Advertising Art Made in Coshocton

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 8, 2014

Please welcome guest author Bill Carlisle. Bill Carlisle is the grandson of Robert Dennis, owner of the Morgan Run Coal Co. in Coshocton, OH. He lives in Cleveland but has been coming down to Cosh all his life, since his mother’s family has land there. For 35 years he has been collecting beer signs and Coshocton advertising art. Bill is the curator of the Advertising Art of Coshocton exhibit currently on display at the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum.


Coshocton, OH, located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, has long been called the birthplace of specialty advertising. The first art-inspired advertisements were printed on trade cards in 1884. From that humble beginning an entire industry branched out to produce signs, trays, thermometers, calendars and hundreds of other items.

The American Art Works (AAW) became the best-known company thanks to its popular Coca-Cola trays. The AAW made at least 24 different full-sized Coke trays and vast numbers of advertising novelties. In 1926 The American Art Works alone produced 72 million pieces.

‘Advertising Art Made in Coshocton’ exhibit at the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum in Coshocton, OH.

‘Advertising Art Made in Coshocton’ exhibit at the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum in Coshocton, OH.

Joe and Donna Kreitzer and I have been collecting advertising art made in Coshocton for over thirty years. Although hundreds of trays and signs have passed through our hands, we still feel like we’ve only scratched the surface. In 1992 Joe and I had the opportunity to walk through the American Art Works South Plant (old Standard Plant) just before its demolition.

We explored the two buildings connected by an enclosed second floor walkway, finding a paint shop, an artist studio with tables made from giant litho stones, the battery of curing ovens on the second floor of the Fourth Street building, tool rooms, and many large Coca-Cola and Genesee beer signs lining the walls of both buildings. Joe and I decided at that time that we wanted to learn all we could about the operations in this old plant between 1886 and 1963. Over several years we spent our weekends on the front porches of retired craftsmen or their remaining family members.

This revolution in advertising, graphic art and lithography began when a small ad ran in the January 5, 1884, edition of the Coshocton Age. The newspaper announced that W.W. Shaw & Co. had gone into the printing and advertising novelty business. The success of Shaw’s venture caught the attention of two rival newspapermen, Jasper Meek and Henry Beach. These two men would form competing companies that would merge in 1901 and, after just a few months, would again become competitors.

Curators Joe and Donna Kreitzer and Bill Carlisle (left to right).

Curators Joe and Donna Kreitzer and Bill Carlisle (left to right).

Jasper Meek, editor of the Coshocton Age, purchased a modern press and was taking orders for first class printing work at the newspaper office on Main Street. He had three steam-driven presses in full operation printing trade cards and booklets between press runs of the newspaper by 1886.

William Shaw sold his printing business to Meek and became a salesman for the Age and later for Meek’s Tuscarora Advertising Company. Shaw would eventually go to work for Henry Beach at Standard.

Jasper Meek then experienced another aha! moment. It is said that he noticed a school child struggling to hold onto her books and thought, “That child needs a book bag, and better yet, one printed by me with an advertisement.” Meek convinced locally owned Cantwell Shoes to pay for burlap book bags that bore their advertisement, thereby launching a brand new industry with Meek at the helm.

This was advertising on non-paper, utilitarian objects. Meek turned to the German invention of stone lithography, the process of transferring images onto paper and textiles by drawing on stone and then taking impressions from that stone. There was already a large printing industry in Cincinnati, the handiwork of early immigrants from Germany. Between l836 and the introduction of the steam press in l868, Cincinnati had about fifteen large lithography companies printing circus posters, play bills and book illustrations.

Meek employed artists who moved to Coshocton to design and paint the pictures that were to illustrate the signs and calendars produced by his company. Skillful artisans and mechanics transferred these images onto lithography stones using a separate stone for each color. The workforce consisted of townspeople working with the highly skilled artisans who came to Coshocton to work their trade at Tuscarora. The Tuscarora Advertising Co. grew from three employees in 1887 into a manufacturing plant with sales worldwide and over three hundred employees by 1901.

Lith iron sign by the Tuscaroras Advert. Co. (1887 - 1901)

Lith iron sign by the Tuscaroras Advert. Co. (1887 – 1901)

Henry Beach, editor of Coshocton’s other weekly newspaper, took no time to establish his own specialty advertising company just a year after Meek, in 1888. His company, The Standard Advertising Co., was especially interested in the metal sign trade.

Beach was able to borrow two men from a Baltimore company who, along with his own mechanics, were able to develop a process superior to any in existence. Standard began lithography of metal signs in 1890, the first company in the world to do it on a steam press.

