I was curious. So we've spent some days of this trip in Appalachia.
Our first stop was last Saturday in Clinton, Tennessee, at the Museum of Appalachia. This fine restoration was the life work of John Rice Irwin. A number of structures were moved from their original locations, restored or reconstructed, to create this living history museum. Also on display are items of everyday use. It's a fascinating place even for me, a woman not wild about museums.
You can find out more about the Museum of Appalachia here: www.museumofappalachia.org.
We drove parts of The Crooked Road, which celebrates the music of Appalachia. Last Saturday night we attended an event in Hiltons, Virginia, where the White Top Mountain band played, to the delight of both locals and visitors. Find out more about it at www.thecrookedroad.org.
Yesterday (Wednesday), we crossed the Virginia border into Harlan County, Kentucky. The road was old, winding, and narrow, crumbling away in places. We descended into a valley where a new "four-lane" took us the rest of the way into Harlan. The town's heyday is in the past. In the 50s it was a rough place, nicknamed "Bloody Harlan". Now it's a town in slow decline, augmented by a few strip malls. We stayed at the Little Inn of Harlan, a charming place. Check it out at www.thelittleinnofharlan.net.
At the suggestion of the Inn's proprietor, we went to the Harlan library and found a paper-bound, indexed book listing all the gravestones in all the cemeteries in the county. Many of the names looked familiar from my research; I descend on my grandmother's side from families named Brock, Howard, and Saylor. I met two Saylors in the first half hour. I found Jesse Brock, my ggggg grandfather. Following the book's directions, we drove to Wallins Creek, about ten miles south of Harlan, ascended the hill behind the Baptist Church, and found his grave in the lower Masonic cemetery.
Wallins Creek is in much steeper decline; here's a photo of the old main street.
We went to a 12-step meeting in Harlan last night. To our surprise, there were over 60 people in attendance; 50 of them were young women from a nearby treatment center. Nearly all of them identified themselves as addicts. I'm thinking meth or oxycontin. In a depressed area, employment options and chances for improvement are very limited. I wondered how these young women would find the motivation to get clean and start out on a new life.
We left Harlan this morning and stopped at the Kentucky Coal Museum in Benton, Kentucky. Benton is so small it has no restaurant, not even a fast food place. The coal mining industry came to Kentucky in the early 20th century and provided employment in return for hard, dangerous work. Read about the museum at kentucky.coal.museum/.
Our drive today was about a hundred miles, through coal mining country. Our server at lunch told us coal mining is still the primary industry. Wages start at $17.50 an hour, "but if you're a plumber or an electrician you make more - about $23." It's still rough, dangerous work.
Tonight we're at Jenny Wiley State Park in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. Here's the view from our back deck:
We'll be leaving Appalachia tomorrow. I am so grateful for my life - and for the people who came before me.