Appalachian Ohio

Appalachian Ohio

Appalachian Ohio is a bioregion and political unit in the southeastern part of the U.S. state of Ohio characterized by the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Like any other region, its exact definition varies, although the Governor's Office of Appalachia, working with the Appalachian Regional Commission, defines the region as consisting of twenty-nine specific counties. This region roughly overlaps with the unique Appalachian mixed-mesophytic forest, which begins in southeast Ohio and southwest Pennsylvania and continues to north Georgia and Alabama. Central and Southern Appalachia shares only with eastern/central China this unique forest--perhaps the most biodiverse in the world. Geologically, Appalachian Ohio corresponds closely to the terminal moraine of an ancient glacier that runs southwest to north east through the state. Areas south and east of the moraine are characterized by rough, irregular hills and hollows, characteristic of the Allegheny and Cumberland Plateaus of western Appalachia. Unlike eastern Appalachia, this region does not have long fin-like ridges like those of the Blue Ridge or Kittatinny Mountains, but a network of rocky hollows and hills going in all directions.

The region is considered part of "central Appalachia," a political, cultural, and bioregional classification that includes southern,& eastern ohio southeastern kentucky and most of West Virginia.

Counties and county seats

The Governor's Office of Appalachia classifies the counties of Appalachian Ohio into three smaller regions: East Central Ohio, Southeastern Ohio, and Southern Ohio.


Appalachian Ohio has several small cities in its borders. Those municipalities with a population of at least 5,000 according to the 2000 US Census include:

*Zanesville Population: 25,586 Muskingum County
*Chillicothe Population: 21,796 Ross County
*Athens Population: 21,342 Athens County
*Portsmouth Population: 20,909 Scioto County
*Steubenville Population: 19,015 Jefferson County
*Marietta Population: 14,515 Washington County
*East Liverpool Population: 13,089 Columbiana County
*Salem Population: 12,197 Columbiana County
*Coshocton Population: 11,682 Coshocton County
*Cambridge Population: 11,520 Guernsey County
*Ironton Population: 11,211 Lawrence County
*Martins Ferry Population: 7,226 Belmont County
*Logan Population: 6,704 Hocking County
*Belpre Population: 6,660 Washington County
*Hillsboro Population: 6,368 Highland County
*Jackson Population: 6,184 Jackson County
*Wellston Population: 6,078 Jackson County
*Toronto Population: 5,676 Jefferson County
*Columbiana Population: 5,635 Columbiana County
*Nelsonville Population: 5,230 Athens County
*St. Clairsville Population: 5,057 Belmont County



Port Columbus International Airport, in Columbus, is the largest airport and serves most of the residents in southeast Ohio. Port Columbus offers primarily domestic flights. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to the southeast serves most of the residents of Cincinnati and its metropolitan area, and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to the north is also a major hub airport.

Culture and History of Appalachian Ohio

'"The majority of mountain people are unprincipled ruffians. There are two remedies only: education or extermination. The mountaineer, like the red Indian, must learn this lesson." Editors of the New York Times, 1912."'

Appalachian Ohio shares the culture, history, and political problems of central and southern Appalachia. For example, there is a large Appalachian folk music (pre-Bluegrass) tradition in the region. Notable songs about Appalachian Ohio include "The Big Sciota" (generally pronounced sigh-oh-tee), "Banks of the Ohio,' and "Pike County Breakdown." This is because the region was settled by farmers from east Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, and western Virginia in the late 1700s and early 1800s. These farmers had distinct settlement patterns, land use practices, and cultural values, which were essentially an amalgam of German/Swiss, Scots-Irish, and Cherokee cultures. This inter-cultural "Back Country" lifestyle formed the basis for the cultural difference that later developed between Appalachian and non-Appalachian Ohio, with the non-Appalachian region being largely settled by out-migrants from the New England agricultural crisis of the late 1700s. Today, however, the most important distinction between the Appalachian and non-Appalachian parts of Ohio is their economic and political histories. Like the rest of central and southern Appalachia, Appalachian Ohio was controlled by absentee extractive industries in the late1800s and most of the 1900s, and today shares many of the cultural, political, and environmental problems of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. Any analysis of the culture and history of Appalachian Ohio must take note of this history of exploitation and destruction by outside interests. Many Americans were enriched by Appalachian natural resources and cheap labor, while Appalachians themselves became one of the most politically-disenfranchised and poor groups of people in the Global North. This history of exploitation was recognized by federal and state governments in the 1960s, and the Appalachian Regional Commission was formed to foster "development" in the region. Today, "Appalachian" is increasingly being recognized as a discrete ethnic group by governments, such as the city government of Cincinnati, and literature by "Appalachian" authors is being included in "ethnic" and "multicultural" literary courses and anthologies.

Somewhat controversial attempts have been made to define key "Appalachian" cultural values. These are always based on huge generalizations, but they may still have uses in helping outsiders understand the region and its people. One of the most influential definitions of traditional "Appalachian values" is that of Appalachian writer Loyal Jones:

*1. Individualism: often the most obvious Appalachian characteristic: look after oneself; enjoy solitude; freedom from external restraints; do things for oneself; not wanting to be beholding to others; make do; strong work ethic; courage; defend oneself or take revenge, rather than relying on "the law." A common value of decentralized farming cultures.