A rubber sheet attached to a cylinder passed over the litho stone, picking up the image, and then the cylinder would pass over the tin, depositing the image. The signs had to make a trip to the drying ovens after each color run. By 1890 the plant employed about 350 people, manufacturing signs, leather goods and a complete line of advertising novelties.

Standard was incorporated in 1892 and had branch offices in London, Sydney, Havana, New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, St. Louis, San Francisco, Baltimore, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Denver and Louisville. The company ledger contained the names of over 2,500 regular customers by the century’s end.

The Standard Advertising Co., along with the Tuscarora Advertising Co., dominated a worldwide market, but a third company, The Novelty Advertising Company, was just a few years from joining the competition.

William Shaw, who had sold his presses to Meek before joining Meek’s company, had also worked for Beach at Standard. In 1895 he left Standard, taking all of his experience with him, to incorporate a new company, The Novelty Company of Coshocton.

In 1899 it consolidated with the Empire Novelty Company of Wellsville, NY, to form the new Novelty Advertising Company. It employed about 125 people, one-third of the workforce being women. It moved from an old flour mill to its present location on Walnut Street where it began manufacturing advertising novelties and metal signs. It continues in operation today.

Coca-Cola trays by American Art Works.

Coca-Cola trays by American Art Works.

In 1901 the Tuscarora and Standard Companies merged to become Meek and Beach. By 1902, it existed only in name, and Henry Beach formed a new company, H.D. Beach, as well as offshoots such as Beach Leather Co., Beach Enameling Co., and Beach Art Display. By the end of 1903, Meek officially changed his company’s name to The Meek Company, and then two years after his retirement in 1908 the board of directors voted to change the name to The American Art Works.

During this first decade of the 20th century, Coshocton boasted of having more artist residents than any other city in the U.S. save New York City. But, by 1912 the artist colony that had been established in the city since about 1890 dissolved. There was never been a definitive explanation for the departure of artists during this short two-year period, however technological advances in the use of photographic equipment may well have reduced the need for their services.

Meek and Beach were so successful from the start that several rival companies were formed, eventually growing into twelve companies with, combined, over five-hundred years of business experience, that shipped finished products worldwide.

Nearly every family in Coshocton had a relative working in one of the plants. The economic depressions of 1891 and 1911 were virtually non-existent in Coshocton and the companies carried the city through the Depression in 1929. The advertising companies of Coshocton became world leaders in this industry, much the same as Bucyrus and Marion became world leaders in road building equipment, Akron in rubber products and tires, and Toledo in glass.

The German influence was especially strong in the late 1800s. The German community established several social clubs and singing societies as well as a German language newspaper, The Coshocton Wochenblatt. The tremendous growth of the city itself was the result of great industrial leadership, a very aggressive Board of Trade, and progressive city leaders.

The legacy of the advertising art industry can be seen throughout the city today. Henry Beach donated the land for the city hospital. Charles Frederickson, president of the AAW for 43 years, was a founder of the country club, and donated and maintained the land for the Boy Scout camp at Wills Creek. Jay Shaw, along with Edward Montgomery, established Lake Park, one of the finest city parks in the nation for a town of this size. Many buildings on Main Street are named after executives of the advertising companies. The Beach family continues to manufacture calendars under the leadership of the fifth generation, Jamie Beach.

Lith iron tray by Standard Ad. Co. (Henry Beach's Co.) 1888 - 2001

Lith iron tray by Standard Ad. Co. (Henry Beach’s Co.) 1888 – 2001

In 2003, in celebration of Coshocton’s Bicentennial, the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum asked Donna, Joe and me to curate an exhibit of Coshocton advertising art from the first fifty years. A command performance with even more pieces on display (850) is currently on display this summer through September 14th.

A publication on the advertising art industry in Coshocton, as well as a DVD with images of all 900 works currently on display, is available through the museum’s gift shop. The Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum has four permanent galleries—American Indian, Historic Ohio, Asian and Victorian, and one changing exhibit gallery. Special exhibits range from art and American history to world culture and local history. For more information on the museum’s exhibits and programs, go to its website.

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Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 7, 2014

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:

This special edition of Appalachian History Weekly focuses on the life and music of West Virginia folk legend Aunt Jennie Wilson. Virginia Myrtle Wilson (1900-1992) was born and raised in the Peach Creek area of Logan County. She was one of the first women in the region to learn the play the banjo. She played a double-thumb clawhammer style that was driving and strong. Her gravely voice delivered honest and true songs, from the long-ago Child Ballads to more “modern” tunes as sung and played from the 18th and 19th centuries, and which were passed down from generation to generation. Aunt Jennie’s music and storytelling made her internationally known for her preservation of Appalachian culture, and in 1984 West Virginia presented her with the Vandalia Award, the state’s highest folk-life honor, for lifetime achievement in traditional music.

