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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.
Nannie Kelly Wright (1856-1946) was probably the only woman ironmaster in America’s history. She married into the business, but her husband’s holdings fell into dire straits when the Panic of 1893 struck. From 1894 to 1897 the iron industry in this country was practically at a standstill and stocks were worth about 15 to 20 cents on the dollar. Buyers at that price were scarce. Nannie Wright, a close observer of political and financial affairs, reasoned an upward trend was due and used her own money to buy back the family’s ironworks. She was said to be the second richest woman in the world by the early 1900′s.
Next, Henry Harvey Fuson takes a skeptical look at the story behind Kentucky’s famous Swift’s Silver Mine in his 1939 book History of Bell County KY. “The mountain people in the past have been good subjects for the creation of this folk-tale, since no mines have been found that we can trace to Swift,” Fuson observes. “They lived for a century far from railroads in a wilderness of mountain country. They made a living, a bare living in many instances, by the hardest of work. People in this condition dream of wealth and luxury.”
The poet who penned “the fog comes in on little cats’ feet” moved to western North Carolina for the sake of the little goats’ feet. Pulitzer Prize winner Carl Sandburg and his wife Paula had lived for 17 years on Chicago’s foggy shores by Lake Michigan, but left it all behind in 1945. Flat Rock, NC, twenty-four miles south of Asheville, offered greener pastures and a longer browsing season for their Chikaming goat herd.
We’ll wrap things up a selection from a 1943 South Carolina memoir titled Red Hills and Cotton, an Upcountry Memory. “We discussed ultimate destinies — the asylum, the poorhouse, the graveyard, the jail,” says author Ben Robertson. “We considered chance and the power of faith over chance, and how strange and hidden was chance. We were caught by it like fish in nets and like birds snared in traps. And the race in our valley no more went to the swift than it had in Ecclesiastes, nor did the battle go to the strong, nor did riches come to men of understanding. When our time would arrive, it would arrive.”
And, thanks to the good folks at the Digital Library of Appalachia, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from Charles Edward Harris in a 1977 recording of “Old Time Religion.”
So, call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corn-cob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian History.