West Virginia has not, up to the present time, done much with its scenery except to mar it

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 22, 2017

A country’s natural scenery may have a good deal more than an aesthetic value. It may be worth money, and from a business standpoint its care and improvement is frequently of great importance. Fifty million dollars go into Switzerland every year to pay the board and traveling expenses of foreigners who journey there for pleasure and recreation. The money thus brought into the country constitutes a large part of the income of the people.

Nature gave fine scenery and pleasing summer climate to Switzerland, and the natives have built the best and most picturesque roads in Europe in make travel easy and exhilarating. Excellent hotels offer attractive accommodations. People go there to spend their money, and depart with the feeling that their money was well spent. Scenery and resorts pay in that country.

The people of Maine have found ways to make money out of their woods, lakes, rivers, and summer hotels. Fishermen and hunters who have plenty of money to spend go by the thousands to Maine to spend it. They are willing to pay well, and the thrifty Yankees see to it that their guests get their money’s worth. That brings the guests back year after year. Game is protected and is plentiful. Streams abound in fish because dynamiting and other destructive modes of killing are not permitted. The woods are in good condition because fires are not permitted to burn unopposed. The people of Maine find their scenery, resorts, hunting, and fishing an investment which pays big dividends.

boaters in Morgantown WV, 1910Boating Group with their Canoe, Morgantown, W. Va., circa 1910.

West Virginia has not, up to the present time, done much with its scenery except to mar it, mutilate it, and burn it up. Except in the case of mineral springs, practically nothing has been done in this State to make scenery attractive or to bring it to the attention of the outside world. West Virginia may never rival Switzerland, but it can equal Maine. The summer climate is glorious among its high mountains and elevated valleys. A series of summer hotels from 3000 to 4400 feet above the sea might stretch across the State, following the Alleghany and parallel ranges of mountains.

Adequate highways connecting these resorts, and others for side trips to hunting and fishing grounds, with the surrounding forests cared for, and the innumerable mountain streams clear and clean, would attract to West Virginia many thousand wealthy tourists who now hardly know the state by name and who never think of visiting it, except to rush across it on the limited express trains of trunk railroads.

A good many things must be done before West Virginia will take its due rank as a resort for tourists, health seekers, and sightseers. It must first protect its woods and make them attractive. It must clean its streams and stock them with fish, and make and enforce civilized laws for protection of the fish. It must stop the senseless slaughter of birds and game. It must build roads that can be traveled with speed and safety by modern vehicles. In building these roads the value of scenery must be considered in regions where scenery is attractive.

The steps necessary to the carrying out of these recommendations are many, expensive, and difficult. No one should suppose that it is possible to do such things by simply resolving that they ought to be done. The immediate duty is to make a beginning and to make it in the right way and in the proper direction.

Then build upon that beginning as it becomes possible to do so. Check forest fires first; lessen the pollution of streams; put all new roads on the best grades, and when old ones are changed, put them on proper grades also; make it so dangerous for fish dynamiters and game destroyers to ply their trade that they will migrate. Follow these beginnings with constructive work; stock streams anew with fish; the forests with game and bird; build roads as circumstances will allow; and take pains to let the outside world know that West Virginia is in the scenery and resort business.

source: Report of the West Virginia Conservation Commission, 1908 (Charleston, 1909). lY-25, 38-39.


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  • Anonymous says:

    I found this article from a Google search, and all the way up until 3/4ths of the way through where it mentioned people traveling by railroad instead of highways, I was convinced I was reading a contemporary blog post.

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He hunts for work, and he is a damn fool. There is no work

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 21, 2017

IT IS NIGHT, and we are in this jungle. This is our home tonight. Our home is a garbage heap. Around us are piles of tin cans and broken bottles. Between the piles are fires. A man and a woman huddle by the fire to our right. A baby gasps in the woman’s arms. It has the croup. It coughs until it is black in the face. The woman is scared. She pounds it on the back. It catches its breath for a little while, but that is all. You cannot cure a baby of the croup by pounding it on the back with your hand.

The man walks back and forth between the piles of garbage. His shoulders are hunched. He clasps his hands behind him. Up and down he walks. Up and down. He has a look on his face. I know that look. I have had that look on my own face. You can tell what a stiff is thinking when you see that look on his face. He is thinking he wishes to Jesus Christ he could get his hands on a gat. But he will not get his hands on a gat. A gat costs money. He has no money. He is a lousy stiff. He will never have any money.

hobos walking railroad tracks, Great Depression eraTwo hobos walking along railroad tracks, after being put off a train. Unknown date, unknown photographer. Library of Congress.