We open today’s show with a live interview with Roger Bryant. Bryant is Aunt Jennie’s grandson, and served as emcee for the 10th annual Aunt Jennie Music Festival last weekend at Chief Logan State Park.

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, Aunt Jennie’s granddaughter Beverly Roark shares a bit of the personal side of her famous relative. “My grandmother, her house was open to everyone, at all times” she tells us. “There were many times we had 20-30 people for Sunday dinners. We always made room for them, and if we didn’t have enough we always made more.”

We’ll wrap things up with ‘The Earl of Elkview’—George Daugherty, a trial lawyer who has traveled the world singing and talking about West Virginia. Daugherty is a close family friend of the Wilsons. “Everybody just loved Aunt Jennie,” he says, “She was a storyteller, she was the embodiment of an old fashioned, West Virginian, American mother.”

And thanks to the good folks at Field Recorders’ Collective, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from the woman herself in a 1972 recording of East Virginia.

So call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corncob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian history.

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Framing History: The Art of Blount Mansion

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 5, 2014

The following article ran August 28 on the Beyond the Mansion site. It is reposted here with permission.


We have a great new exhibit going in here at the Visitor’s Center here at Blount Mansion. It is called Framing History: The Art of Blount Mansion.

In the years since we became a museum in 1926 we have collected many great works of art along with all of the furniture and other items. So we have taken the time to select some of the best of what we have to best represent our collection and are now displaying them for the enjoyment of our visitors and guests.


The majority of the exhibit is portraits. Given the number of famous people associated with the site we have some great ones to share. There are copies of both William and Willie Blount’s official Governors portraits done by Tennessee artist Sarah Ward Conley. Another is a striking portrait of General Washington’s Chief of Artillery during the Revolution, General Henry Knox. He was Secretary of War in the 1790’s and Governor Blount’s boss. He is also the man whom Knoxville is named for.

Prints make up most of the rest of the exhibit. There are 3 original Mark Catesby prints from the 1730’s. These well preserved examples are from Catesby’s work on flora and fauna. He was one of the first naturalists to discover that birds migrate.


Our prints are from his masterwork, “Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands”. He spent years traveling through the new colonies studying the wildlife and plants. It would be almost 40 years before he would be truly finished with the engravings and publishing. Amazingly he predates John J.Audubon by almost 100 years!

We were incredibly lucky to have Robmat Butler, a preparator from the Knoxville Museum of Art come over and hang the new exhibit for us. His skill and experience made short work of hanging these 26 pieces. From start to finish it was only about an hour. Who knows how long it would have taken us to do it. Many thanks to KMA for the help.

So It is our distinct pleasure to invite everyone out to the opening of the new exhibit on September 5th, 2014. As part of First Friday we will have a small reception here at the Visitor’s Center at 7:00 p.m. Drinks and light refreshments will be served. We hope everyone will come out and have a good time

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An interview with the authors of ‘Wayfaring Strangers’

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 4, 2014

Gina Mahalek of UNC Press had the following conversation with Fiona Ritchie and Doug Orr, authors of Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia (University of North Carolina Press, Fall 2014). The text of this interview is available here.


Q: Wayfaring Strangers includes a CD with 20 songs by musicians featured in the book. How do you imagine your readers using it as they read? Is it meant to be a soundtrack of sorts?

A: We felt sure that, as our readers got deeper into the story, they’d become increasingly eager to hear for themselves how the music has evolved. So the book’s CD has songs and tunes that are chosen to help illustrate the musical voyage. Some readers may enjoy listening along as they read. Others will want to lay aside the text and immerse themselves in the music. There are so many songs—and multiple versions of songs—that our CD can only ever be a taste. We could easily have made a boxed set! Hopefully it will open readers’ ears to the connections we’re highlighting and they’ll be tempted to embark upon their own musical explorations. There are so many great artists to discover who will lead them further—some are noted in our Discography.


Q: You acknowledge that “The swell of a thousand voices carried this book to shore upon the waves of ten thousand tales.” Who is this book about?

