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 right 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 how Blacksburg, VA got its first railroad, fondly nicknamed ‘The Huckleberry Train,’ in 1904. Local newspapers called the railroad “the Christiansburg-Blacksburg Railroad” or “the Virginia Anthracite Line.” Blacksburg’s soil is preferred by plants of the heath family, such as the wild-growing lowbush blueberry, which had become gloriously profuse along the newly cleared railroad’s right-of-way. It became popular in the summer to buggy out to the site, see how the building was coming along, and pick the berries. After several summers of berry picking, the railroad became connected in people’s minds to the famous huckleberries.
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.
Next, listen in on two early 1930s letters written by one M.L. Lewis of Henderson County, NC, to his mother in Vonore, TN. “I have just neglected to write as I should have,” he apologizes in the first letter. “And I think you all have been slow enough about it. You know how we neglect those things.” But his mother must have made quite a fuss over his lack of letters and/or calls just the same, for he opens the second letter with “I cannot think I am as guilty of not writing as you accuse me.”
Maxine Broadwater was just 5 years old when she helped her brothers destroy the glass negatives so they could turn their late uncle’s photography studio into a chicken house. Luckily for us they didn’t finish the job. Her uncle, Leo J. Beachy (1874-1927), is thought to have taken ten thousand photographs a year on five inch by seven inch glass plates of the people and places in his beloved Garrett County, MD between the years 1905 and 1927.
“An interesting story is told of another Anderson man of long ago,” says Louise Ayer Vandiver in her 1928 book Traditions and History of Anderson County [SC]. “He was Walter M. Gibson, and lived near Sandy Springs. He was an adventurer, and it is said was once prime minister of the Sandwich Islands. Being banished during a revolution, he went to one of the South Sea islands, where he always claimed he was made King, but after a time was banished from there, too. Later he was imprisoned by the Dutch for attempting to investigate a revolution in Java.”
We’ll wrap things up with a look at festival entrepreneur and organizer Jean Thomas, who billed her ‘The Traipsin’ Woman.’ She had hosted Susan Steele Sampson, wife of Kentucky’s governor, the previous year at her first American Folk Song Festival, held at the Traipsin’ Woman Cabin. Now, in August 1931, Jean Thomas found herself invited to the Governor’s mansion in Frankfort to discuss the creation of an American Folk Song Society and an annual festival open to the public. How did Thomas get to this point, and why did she call herself the “Traipsin’ Woman?”
And, thanks to the good folks at the Digital Archive, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Buell Kazee in a 1927 recording of “The Old Maid.”
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.