By Derek Halsey
West Virginia is one of the more unique states in the union; a place filled with natural beauty, challenging rivers, wilderness, and magnificent gorges. It’s also a state that has seen its coal and timber industries go through many ups and downs over the years. Yet, throughout its history, it has always been a land of wonderful culture, hospitality, and music.
At the beginning of the Civil War, the Confederate States seceded from the Union. During the Civil War, there was only one state that seceded from the Confederacy, and that was West Virginia on June 20, 1863. After the war was over, after the Hatfield & McCoy Feud had died down, the trains rolled through the state at an amazing rate back in the day when coal was king. The train yard in Huntington, W.Va., alone employed over 5,000 workers in the early 1900s. It was also a time of labor disputes, when miners had to fight for their rights, which led to gun battles and deaths in Matewan, at the Battle of Blair Mountain, and elsewhere. Then, The Great Depression hit and poverty crept over the land. In the mid-1900s, the Great Migration found hundreds of thousands of folks who lived in the Appalachian Mountains moving north to Ohio, Michigan, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Md., and other places looking for work. The migrants brought their hospitality and culture with them, along with their music.
Over the last sixty years or so, including in this new century, the fate of most young West Virginians fresh out of high school and college is the inevitable move out of the state. West Virginia has lost population over most of the previous decades and has one of the oldest populations in the country due to young people leaving in search of opportunity. But, when they go out into the world, they carry with them the memories of their grandmother’s cooking in the old homeplace, the taste of brown beans and cornbread and pork-infused green beans cooked for at least three hours, the times when they ran through the rhododendrons on their cousin’s mountain farm, or when they visited their aunt and uncle’s house and heard the twisted, meandering sound of a train whistle as it chugged its way through the hollers or the sound of a late night riverboat horn. Read entire article »