A: We reached back to explore medieval troubadours in the south of France, wandering minstrels who fanned out across Europe, and Scottish ballad collectors, composers, singers, and fiddlers. Above all, though, our book is primarily about the nameless families—across many generations—who held onto the one thing that cost nothing, took up no space in their travel trunks, and was perhaps their most valuable symbol of identity: the songs and tunes they carried over centuries and the miles. In particular, we spent years researching these intrepid wayfarers: Scottish emigrants to Ulster in the north of Ireland, who blended their musical traditions with the Irish in their new home and transported these on their Atlantic crossing to America. They often seemed drawn to the distant horizon and their journeys have been a carrying stream of music, fed by so many sources and in turn feeding out along countless tributaries. As Scots-Irish, many found Appalachian homes and new ways of sharing their long-held musical traditions. To tell the truth, at times it felt as if we were traveling along with them, and we developed a real affinity for their unshakeable spirit and their incredible persistence in keeping their music and traditions alive.

Q: Your interviews with key contributors to this living tradition greatly enrich your book. Tell us about these conversations.

A: In producing and hosting NPR’s The Thistle & Shamrock® through the years, Fiona has had many opportunities to talk with tradition-bearers about our developing book. Many were able to provide insights and guidance. Then as our Wayfaring Strangers project took shape, it also became clearer which artists we should interview specifically for the book. Some were perfectly placed to come onto Fiona’s radio shows, or to join us at Traditional Song Week during the Swannanoa Gathering. We made special visits to some others, such as Pete Seeger. In fact, our visit to his home stands out as a treasured memory of working together on this book. As for the conversations themselves, they unfolded naturally. We found that people were very enthusiastic about sharing their stories. We knew early on that documenting these conversations would become an important and unique element of our book and that we desperately wanted their voices to speak through the pages. Some of these voices are elderly; a few are now quiet. It feels timelier than ever to share their insights and to reflect on the lineage of this music even as the regional accents and styles blur and fade.

Bloody Foreland, Donegal coast, Ireland. (Courtesy of Ian MacRae Young)

Bloody Foreland, Donegal coast, Ireland. (Courtesy of Ian MacRae Young)

Q: What do you think your readers will find most surprising about this musical voyage across oceans?

A: You mean, apart from how long it took us to write the book…?! Generally, we think people will be surprised that there is no one stream, no linear musical journey. We are not starting off in the heartland of Scottish balladry and ending up at the birth of country music. Our story is more dynamic than that—and bigger. It reaches back farther, travels more widely, and flows onward timelessly.

While not necessarily surprised, we were both struck by how the music persevered, through hardship and deprivation, from one generation to the next. Without any of the advantages of modern technology, our wayfarers were able to sustain their music traditions over the long migratory trail of countless years and new lands. It seemed that the music had an enduring power and life force of its own, rebounding even when outlawed, thriving where it might have died.

A couple of specific story elements that may surprise: the role of the linen industry on the music migration and the evolution of the dulcimer on the Great Wagon Road. Intrigued? You’ll have to read the book to find out more!

Q: You are both known as the creators of much beloved musical institutions—Fiona’s NPR program, The Thistle & Shamrock® and Doug’s Swannanoa Gathering—the traditional music workshops held on the Warren Wilson college campus in the North Carolina mountains each summer. Fiona, you’ve noted that connection is the single word that best clarifies your motivation for collaborating on this book. Could you please elaborate?

A: Well, Doug and I have a personal connection, rooted in public radio, that dates back over three decades. So that was a motivator in working together, as we knew the long-standing friendship would help us to collaborate across an ocean. We learned pretty early on that we shared an interest in music. During my time living in the U.S., I became increasingly fascinated by the connections between music from my Scottish homeland and my North Carolina adopted home. And I could see that Doug was following his own path of discovery, connecting with his Scots-Irish family roots and the music this opened up to him along the way. Yes—these connections were at the heart of it all.

Scottish Immigrants Monument, Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia. (Courtesy of Joe and Karen Holbert)

Scottish Immigrants Monument, Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia. (Courtesy of Joe and Karen Holbert)

Q: The concepts of leavings and exile are important in the chronicle of Scottish emigration. How are they manifested in song?

A: The Scots and Irish have a remarkably rich repertoire of songs of emigration and parting. Some tell of bitter exile, others are hopeful and anticipate the new life ahead. Some sing of lost love, many express the pain of homesickness. All testify of a very deep tie to the land and the beloved landscapes of home. Songs became companions that helped ease the pain of separation and reinforced the identity of exiles and emigrants.

Q: What are some of the recurring themes in Wayfaring Strangers?

