Snapshot: The Birchfields of Roan Mountain

Bill Birchfield (top) and his father, Joe Birchfield (bottom), members of one of the preeminent families in the history of Appalachian string band music. You can watch footage of them playing the old Tennessee fiddle tune "Rattletrap" here. To learn more about the history of the Birchfields and their band, the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers, you can visit their webpage.

Photograph of Bill Birchfield from AC.877: The Plow Collection. Photograph of Joe Birchfield from AC.850: Jack Jeffers Photography Collection.

Modest Lamplighter

The continued story of Appalachia remains firmly connected to the history of the growth and evolution of rural America. From generation to generation, farmers within the region have balanced the growing and raising of crops and livestock for their own subsistence with a strong involvement in the wider sphere of commercial agriculture. One of the most engaging examples of the constant link between heritage and economics is represented in the breeding of cattle. Just as familial ties and last names are important in the daily commercial interactions of many Appalachian communities, the knowledge and recordkeeping concerned with tracing bloodlines of cattle still allows for the same sort of ordination and nominal weight at auctions and markets throughout the region. 

Sharing relatively the same geographical origins of many of the earliest mountain settlers, Hereford cattle first emerged as a distinct breed around the vicinity of Herefordshire, England sometime around the 17th Century. Characterized for their bulky build, red body, and white face, the breed became further solidified in its attributes during Britain's Industrial Revolution as farmers selectively bred cattle for higher beef yield to export and feed the growing non-farm workforce. Although three Herefords were brought to Kentucky by Henry Clay in 1817, the breed truly became seated on the continent with the herd developed by William Sotham and Erastus Corning of Albany, New York in the 1840s. The "Jr. Modest Lamplighter 4" pictured above is an example of one of the prime Hereford lines proliferated across America. A 1949 edition of The Polled Hereford World names descendants of the Lamplighter pedigree on farms in the vicinties of Lewisburg and Washburn, West Virginia.

Image from AC.876: Paul Weston Photographs, 1966. For anyone interested in finding out more on the early history of Herefords and the society who produced them see James MacDonald and James Sinclair's "History of Hereford Cattle" (1886).

Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force Records

The Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force initiated the Appalachian Land Ownership Survey in Fall 1978 to examine land ownership patterns, particularly absentee and corporate ownership, and determine how they effected regional development. The Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force was a coalition of community groups, scholars and individuals associated with the Appalachian Alliance, which served as an umbrella group for many community-based groups. The Appalachian Land Ownership Survey was funded in part by an Appalachian Regional Commission grant and a Needmor Grant. The Highlander Research and Education Center organized the project, and Appalachian State University was a primary sponsoring institution and handled administrative and fiscal details. Scholars working on the Appalachian Land Ownership Survey included Patricia Beaver, John Gaventa, and Bill Horton.

The Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force studied 80 counties within the Appalachian counties of Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Beginning in the spring of 1979, the task force created working groups for each of these six states and chose counties for particular concentration. Within these counties, volunteer and paid researchers examined land deeds of plots with 250 acres or more. Researchers noted the amount of land and mineral tax rates as well as other characteristics such as agricultural or industrial usage and absentee, corporate, federal, or local ownership. They also included over 100 socio-economic indicators to correlate indicators to various ownership patterns. Nineteen counties were used as detailed case studies. Research gathered by the task force members was used in the development of two interlinking projects, the seven volume, 1,800 page study Land Ownership Patterns and Their Impacts on Appalachian Communities and Who Owns Appalachia?

Newsclipping and text from AC.104: Appalachian Land Ownership Task Force Records.

Snapshot: Mr. Payne's Steam Engine

"Mr. Payne and Steam Engine"- Mr. Payne and the location of his engine are a mystery. The photographs are filed with other images from northwestern North Carolina in AC.123: Appalachian Photographs, 1905-1974. Any information regarding Mr. Payne or his engine would much appreciated by those of us here in the collection.

Speculation Land Company Records

New York-based speculator Tench Coxe (1755-1824) came into possession of 400,000 acres of land in North Carolina following the Revolutionary War, much of it purchased from the Rutherford Land Company in North Carolina in 1791, and established the Speculation Land Company to manage and sell the acreages. The Speculation Land Company was one of the largest land owners in southwestern North Carolina from the eighteenth century through the early twentieth century, owning thousands of acres in Buncombe, Henderson, Polk, Rutherford, and Mecklenburg counties. Later owners and trustees included Pierre Etienne DuPonceau and Abraham Kintzig, Isaac Bronson and Goold Hoyt, James J. Hoyt, William G. Ward, John Ward, William Redmond, Jr., Francis Randall, Francis M. Scott, David A. Thompson, George Willett Van Nest and William Redmond Cross. The local agents were based in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. Many of the claims were handled by Company Agent Joshua Forman in the nineteenth century and a number of the surveying records were created by the Justice family. By 1910 over 927 deeds had been distributed by the company. In 1913 the descendants of the original Speculation Land Company sued for changes in the distribution of the proceeds. The Speculation Land Company was dissolved in 1930.

Image found in the top corner of map signed "William Prince" within AC.104: Speculation Land Company Records, 1768-1992, undated.

The Gragg House

According to local memory the Gragg House was constructed some time in the mid-19th Century by Burton and Finley Gragg. The house is notable architecturally for its design, as evidenced in A Guide to the Historic Architecture of North Carolina:

"The carefully hewn timbers are of exceptional width and joined tightly with full-dovetailed corner notches so that daubing was unnecessary." (218)

Top image of Leonard Gragg in front of the home, second and third images unidentified. Photographs are within AC.115: Southern Appalachian Historical Association Records.

John Alexander Williams Papers

The recently processed AC.829: John Alexander Williams Papers consists of research materials, publications, and ephemera compiled by Dr. John Alexander Williams. The collection includes copies of materials dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, copies of academic articles and book chapters, course materials, correspondence, and photographs.

John Alexander Williams [born 1938] received his doctorate in history from Yale University in 1966, having studied with the eminent American historian, C. Vann Woodward. He taught at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago before joining the Department of History at West Virginia University in 1972. He came to Appalachian State University as a Professor of History in 1989. Williams directed the Center for Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State for seven years. He is the author of West Virginia and the Captains of Industry, West Virginia: A History, Appalachia: A History, and co-author of Sinking Columbus: Contested History, Cultural Politics, and Mythmaking During the Quincentenary. Many of the research materials for Appalachia: A History are contained within this collection.

Image of the site of Fort Chiswell,  once an important trading and military outpost on the Virginia frontier. Much of the original fort now lies under the junction of Interstates 81 and 77. From AC.829 John Alexander Williams Papers.