Yearly Archives: 2014

Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening: We open today’s show with guest author John VanArsdall. His Canjoeco Restorations of Blountville, TN specializes in meticulous, historically correct restorations […]


Beyond Citizen Science: Natural History as a Cultural Bridge in Appalachia

In the fall of 2012, a group of students in my laboratory at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise decided to aim for this “holy grail” of bettering our understanding of biodiversity in the mountains, while bridging the ever-present gap between scientists and the people who call our mountains home. These students were a mix of local residents of rural southwest Virginia and those from more suburban areas near eastern portions of the state, but the questions they addressed were the same. How, for example, can you link scientists and their research with residents who may live a day’s drive from the nearest major research lab or lecture hall?

Like any scientific question, we had to start with what we know. One of the first things our student group noticed was a body of research from the field of cultural cognition, a growing field in the social sciences that examines how individuals perceive and interpret scientific information. One of the most striking finds from this research in recent years was that rural residents, like many found across Appalachia, are best engaged with new scientific material when it is presented in a way that ties into an existing cultural background.


Dams on the Upper Yough: What Almost Wasn’t

The most unique proposition came in 1910. The owner of the Youghiogheny Power and Light company proposed a centuries worth of cheap, renewable energy for Baltimore, MD. Stricken with an incurable disease at the age of 75, Mr H.P. Tasker decided he had a plan that would benefit society. With a ninety-nine year lease, and power offered at $3 per horsepower, all the city had to do was provide the transmission wires. More miraculously, he proposed doing so without building a single dam.

The rates he was proposing were “absurdly low,” and yet even under scrutiny of the city’s engineers, the plan held up. Even with the cost of transmission lines and property purchases for the right of way, the power paid for itself. And yet, like most hydro-electric plans in the Youghiogheny valley, nothing came of it. The same is true of a 1914 proposal that created the Youghiogheny Water and Power Company. A plan would come together, politicians would approve it, and the money would never materialize.


Just Trembling All Over—the Textile Strike of 1934 in Huntsville, AL

Yes, a new grievance structure was established that removed control from the hands of the mill owners. Yes, workers had the legal right to organize. But the stretch-out and wage system were referred to a committee to be studied, and little practical change in the daily lives of the workers was apparent. Many were turned away from their jobs as retaliation for their union efforts. New complaints piled up unredressed. Families were turned out of their homes. And the bitter taste left from the pyrrhic sacrifices of the strike lingered in the hearts of many.

The mill industry in Huntsville rebounded during World War II, but shortly after the war, another slow descent began as manufacturing moved offshore. Once employing hundreds of thousands of workers, the industry vanished. Today, many of those mill buildings and villages still exist in Huntsville, having been repurposed into a community theater (the former Merrimack Hall), artists’ studios and shops (Lowe Mill) and commercial space (Lincoln Mills). They are the last reminders of this once-critical industry in the region, and the movement it generated.


‘Fire: An Urban Menace’ opens at Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum

The Fire: An Urban Menace exhibit highlights the importance of the Sanborn Maps and the fire-fighting equipment to the Town of Jonesborough. In a most fitting manner, the Jonesborough Fire Department helped lift the equipment, which, with iron wheels, is anything but light, onto their platforms. The fire department helped preserve the buildings in the late 1800s, and they continue to help preserve Jonesborough’s history to this day.

Visitors to the museum can see the equipment, including the exquisite hand-painted detail on the water pumper. Additional panels provide information on the ladder truck, poetic coverage of the great fire of 1873 as printed in Jonesborough’s local newspaper, and the gallant story of Fire Chief Guy Sabin, who gave his life to save the town he loved.

Jonesborough’s fire-fighting equipment was pivotal to the salvation of the town, and it is only fitting that the equipment now has a place of honor and a safe haven of its own where it can be appreciated and studied. When you visit the “Storytelling Capital of the World,” make sure you stop by the Jonesborough/Washington County History Museum and view the hand engine, pumper, and extinguisher in their well-deserved retirement. Jonesborough is a town full of stories, and there are many to be told in Fire: An Urban Menace.

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