A: Connection, the ongoing “carrying stream” of tradition, the idea that “living is collecting,” the tapestry of musical and cultural influences are all ideas that recur in the book. Time and time again we were impressed by the community of music and this is a strong theme throughout: the old fiddle tunes and ballads shared at hearthside gatherings in Scottish and Irish cottages, at dances and ceilis (or ceilidhs), in pubs. It’s a musical community echoed in front porch music sessions at log cabins scattered throughout Appalachian coves and hollows. Another theme that emerged in the book is the sense that the music has served as an egalitarian and democratic force overcoming differences of culture, religion, and ethnic origin.

Q: Which musical instruments are predominant in your story of cultures on the move? And what role did the mail order industry play in their distribution?

A: We have to say that the human voice is the strongest instrument sounding through the pages of Wayfaring Strangers. But in terms of instrumental music, the fiddle, the Appalachian or lap dulcimer and the banjo are the main pillars supporting the living soundtrack of this story. In the late nineteenth century, the advent of mail order companies allowed instruments, including mandolin, guitar, and autoharp, to find their way into remote mountain communities and so the range of musical sounds grew.

Bascom Lamar Lunsford at “Singing on the Mountain,” Grandfather Mountain, ca. 1940. (Photograph by Hugh Morton; © North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Bascom Lamar Lunsford at “Singing on the Mountain,” Grandfather Mountain, ca. 1940. (Photograph by Hugh Morton; © North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Q: You offer a fascinating glimpse into the role that music played at sea for eighteenth-century emigrants during the Atlantic passage. Tell us about this.

A: Yes, of all the emigrant journeys probably none was more fraught with peril, and yet more sustained by music, than the passage across the Atlantic. The eighteenth-century crossing could take six to ten weeks. On the sailing ships, quarters were cramped, food was basic and scarce, homesickness set in early, and the threat of disease or death was always lurking close by. So it’s no surprise that ships’ captains, knowing how important music was for maintaining good spirits, gave a high priority to hiring a fiddler for the voyage. In fact, a fiddler was second only to the ship’s surgeon in crew hiring priorities. They provided daily recreation and physical exercise for dances on deck. And of course, ballad singing was always a boost to the spirit and a reminder of shared memories from home. As we worked on the book and talked with some of our “Voices of Tradition,” we really gained a sense of the songs being sources of comfort to the emigrants. And also, of how important song carriers were as members of the community in transit.

Q: Which North American cities were most important landing points for the Ulster Scots?

A: For the eighteenth-century Ulster Scots emigrants, Philadelphia and its smaller Delaware River ports were far and away the most popular destinations. Philadelphia had become an important port for the linen trade with Ulster and other parts of Ireland. Plus Pennsylvania had a sizeable Quaker community, which was accepting of the Ulster Scots Presbyterians escaping religious repression and economic discrimination. Secondary landfalls in the Colonial South included Charleston and Savannah. New York and Boston did receive some Ulster Scots, but those ports played more of a role to incoming Irish famine refugees of the nineteenth century. Also, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia was the destination for many nineteenth-century Highland Scots.

Doc Watson playing guitar in front of a woodpile, November 16, 1987. (Photograph by Hugh Morton; © North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Doc Watson playing guitar in front of a woodpile, November 16, 1987. (Photograph by Hugh Morton; © North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Q: Why was the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road—the most significant “highway” in colonial times—important for burgeoning musical traditions?

A: It was actually originally mapped by Thomas Jefferson’s father and the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road originated on Philadelphia’s High Street, close by the docks and wharfs. From there, it continued west into the Pennsylvania frontier and down Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley into the Carolinas’ mountains and piedmont. It was described as “Colonial America’s busiest highway” and ferried the wayfarers’ flow toward uncharted terrain. Conestoga Wagons carried entire families over what was a winding, rutted dirt path. These were driven by the legendary “wagoneers,” the dashing minstrels of the day, and they shared songs and fiddle tunes along the route. Dances were common at the overnight way stations. The fiddle was ever popular but there was also the occasional banjo and the very portable jaw harps. Plus the mountain or lap dulcimer was likely born along the Philadelphia and Wilderness Wagon Roads, having evolved from an earlier German instrument that come into Pennsylvania.

Q: What is a song collector (or songcatcher in Appalachian colloquialism) and what role do they play?

A: The songcatchers were among the many heroes of our Wayfaring Strangers’ tale. Well-known collectors included England’s Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles, and the Appalachian’s Olive Dame Campbell, Jane Hicks Gentry and Bascom Lamar Lunsford. They would all track the songs into the deepest recesses of Appalachian coves and hollows. Part of what made them so successful was that they first built trust with the Appalachian balladeers, who could be wary of sharing their treasured and very personal music with strangers. Thousands of old ballads and fiddle tunes were captured in this way that might have been lost to history were it not for these dedicated collectors. Remember, almost none of the music had been written down by Appalachian settlers; it had been passed down in an oral tradition.