Where are they going? I do not know. They do not know. He hunts for work, and he is a damn fool. There is no work. He cannot leave his wife and kids to starve to death alone, so he brings them with him. Now he can watch them starve to death. What can he do? Nothing but what he is doing. If he hides out on a dark street and gives it to some bastard on the head, they will put him in and throw the keys away if they catch him. He knows that. So he stays away from dark streets and cooks up jungle slop for his wife and kid between the piles of garbage.

I look around this jungle filled with fires. They are a pitiful sight, these stiffs with their ragged clothes and their sunken cheeks. They crouch around their fires. They are cooking up. They take their baloney butts out of their packs and put them in their skillets to cook. They huddle around their fires in the night. Tomorrow they will huddle around their fires, and the next night, and the next. It will not be here. The bulls will not let a stiff stay in one place long. But it will be the same. A garbage heap looks the same no matter where it is.

We are five men at this fire I am at. We take turns stumbling into the dark in search of wood. Wood is scarce. The stiffs keep a jungle cleaned of wood. I am groping my way through the dark in search of wood when I stumble into this barbed wire fence. My hands are scratched and torn from the barbs, but I do not mind. I do not mind because I can see that we are fixed for wood for the night.

We will not have to leave our warm fire again to go chasing through the night after wood. A good barbed wire fence has poles to hold it up. A couple of good stout poles will burn a long time. What do I care if this is someone’s fence? To hell with everybody! We are five men. We are cold. We must have a fire. It takes wood to make a fire. I take this piece of iron pipe and pry the staples loose.

This is good wood. It makes a good blaze. We do not have to huddle so close now. It is warm, too, except when the wind whistles hard against our backs. Then we shiver and turn our backs to the fire and watch these rats that scamper back and forth in the shadows. These are no ordinary rats. They are big rats.

But I am too smart for these rats. I have me a big piece of canvas. This is not to keep me warm. It is to keep these rats from biting a chunk out of my nose when I sleep. But it does not keep out the sound and the feel of them as they sprawl all over you. A good-sized rat tramps hard. You can feel their weight as they press on top of you. You can hear them sniffing as they try to get in. But when I pull my canvas up around my head, they cannot get in to me.

Waiting for Nothing, by Tom Kromer, Alfred A. Knopf, 1935


Huntington, WV born Tom Kromer dedicated his novel about the Great Depression’s suicidally down and out to “Jolene, who turned off the gas.” He never completed another book.

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The sorghum season is on!

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 20, 2017

Kentucky and Tennessee are today the leading sorghum syrup producing states, and neither are shy about the fact. The Tipton-Haynes Historic Site in Johnson City, TN hosted a sorghum festival September 20, and over in West Liberty, KY the locals of that district celebrated their own 44th annual Sorghum Festival last weekend. Georgia has an official state sorghum festival in Blairsville, which opens October 11 and goes for a full week.

sorghum mill Kentucky styleA poor-soil brother of the corn family, sorghum grows all over the United States and as far north as Canada. To mountain folk, in the days when they knew sugar only in liquid form, there just wasn’t any other sweetening like it. Sorghum meant a rich dark-brown molasses, just right for corn bread and unbeatable for hot-cakes. It is still used for seasoning beans and for making cookies. A sorghum “run-off” was the most enjoyable event of the old-time farm year. Sorghum—the ‘sugar plant’—was mostly a small farm product, but during the Civil War years about sixty million gallons of it were manufactured. Today sorghum has been bred into a dry soil plant for livestock feeding.

The beers mentioned in early American writings were in no way similar to beer as we know it—and such was southern molasses beer, made from sorghum. A first distillation of fermented sorghum juice, molasses beer was found on the tables of most mountain farms, often as a substitute for milk, and was taken by small children at every meal.

The typical Kentucky family had two acres planted in sorghum. Most of it was for syrup, part went for cattle fodder, and the seeds fed the chickens. The sheet metal pan for cooking the syrup was similar to New England’s maple sugar pan, but the horse drawn sugar mill originated in the South. Northerners usually preferred to do their “farm squeezing” with wooden screw type presses.

Sorghum Festival 2008 at Ketner's Mill TNSorghum Festival 2008 at Ketner’s Mill TN.

