We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. You can start listening right away by clicking the podcast icon over on the left side of your screen. If you’d rather grab the show off itunes for later listening, click here:
We open today’s show with the story of the hellbender. North Carolina is home to at least 48 species of salamanders, and the mountain counties are the most productive with at least 35 species. And among those 35 species is the hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis), one of only three giant salamanders found in the world.
We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a Calendar of Events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.
“In early days for some strange reason, the little town of Keystone, WV sported one of the biggest red light districts [Cinder Bottom] in existence,” P. Ahmed Williams tells us in his 1977 essay “Black Culture,” from the West Virginia book of essays Mountain Heritage. ”On payday Saturday nights, men, young and old, came from far and near to pay their respect to the “ladies,” and for other sports such as drinking and gambling.”
Before the days of T.V.A. and large power companies, electricity was supplied to rural areas by such imaginative and pioneering men as Arthur Abernathy Miller. In 1925, Miller, a brilliant self-educated electrical engineer, built the first hydroelectric dam in north Alabama — the DeSoto dam in Ft Payne, AL.
Next, we’ll hear a selection from the 1939 “WPA Guide to Kentucky, Compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project of the WPA for the State of Kentucky. “His ancestors were sturdy men and women, steeped in traditional ways, independent and as little humble as possible,” says the guide. “The mountaineer is that way too. He cares neither for ease nor for soft living. He is hospitable. “Welcome, stranger, light and hitch,” is the salutation, and the stranger is bidden to take “damn near all” of whatever the table offers.”
There is no more sacred spot in upper South Carolina than the Old Stone Church and its adjoining cemetery, where many of South Carolina’s most distinguished dead lie sleeping. The old church stands as a silent tribute to the piety and heroism of our first settlers, many of whom came over the mountains from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina to make their homes in this beautiful but savage wilderness.
We’ll wrap things up with a quick look at SW Virginia’s Melungeon community, as seen through the eyes of Bonnie Sage Ball in her 1969 book “The Melungeons, Their Origin and Kin.” “Church picnics were always attended by Melungeon boys, but my mother once had a difficult time persuading young Willie that he must have a bath and wear a suit in order to participate in a children’s day program. So he appeared, grinning broadly, in my brother’s hand-me-down.”
And, thanks to the good folks at the Digital Library of Appalachia, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Carl Jones, Don Pedi, and James Bryan in a 2002 recording of the old fiddle tune “Stump-Tail Dolly.”
So, call your old blue-tick hound up on the porch, fire up your corn-cob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian History.