Libba Cotten, singer and banjo and blues guitar player, at event in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the 1970s. (Photograph by Hugh Morton; © North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Libba Cotten, singer and banjo and blues guitar player, at event in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in the 1970s. (Photograph by Hugh Morton; © North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)

Collectors in Scotland and the U.S. such as Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Francis Child had set down earlier “British Isles” versions of many songs. Sometimes the Appalachian songcatchers over romanticised what they found, claiming to have uncovered a “time capsule,” and they often completely overlooked the African influences on the music or discarded songs that didn’t fit their theories. But they were able to preserve a monumental music archive—an important part of American culture—through their lifelong dedication. Jean Ritchie, Alan Lomax, John Jacob Niles, David Holt, have all carried on this tradition in more recent times.

Q: You note that “The old ballad stories were owned by no one and yet by everyone.” How so?

A: In Scotland, Ulster and Appalachia, the songs have always been viewed as more important than any one individual singer. The anonymous authorship of much of the repertoire meant that no one questioned the fact that people often had their own family versions of ballads, or that they varied in different geographical areas. The tradition of singing and passing songs on has had an unbroken momentum across time and place. In fact, the urge to make music and share it has been even more vital than the repertoire itself. Like any good story, a good song (and the ballads are all stories after all) will live on. It’s the same with strong melodies: they also often have independent lives and may be paired up with many songs and different dances. No one owns this stuff. It belongs to everyone.

Q: African Americans’ contributions to Appalachian music are legion. Which do you consider most significant?

A: Well, most people think of the banjo as one of the most significant African contributions to American music, as the banjo’s origins are traced to West Africa. But the extensive African contributions within the tapestry of Appalachian music are often underestimated and misunderstood. At the time of the Revolutionary War, one-half of the fiddle players in the South were African American. Their more syncopated, rhythmic, bluesy style had a lasting influence on Appalachian fiddling, and loosened up the more strict Scots-Irish rhythm into what we now call “old time.” The African American reverence for the community of song reinforced the power of communal singing in Appalachia: their church-inspired spirituals resonate through American and Appalachian culture.

String-band instruments. (Photograph by Doug Orr)

String-band instruments. (Photograph by Doug Orr)

Call and response work songs and lullabies entered the American songbook. There were many African American old-time string bands and dance callers, invited to play for black and white dances in the Appalachians. That rich tradition is undergoing something of a revival today through performers such as the Carolina Chocolate Drops string band and the Black Banjo Reunion project. Finally and most profoundly, many of the legends of Appalachian music were encouraged and assisted significantly by African American colleagues and mentors. A.P. Carter, Jimmie Rodgers, Bill Monroe, and Doc Watson, among others, have all acknowledged the generous helping hand they received from African American musicians. In fact, we are delighted to include as one of 124 book illustrations a remarkable artist’s sketch of many of these musicians juxtaposed with their African American mentors. This is a heartening aspect of the story that we have felt privileged to share.

Q: Even Elvis Presley makes an appearance in Wayfaring Strangers. How does he fit into this story?

A: Elvis fits into every story! Well, his mother was from Scots-Irish origins so we can easily imagine that Elvis grew up hearing the old songs. In the eighteenth century, his father’s direct ancestor came to North Carolina from the heartland of Scottish balladry: Aberdeenshire. And in the South he was surrounded by African American voices of song. In common with the wayfarers in our tale, he was filled with an urge to sing.

Q: Dolly Parton has been very supportive of the Wayfaring Strangers project. Interesting!

A: We feel blessed to have Dolly Parton sharing her family connection and love of the old music with us in the book’s foreword. There is no one better placed to reflect upon the journey of the music from its traditional roots into the American cultural mainstream, and Dolly’s perfectly chosen words set such a warm and welcoming tone for us. She pointed us to her unique version of the ballad “Barbara Allen” that is the opening track on the book’s CD.

Q: What kind of impact do you hope Wayfaring Strangers will have on readers?

A: We find that the more you look, the more you feel drawn down different pathways into diverse traditions and cultures. So we hope Wayfaring Strangers inspires readers to delve beyond these stories for themselves. The tapestry just gets more textured and colorful as you go.

