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 a budding 1930s romance in the Hungarian immigrant community centered in West Virginia’s northern panhandle. “At that first meeting,” John R. Jasper relates, “Helen wasn’t at all impressed with Jim because he was trying so hard to impress her. Jim had heard a lot about Helen in his letters from Margaret and meeting her was part of the reason he drove all the way down there in a $75 car!”
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.
“Cotton of course is one of the principal crops in the county at present,” said James Alfred Sartain in his 1932 History of Walker County GA. “It is to be regretted that our people have taken so seriously to cotton farming. Cotton impoverishes land. Cotton year after year for a few years and hardly anything else will grow there profitably—not even cotton. Examine the fields of the county; observe the bare hills and knolls in every field where cotton is raised. Lack of humus has caused erosion. We endeavor to overcome this by the use of commercial fertilizers, thus further impoverishing the land.”
During the July 27, 1941 race at the Daytona Beach-Road Course he suffered a crushed chest, broken pelvis, head and back injuries, and severe shock. He raced his two brothers and his sister in the July 10, 1949 race at the same course, the only NASCAR event to feature four siblings. And years later, after all the track dust settled, he died on July 15, 1972. You could say July tended to be an eventful month for NASCAR pioneer Truman Fontell “Fonty” Flock.
Next, we’ll take a look at 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 wrap things up with a 2007 interview with James Brennan, whose family once owned part of the land the Oak Ridge National Laboratory now occupies. Brennan’s parents planned to keep their Chestnut Ridge place in the family for the rest of their lives, but by fall 1942 events beyond their control dictated otherwise. World War II was in full swing, and The Manhattan Project uprooted the Tennessee family for good.
And, thanks to the good folks at the Blue Ridge Institute Archives, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from the Newman String Band in a 1976 recording of Chicken Reel.
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.