Squeezed sorghum juice exuded from the mill through a burlap strainer and into a barrel. It was then transferred to the cooking pan. As the juice began to boil, it was paddled and cleared of impurities, turning from green to muddy and finally to clear brown. Four gallons of juice produced about one gallon of syrup; as a substitute for store bought sugar, sorghum was an easily grown crop with very little waste.

Unlike today’s sugar with its nutrients refined away, primitive sorghum syrup was not as good to look at, but it at least contained food value. Sorghum joined corn as one of the staffs of early farm life; it even found its way into paints and dyes.

source: Once Upon a Time: The Way America Was, by Eric Sloane, Dover Publications, 2005

sorghum+molasses sorghum+festivals Blairsville+GA Morgan+County+KY Gray+TN appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

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Indoor privies for country people at Cumberland Homesteads

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 19, 2017

Today, it’s Tennessee’s largest historic district, at approximately 11,400 acres. During the Great Depression, the Cumberland Homesteads community came into being as part of a nationwide New Deal agrarian movement to create subsistence farm communities to aid out-of-work, rural residents. President Franklin Roosevelt assigned the homesteads project to Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes. Ickes, in turn, established within his department the Division of Subsistence Homesteads (DSH).

Cumberland Homesteads was one the first of 33 communities built by DSH between 1934 and 1938, and eventually consisted of 250 homes, a school, a park area, as well as a stone water tower and governmental building.

The DSH advisory committee identified three types of clientele and three types of proposed communities: Homestead colonies established for industrial workers and located in the out-skirts of cities or large towns; rural settlements in which small industries or branches of large industries can be established; and agricultural settlements.

The Cumberland Homesteaders, in the main, had not been subsistence farmers but were “displaced” and “stranded” workers—they were initially coal miners and only later textile mill workers and farmers. Coal operators of the time had drastically curtailed mining operations throughout the bituminous coal fields of Appalachia—production levels demanded by World War I had long since dropped—as the surplus of American coal continued to glut national and international markets.

DSH regulations denied participation in the homesteads to persons on relief rolls. The application for a subsistence homestead required that the successful applicant be an American citizen; living or normally living in an industrial center; over twenty-one years old; have an income sufficient to meet homestead payments; and not have an income sufficient to secure a loan for a home using orthodox financial instruments.

Eleanor Roosevelt addresses Cumberland Homestead residentsCaption reads: Mrs. Roosevelt addressing group at Cumberland Homesteads. Crossville, Tennessee, Oct-Nov 1935

Plans for Cumberland Homesteads intended to create 351 farms on lots ranging in size from 10 to 160 acres; the average homestead consisted of 16 acres. Areas determined unsuitable for farming remained timberland. Originally 8,903 acres were farm tracts; 1,245 acres were common land (grazing, woodland, cooperative enterprises); 11,200 acres were set aside for further development; and the cooperative association owned 5,505 acres.

Senator Harry F. Byrd of Virginia condemned the costly absurdities of electricity, refrigerators, and indoor privies for country people. Likewise, Senator Kenneth D. McKellar of Tennessee complained that the Resettlement Administration was constructing stone mansions and voiced his resentment that relief workers lived in houses better than he did. No matter; the houses wound up with indoor plumbing at the request of Eleanor Roosevelt, who had a special interest in these projects.

“After the Resettlement Administration began massive resettlement, the DSH projects seemed to be nonproductive, and the residents seemed to be beneficiaries of government largesse.

“Most of the homesteaders led lives indistinguishable from their contemporaries; furthermore, the government had provided the homesteaders with modern conveniences, tools, and equipment that their contemporaries had to purchase.

“It seemed to full-time farmers that the homesteaders “piddled” around in their gardens, while the resettled farmers actually had to do farm work.”

Clarence E. Pickett,
executive secretary of the American Friends Service Committee
Monthly Labor Review (September 1933): 1327-328.

Although each family received a section of land, the community was designed to function as a cooperative, including both agriculture and some industrial production. Eventually the cooperative ventures failed, plagued by rampant politicking both locally and at the Federal management level. Many families, confined by small lots, soil too poor to raise crops, and serious erosion problems, simply moved away.

sources: www.tdot.state.tn.us/us127s/library.htm



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  • Mary says:

    Only the government would think that the best solution to farms being too small to support a family would be to increase the number of small farms.