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Life Stories Spill Out at the Whipple Company Store

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 3, 2014

“Grandpa, this woman is stupid!” whispered the little boy just a bit too loudly to the older gentleman holding his hand. The two of them were part of a tour group that owner Joy Lynn was leading at the Whipple Company Store in Scarbro, WV. Ms. Lynn was showing the group a small side room that had been used to store and weigh sacks of grain, and she had just pointed out to the gathering that the room was completely lined in thin metal sheathing, though she didn’t know why that was.

Whipple Country Store. Photo courtesy George Bragg.

Whipple Country Store. Photo courtesy George Bragg.

But the boy’s grandfather knew why, and had shared his knowledge with the boy before they entered the room. And like so many of the people who find their way back to the Whipple Company Store, the man had a direct personal connection there from many decades prior: he had been the Collins Coal Company employee who weighed out the grain in that very room in the 1930s-40s. He graciously explained to Ms. Lynn that in the pre-pesticide-reliant era tin lining was commonly used to repel insects and rodents in storerooms. “You know those electromagnetic pest repellant machines you can buy today?” he explained. “Well, tin lining also has very weak electromagnetic properties, enough to do the job.”

“Sure enough, when we bought this place and it was piled high to the ceiling with stuff,” observes Ms. Lynn, “this was the one room that had absolutely no cobwebs.”

Today the Whipple Company Store, built in 1890 by coal baron Justus Collins, is the only remaining coal company store of its architectural design type in southern WV’s Pocahantas coal basin. Its oval arch entry sheltering a deeply recessed porch is typical of a design style once commonly found in the 30 or so company stores that dotted the basin in the early 20th century.

“People think of this place as a museum, but to me it’s a place for sharing stories,” says Ms. Lynn, who with her husband Chuck purchased the compound in 2006.

“I want to see the corset bar,” insisted one guest. “It’s in the adornment room.” She knew exactly where the room was, and Ms. Lynn was happy to guide her there. However, the item was missing: there was only an outline against the wall, in a different shade of paint, where it had once been attached.

Inside the grain room. Modern visitors use magnets to attach their visit comments to the tin walls.

Inside the grain room. Modern visitors use magnets to attach their visit comments to the tin walls.

“The corset bar, for those who’ve never worn a corset, had two purposes,” explained the woman to Ms. Lynn. “First, it was used to drape the laces for easy access while the wearer was being laced up. Then, in addition to holding the laces, it had 3 sets of handles for the wearer to grasp during lace up: one at eye level for the first round of lacing, another about a foot lower for the next round of tightening under the bust, and a final set, slightly below waist level, which gave the handmaid doing the lacing enough leverage to get the corset to a 13-inch waistline.”

No wonder Victorian and Edwardian grand dames fainted all the time! This guest’s grandmother had been the chambermaid to “the fine ladies,” as she put it.

“Speaking of cords and pulling, come look at this rope-pulley operated freight elevator over here,” Ms. Lynn said as she guided me around another corner. “One day during one of our tours, a man in his early 90s came up to it, and without me saying anything further, commented that most people just didn’t understand the correct way to pull the rope.”

“Young men want to show how strong they are, and so they yank the rope too hard while they stand way out into the room,” he told Ms. Lynn. “Well, that rope loops around a big wheel up on the third floor, and if you pull the rope that way you’ll just jump it off the wheel.” He snugged his right shoulder up tight against the freight elevator opening to show her how the operator would stabilize his body to allow for a steady, even pull.

She noticed the man had lovingly cradled his cheek against the rope while he held it, and a tear quietly rolled down his face. She paused the tour and patiently allowed the man to regain his composure. He reached into his wallet and pulled out a tightly folded piece of paper. He carefully opened it and showed Ms. Lynn a photo of his father, the freight elevator operator, shoulder snug against the opening, with a 5 year old boy next to him, clutching the man’s pant leg.

A young visitor to Whipple tries his hand at pulling the freight elevator rope.

A young visitor to Whipple tries his hand at pulling the freight elevator rope.

Fortunately for anyone who hasn’t had the pleasure of taking one of her tours, Joy Lynn has compiled these stories and many more in Coal Camp Voices, available at the Whipple Company Store website.  Here’s an excerpt:

A falling down building, weather beaten, with very little paint and a look of loneliness to its form. It is an architectural beauty.

All the sharp corners and flaccid arches, many sections of roof and ornate finials were revealing its past. What was this place? What was I seeing, hearing and feeling? Is this building trying to communicate? Is that even possible?

