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 the West Virginia town known in its heyday as “Home of the Millionaires.” At the turn of the century, when 4,000 people lived here, at least 14 millionaires called Bramwell, WV home, making it the richest town per capita in the United States. The town, incorporated in 1889, was the business and residential community for Pocahontas coalfield owners and operators such as J.H. Bramwell, I.T. Mann, Edward Cooper, Philip Goodwill, John Hewitt and William Thomas until the Great Depression ruined the economy.
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, guest blogger Jim Rada weighs in with a tale of a jealous husband in Oakland, MD. Rada writes the monthly local history column for the Cumberland Times-News, and has had four historical novels published that were set in the region. “Ann Johnson was a woman who believed that she deserved more from life than to work in a general store owned by her older husband, Cornelius, and live in a backwoods town,” Rada tells us. “The general store was on Railroad Street, just 300 feet away from where the handsome young Dr. Conn had set up his office.”
Ah, southern Appalachian ‘balds,’ those curious sub-alpine meadows. From northern Georgia to southwestern Virginia, there are scores of such grassy peaks sprinkled along the Appalachian mountain chain. They are an enigma, being largely devoid of trees and other woody vegetation where one would normally expect to see a continuation of the surrounding forest.
Henry Reed (1884-1968) of Glen Lyn, VA was known not only as a fiddler, but as a banjoist who finger-picked the banjo with all his fingers, and as a harmonica player who could play all the notes of complicated dance tunes on that instrument. The overwhelming majority of the tunes in Henry Reed’s repertory were learned by ear and retained by memory. His music is a testimony to his own artistic sensibility and simultaneously to the fertile ferment created by the coming together of the musical imagination of three continents to fashion the fiddle tunes of the old frontier.
We’ll wrap things up with a look at a showy plant aptly nicknamed ‘Queen of the Meadow.’ If butterflies are about this week, you can be sure you will find them on the heads of the sweet Joe Pye weed. This perennial herb, found in moist woods and fields throughout Appalachia, is at its height of bloom right now through September. The plant’s formal name is the first clue that we’re dealing with far more than just another pretty flower. It’s named after a New England American Indian named Joe Pye, who was said to have cured typhus with it.
And, thanks to the good folks at the Digital Library of Appalachia, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music by Girls of the Golden West in this unidentified yodeling tune recorded in 1938 on the Pinex Merrymakers radio program over station WLW, Cincinnati.
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.