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There’s a ghost in this little banjo

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 18, 2017

Although she never gained the national recognition or recording status that other banjo-playing women in Kentucky achieved, Dora Mae Wagers (1927-1998), was—as the title to her self-produced cassette proclaimed—“A Legend in Her Own Time.” For forty years she played banjo on the stage of the Renfro Valley Barndance, and was often billed as one of the Coon Creek Girls.

We first met Dora Mae at her home south of Berea, KY, which could only be described as a private banjo museum. Instruments hung from the walls of her living room as thick as fleas on a stray dog’s back. One belonged to her grandmother. Another was bartered off of Grandpappy Callahan, a Renfro Valley performer. The oldest instrument in her collection was rescued from the wrecking ball and found in a dumpster after an old house in Lexington was torn down.

Banjo player Dora Mae Wagers

Dora Mae at her Livingston, Kentucky, home, in October 1997.

Dora Mae Wagers was born in 1927 in Oller’s Branch, KY, near the Red River Gorge. When she was a young girl her grandmother, Sally Smith Young, taught her how to play frailing style. Dora Mae credits her grandmother with being “one of the finest banjo players that ever picked,” and even though she didn’t read music, she taught her all her tunes in the key of C.

“[W]hen she was teaching me to play she’d sing ‘Sheeps in the cornfield, cows in the clover. Tell them pretty girls I’m a comin’ over.’ When she was teaching me to do clawhammer she’d brush the strings that ways, she would. She played with two fingers and I couldn’t use my thumb. She’d say, ‘Now honey, let your strings sound out for you. ’Shake that little hand, honey’. ”

From her grandmother Dora Mae learned Appalachian ballads like “Pretty Polly,” “Young Edward,” “Shady Grove,” and “Little Birdie.”

Dora Mae grew up around Appalachian music, with songs, square dances, barn raisings, and corn shuckings always being accompanied by the sound of the fiddle and banjo. She remembered musical gatherings in her grandparent’s home, with her grandmother playing banjo when neighbors would visit each other “and they’d move all their furniture out. They didn’t have no rugs on the floor. Just plain boards. Just move everything out . . .and leave the chairs. Everyone danced until they dropped.”

When she was a teenager, Dora Mae formed a band called “The Happy Holler Boys & Girls,” the Appalachian equivalent of a “garage band,” or more appropriately “barn band.” They played on a local radio station in Corbin, KY in the early 1940s, and sometimes “they’d bring Molly O’ Day to London [Kentucky] and they’d bring us in like a side band to rest ‘em between shows. . . .They’d had them at the courthouse.”

From there it was on to Renfro Valley, where Dora Mae played with Lily May and her sister Rosie during their last four years as the Coon Creek Girls. She claimed that “ John Lair told you what to do” and that since his death “I do what I want to do.”

During our visit with Dora Mae she did just that, playing (although she would not sing, due to throat surgery) all of the old ballads her grandmother had taught her. After playing her version of “Poor Ellen Smith” she exclaimed that “Everybody’s grandfather murdered Poor Ellen Smith and got away with it!”

In addition to her grandmother, Dora Mae reluctantly admitted that her other banjo muse came to her in the form of her “haunted banjo.” When pressed to explain why she thought it was haunted, she replied as follows: “Why I’ve got up in the middle of the night. It’ll play . . .old tunes. One time that thing communicated with me and I could just close my eyes and just see as far as I could see; like a stacked-rock fence, you know.

It belonged to a black man, and that was his only possession that he had. When they cleaned out one of those houses in Lexington . . .they threw it in the trashcan. . .It had an old hide head. It was old, it was.”

Questioned further about how she knew the banjo belonged to a black man she replied: “It’d get me up at 1 o’clock in the morning’ and I’d have to get up and sit up sometimes till 3, just ever when it’d turn me loose. Let me go lay back. Oh, I suffered from loss of sleep till I’d get up and sit with that thing! It just played tunes that I never heard before in my ears.

“And then I was sitting one day playing and it just crossed my mind, ‘I think I’ll play Golden Slippers. I was sittin’ around here and I said ‘Well, I’ll tune and play it in a few minutes, and it [the haunted banjo] said ‘you can play it in this tune and this tune.’ So I’d start in a playin’ it. I used to just cry like a baby , that thing affecting me so much when I’d try to talk to you about it. ‘Cause I was afraid somebody didn’t believe and they’d think I was crazy or something. There’s a ghost in this little banjer.”

From “Banjo Women in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky,” by Susan A. Eacker, Marshall University Scholar in residence (1997), Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Gender in Appalachia

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