The sunlight was peeking through soft white clouds. The streamed lighting created a grey shadowed reflection over its large covered porch and massive arched opening. Concrete steps, large across the front of the building, drew my eyes level with the line of two stout pipe hand railings. Directing my gaze upward to the oversize porch floor, the view was powerful yet inviting.

The strong nature of this porch demanded discipline, power and control. I could feel this as I mounted the steps carefully and took a firm stand on the porch floor.

The Coal Baron’s spirit and dominion loomed over the people, the place and all its effects. EVEN NOW!

Justus Collins, coal baron of this unique and exquisite building, had four structures built in this similar architecture. Owned and operated as the Whipple Colliery Company by Collins, it became New River Company store #4 at Whipple in 1907.

This beautiful stature of a building has served the community in many ways. Over the last century it has taken on the duties of a grocery, butcher shop, clothing store, post office, bank, doctor’s office, print shop, theatre, restaurant, antique store, auction house, trading post, home and NOW, a preserved piece of the past, A Museum.

This is not what I saw as I gazed upon these eighteen thousand square feet of perturbed beauty.

An enormous ‘For Sale’ sign was adhered to a couple of 4×4 weathered posts. The two posts were deeply buried in the hilly ground and situated the corner of a sadly neglected lawn. The now overgrown hillside at one time revealed a glimpse of Scarbro Elementary School. This was now completely out of sight. The train tracks that ran along the ridge above the store’s main entrance directly east of the building? All gone, but not forgotten.

coal camp voices book

Blinking, swallowing, looking everywhere and as if in a panic I was taking all this in rather quickly. I snapped back my attention as I heard a voice.

“Maybe they will let us look around. It’s for sale. This is the old company store,” my mother was saying with enthusiasm.

Smiling and glancing her way, feeling stupefied, I just nodded. My mind was already remembering, recalling this building. It had been calling me for most of my life. My anticipating emotion and rapid heartbeat were overwhelming. I suddenly noticed a loud thumping in my ears and quick breathing. I know this place. I remember this place.

The thoughts entering my head left me somewhat confused. This is what I am going to do. To do? What was I going to do? What was I even doing here?

As my mother reached toward the door, to grasp the door knob, I found myself compelled to knock this poor woman out of the way. I had to get to the door first. Touch the doorknob first. Look inside, breathe the air first.

Calm down, what is the matter with me?

Calling on all my mental restraints, and regaining control of my emotional self, I took a deep breath. I stopped a minute, made myself turn around and glance back and down those large, oversize steps. I could see in my mind’s eye the hustle and bustle of a life and time when the building was regal, powerful and useful. How do I know this? How can I see this? Why do I feel this? I was very confused.

Suddenly I experience a flashback, a memory I suppose, of my family in 1960. Daddy is driving the old road from Mossy and he decides to pull the station wagon off the road. We are on our way to visit my grandmother and family in Gatewood.

It was just a few more miles up the road but Daddy was finding it necessary to check something that was happening to the car. He pulled off the road in a wide spot smack in the front of this very building. Looking over the seat from the back of the station wagon, I could see a gloomy silhouette against the evening sky. This building’s shadow loomed over the car like a huge veil.

I can see myself so clearly in my memory, leaning as far as I could over the front seat and breathlessly telling Daddy “Look at that castle! I want to buy that castle; can we buy that castle, please? I really think we should live in that castle.”

Daddy never looked up at me. He was focused on the car trouble, and mindlessly responded with a gruff overtired voice, “Get yourself back in that seat, and take car of your brother—stop his crying. That is not a castle! It’s an old company store and no one lives in company stores.”

I was confused; even at my young age I knew company stores never ever looked like this. My Daddy must be mistaken. This was a castle, a castle for sure.

I settled myself back in the middle seat section of the old station wagon, reaching out to my little brother who by then was really crying and creating an obnoxious sound. I was trying to calm him as Daddy got back into the driver’s seat and pulled the car away from the castle. We resumed our travel into the dusk and the winding road.

I leaned over and strained my neck from the car window, wanting to see clear to the castle roof top. I felt a sadness fall heavy on my heart and a quiver on my mouth. I don’t know why, but that big old building needed me. As I continued to look out the window I moved my head sort of upside down from inside the car and porch arch smiled down on me. This was my own little castle. I knew I would return to it.


Historic postcard showing the town of Whipple, WV. No date. Courtesy Joy Lynn.

Historic postcard showing the town of Whipple, WV. No date. Courtesy Joy Lynn.

Ms. Lynn is currently at work on a second volume of stories, to be titled Coal Camp Secrets: Haunted History, Murder and Mystery, which she hopes to have published in late October.

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