Real Appalachia

Jesse Wright

Some of the names of places in Appalachia have a long history, dating back to the 1600s. The history and story behind a name can get lost over time – leading us to question how a place got its name.

One such place is Coopers Rock state forest, located outside of Morgantown. Who was Cooper? Was he a real person? Did he live there?

Caitlin Tan / WVPB

People in Appalachia have made spirits for hundreds of years. Some people even say Appalachians are among the best at making whiskey and moonshine. But this history is sometimes coupled with negative stereotypes. Outsiders have long portrayed Appalachians as dangerous, lawless moonshiners.

Caitlin Tan

Peanut butter stouts, guava sours, hazy double IPAs, pomegranate ales – these are just a few experimental beers to come out of the craft beer craze in recent years.

According to the National Brewer’s Association, this expanding industry started in the 1990s but didn’t gain momentum until 2010, making it relatively new. Today there are more than 7,000 commercial breweries in the country.

WVU Press

The book “Appalachia North” by Matthew Ferrence takes a look at what it means to be from Appalachia and not realize it. He grew up in a part of Pennsylvania that’s part of Appalachia according to the Appalachian Regional Commission, but no one there acknowledged that fact.

Matthew Ferrence describes “Appalachia North” as a geological, cultural and as a personal journey. It’s a memoir.

Photos by StoryCorps, graphic by Jesse Wright/WVPB

StoryCorps producers brought their mobile recording studio to Charleston, West Virginia, in fall 2018, and recorded more than 100 stories. These recording are between friends, co-workers and family members. StoryCorps’ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world. These recordings will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in the largest collection of oral histories in the world.

We edited and selected a few of those conversations for this episode of Inside Appalachia.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, Jeremy Farley is a self-taught expert on Appalachian storytelling.  He grew up in Wythe County, Virginia, and is the founder of Appalachian Magazine. Jeremy is also one of 10 new reporters with the Folkways Reporting Corps. Inside Appalachia host, Jessica Lilly, recently sat down with Jeremy to talk about Appalachian Magazine, and his new position on the team. We hear part of that conversation.

Emily Hilliard / West Virginia Folklife Program

Doris Fields, an R&B, soul, and blues musician and songwriter, also known as Lady D, is the daughter of a coal miner. Her dad moved to West Virginia from Alabama at 10 years old and spent 50 years in the mines. She currently lives in Beckley.

Fields explained that music has been in her blood since she was a young girl, growing up in Cabin Creek, West Virginia.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia, we explore how our cultural traditions change over time and evolve as they get passed from person to person.

 

How does foklife fit into our already busy, and frankly, quite stressful lives?

“Henry Glassie, another folklorist, says that folklore is the creation of the future out of the past. So in order to know where we're headed, we have to know about these traditions in the past,” explained West Virginia state folklorist Emily Hilliard.


Caitlin Tan

Walking down the streets of Greensboro, Pennsylvania, it feels a bit like a ghost town. There are houses, business signs, a post office, but only two cars drive by in 10 minutes and no one is walking the streets.

The small town in southern Pennsylvania is just across the West Virginia border. It sits on the banks of the Monongahela River, surrounded by small hills and patches of trees. In years past, the town has weathered the boom and bust of a pottery industry, river trade and coal. Lately, it has been more bust than boom.

Jesse Wright

Across the Atlantic Ocean -- 3,586 miles away from West Virginia -- you will find Wales, which is part of the United Kingdom. The western side of Wales is lined by two channels from the Celtic Sea. And inland is quite mountainous. Within those mountain towns, you will find similar folk culture to Appalachia.

“The nature of the people and the landscape is very similar. Plus, many people from West Wales came over here. So we’ve got those really strong connections,” said Peter Stevenson, a Welsh artist, writer and storyteller.

Courtesy of Patricia Boyd

This week on Inside Appalachia, basketball was a big deal for the small town of Northfork, in McDowell County, West Virginia. The high school team won the state championship eight years in a row.

Courtesy / Marshall University

Dan D’Antoni never got far from his roots, even though basketball took him away from his home in Mullens, West Virginia for nearly 50 years. He continued to be a proud son of the Mountain State while teaching the world about the unique style of basketball that he says came from the courts he grew up on.

Jesse Wright

The tall, red brick building that was once home to Rowlesburg High School still stands after surviving the historic 1985 flood.

After the flood it was no longer used as a school, but today it remains the heart of the community of Rowlesburg – it's where people meet, festivities are held, weekly dinners are made, etc.

F. BRIAN FERGUSON / CHARLESTON GAZETTE-MAIL

For many families in parts of eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, the absence of clean, reliable drinking water is part of daily life.

Blaine Taylor, a 17-year-old resident of Martin County, Kentucky, struggles to manage basic hygiene when his water comes out with sediment in it.

“I had to use a case of water last night just to get enough water in my bathtub just to get myself cleaned up for today at school,” he said. “It’s rough.”


Ben Hethcoat/Marketplace

Like a slow-motion tsunami, the opioid epidemic continues to claim the lives of our friends and neighbors. Four of the top five states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths are here, in Appalachia.

