time, you visit a place and merely scratch the surface. Rarely do you get a chance to really look around and discover all the ways communities have changed over time.

That’s true for a lot of road trips. When you visit a place, you don’t always get the full picture, but if you know the right people to guide you, you’ll discover much more of a community’s little-known histories, and the stories that you usually can’t find in a book. In this episode, with a little help from the right people, we’ll share some hidden histories of places in Appalachia, and we’ll explore ways people are building on the past to grow economic opportunities for the future. 

Jim Probst’s spiral staircase at his "retirement workshop"
Credit Caitlin Tan/ WVPB

Some economists argue that our future shouldn’t be dominated by one major industry. For a community to thrive, it will likely take many smaller, interconnected businesses and ventures.

Host Jessica Lilly closes the show with these personal remarks:

"You might not think of Appalachians as having great business sense, but when you look beneath these shallow perceptions, you discover people with creative independent ways to survive or make money. I was born in the 1980s. My generation grew up in the shadow of coal mining’s decline," Lilly said. "We’ve been told that we must get out of the region if we want to be successful and live the good life. Some people talk about diversifying our economy, but it’s not exactly clear what that will look like. Not one major industry has emerged that could replace coal completely. Maybe, to survive, our future will include more smaller shops, farms and factories, making artisanal products or growing the food of the future. Only time will tell."

A hemp farmer in Christian Co., KY.
Credit Nicole Erwin/ Ohio Valley ReSourse

We’re going to keep highlighting, exploring, and hopefully discovering Appalachian traditions through the Inside Appalachia Folkways Project, but we need your help. If you know of anyone with a special craft, or talent and a big personality, we want to meet them. Email us your ideas of Appalachian arts and culture that you’d like to preserve to insideappalachia@wvpublic.org or send us a tweet @InAppalachia.

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We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from With Good Reason and the Virginia Humanities, WKMS in Murray, Kentucky, WUNC in Chapel Hill North Carolina, The Ohio Valley ReSouce, and Milk Street Radio.

Music in today’s show was provided by Tyler Childers, Rokia Traoré, Dinosaur Burps, and Ben Townsend.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer.  Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Catherine Moore edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. You can find us online on Twitter @InAppalachia.