The drug epidemic is changing, but it’s not going away. People are still fighting for their loved ones and communities. This episode of Inside Appalachia looks at traditional and innovative ways law enforcement is tackling the challenge. And we’ll hear from people who end up behind bars anyway, as they struggle with substance use disorder.


Jessica Lilly / WVPB

Across Appalachia, thousands of coal miners have suffered from black lung disease. In the 1960s, miners organized a movement to end the chronic condition. They convinced Congress to pass new laws that were supposed to make black lung a thing of the past. Today, conditions underground have changed, and the disease has come roaring back.

Jim Antonini, an occupational health science researcher, fields a ball at shortstop for Chico's Bail Bonds. As team captain, Antonini is in charge of the always-entertaining game write-ups that recap the misery suffered by the Morgantown softball team.
Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Spring is here and that means baseball season. This week on Inside Appalachia we’re taking another look at baseball throughout the region. We’ll learn about the history of early baseball in the coal camp towns of southern West Virginia and go inside the legendary baseball bat factory — the Louisville Sluggers. And we’ll meet a man who went from living in an isolated timber town in Pocahontas County, West Virginia to being a professional umpire for the Cincinnati Reds.

Jesse Wright / WVPB

“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis”, a personal memoir by JD Vance, was on the New York Times Bestseller list for 24 weeks. After the 2016 presidential election, some people read the book, hoping to gain insights into the region. The book sold more than a million copies, and a Ron Howard film is now in the works.

Caitlin Tan

Families all across the world pass on traditions and it is no exception in Appalachia.

Traditions like making apple butter in the fall, or celebrating Christmas morning at mamaws, or picking ramps at that secret spot in the spring, or even just going to church on Sunday.

But for one family in Lincoln County, West Virginia, the tradition is building furniture.


Eric Douglas, WVPB

Transportation and fuel provided the foundation of a large glass industry in central Appalachia at the beginning of the 19th century, but changes to the industry nearly destroyed it. To survive, Blenko Glass in Milton, West Virginia adapted its business.

Caitlin Tan

See a recipe for salt rising bread at the bottom of this page. 

Salt Rising bread has a long history in Appalachia. Typically, people outside of the region have never heard of it.

The bread often brings to mind a variety of distinctive scents and grandmothers tending to a time-intensive dough in a wood-heated kitchen.

Caitlin Tan

Editor's Note: It is with great sadness to report that Jane Gilchrist passed away Friday, March 8, 2019. The West Virginia Public Broadcasting team offers its deepest sympathies and condolences to Jane's family and friends. Click here for Jane's obituary.

Most Americans typically wear clothes made in factories overseas. The same goes for fabrics in homes, such as potholders, rugs and blankets. But it has not always been this way.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This week on Inside Appalachia, we’ll hear from Appalachians who have a knack for making things with their hands -- people who make the essentials of life in the old ways. 

“And when I sit down at one of those looms and I start creating a piece of cloth, I feel connected to the place of my ancestors, the people who have come before,” said weaver Jane Gilchrist.


Jessica Lilly / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Mountain Artworks is a studio in Mercer County that houses the unique flair, personality, passion, and dreams of metal sculptor Michael “Mike” Sizemore. Mike has a particular fondness for copper, but he uses all sorts of materials in his work, even recycled glass ashtrays. Like many artists, Mike keeps a day job to pay the bills.


Roxy Todd/ WVPB

To begin 2019, Inside Appalachia is taking a look back at some favorite stories. Not our favorite stories, but those of the show’s friend Adam Harris. Harris is the Executive Producer for West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Mountain Stage with Larry Groce.

StoryCorps

To wrap up 2018, we're re-airing stories about faith and religion and their influence in Appalachia. We’ve teamed up with StoryCorps and Georgetown University’s American Pilgrimage Project for this episode. Each segment includes a StoryCorps-style interview where the participants are talking about life, faith and what it all means to them. 

Jesse Wright

Around the holidays, homemade treats are everywhere — whether it be Christmas cookies, gingerbread houses or fruit cakes. One Swiss holiday tradition involves making Rosettes — light, crispy, deep-fried pastries made using a floral-shaped iron mold.

Eric Douglas, WVPB

This week we’ve put together a special holiday episode about seasonal traditions. Holidays in these mountains have always been meaningful. In Appalachia, it’s usually a time to go home, or to carry on traditions of home in a new way.


Jesse Wright / WVPB

On Nov. 20, 1968, an underground explosion ripped through a West Virginia coal mine and killed 78 miners. Fifty years later, the local community still comes together the Sunday before the anniversary of the Farmington Mine Disaster to remember the men lost that day.

SHAYLA KLEIN

This week on Inside Appalachia, we take another look at the world of independent pro-wrestling.

While pro-wrestling is popular across the country and all around the world, the sport has a rich and storied history here in Appalachia. In this episode we’ll take a glimpse at the action, intensity, and drama (real-life and otherwise) that happens between the ropes.

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