*2. Strong Sense of Extended Family: Family-centered, rather than community-centered; Appalachian people settled in kin-groups, not towns; loyalty runs deep; responsibility may extend beyond immediate family; "blood is thicker than water"; makes it difficult to have community meetings.

*3. Love of Place - the term "homeplace" (roughly like the German "Heimat") is common; never forget "back home" and go there as often as possible; revitalizing, especially if a migrant; sometimes stay in places where there is no hope of maintaining decent lives

*4. Neighborliness and Hospitality - help each other out, but suspicious of strangers; spontaneous to invite people for a meal, to spend the night, etc. People are friendly, but not open to strangers. Trust is important. Tend not to ask your advice until they trust you. Relationships are important and deep relationships are developed slowly. This suspicion of outsiders is based on the exploitative past.

*5. Traditionalism – a Strong Love of Tradition; skeptical of schemes for "progress"; Love of things as they are. Change comes slowly. This value clearly is a reaction to the impoverishment of the region by modern schemes of "progress."

*6. Personalism - relates well to others, but think in terms of persons rather than degrees or professional reputations; go to great lengths to keep from offending others; getting along is more important than letting one's feelings be known.

*7. Modesty and Being Oneself - believe one should not put on airs; be oneself, not a phony; don't pretend to be something you're not or be boastful; don't get above your raising.

*8. Sense of Beauty - displayed through music, folksongs, poems, arts, crafts, etc., colorful language metaphors; home and beauty are closely connected.

*9. Sense of Humor - seem dour (unfriendly), but laugh at ourselves; do not appreciate being laughed at; humor sustains people in hard times. Humor is often sarcastic.

*10. Strong sense of solidarity - Stick, together, even if you disagree, express yourself but stand together, especially against outsiders, government, or big organizations. Unfortunately, this can be extremely counter-productive.

*11. Strong sense of Patriotism - goes back to Civil War times; flag, land, relationships are important. Might also have to do with wanting to "fit in" with mainstream America, rather than being seen as culturally-deficient hillbillies.

Perhaps more useful for understanding Appalachia is a sense of the people's history. For most of the 1800s, Appalachian farmers, particularly in the steeper hill country, remained small farmers, producing most of what they needed themselves. For a variety of reasons, including difficulty in transporting crops to market, they did not specialize in producing commodity crops like most other farmers in the nation in the 1800s. Instead, they focused, first, on being able to feed their families, and secondly, to produce a small surplus to trade for a number of imported goods--like coffee and sugar--at the closest store, which might have been forty miles away! The region's nearly two-hundred years of small farming without profitable access to markets encouraged Appalachian farmers to develop a unique range of skills and a very strong sense of independence. For example, many Appalachian men knew basic blacksmithing and were able to fix broken tools on their own--a necessary skill because there were few towns with specialized craftsmen. Some Appalachian men were able to make their own hunting rifles and musical instruments, as well--today both of these crafts remain highly developed in Appalachia, while they became industrialized elsewhere in the country. Appalachian women were no less multi-skilled. Typically Appalachian women handled all domestic affairs, kept a very large kitchen garden, sometimes tended the fields, and often possessed a large, unique knowledge of herbal medicine--something acquired, along with the use of plants for natural dyes, from indigenous women prior to Indian removal in the 1830s. Large numbers of Appalachian people have always claimed indigenous ancestry, which may have to do with the fact that most Appalachian people trace their ancestry to the Virginia-Carolina "Back Country" of colonial America, where a significant amount of intermarriage occurred. Regardless, Appalachia remains the heart of American traditional herbal medicine, and in southeastern Ohio the gathering of ginseng, goldenseal, black cohosh, and sassafras (still consumed locally, if illegal for sale in America) remain common activities. Some say the popularity of marijuana production and use in southeast Ohio is a continuation of these forest gathering and horticultural practices, updated for new social conditions. Traditionally, Appalachian women were masters at spinning and weaving cloth, producing clothing, quilts, and other necessary items for their families and sometimes for barter. Quilting, in particular, remains a highly visible part of Appalachian culture. The feeling of independence generated by the highly-developed skills of both sexes seems to have been the basis of the stubborn independence of Appalachian people often remarked upon by Americans living in the industrial northeast or the quasi-feudal south.

In some parts of southeast Ohio, this type of small, diversified agriculture remained the norm until the 1960s. Today some of these families are able to shift their farming toward the growing "farmer's market" and herbal medicine market in America. However, many parts of the region were completely transformed by the coming of timber, coal, gas, oil, clay, and other "extractive" industries in the 1870s. Through a variety of means--some of them illegal--these companies managed to buy up any land that did not have a private owner (Appalachian people had long kept less fertile, hilly, rocky backcountry in forest and, unofficially, in the public domain, a practice that did not fit with the state's property laws). The upshot of this "corporate enclosure" was that much of the "commons" of forest land was clear-cut for timber, charcoal, and tan-bark, mined for coal and iron ore, and drained of gas and oil. Crucially, this process began the impoverishment of the region and made it increasingly difficult for Appalachian people to continue the type of agriculture best-suited for the rugged hills.

The two biggest changes brought by the loss of the "forest commons" were (1) the near-extinction of whitetail deer, wild turkey, squirrel, and other traditional American game animals, and (2) the devastating loss of forest fodder for stock, particularly hogs. Appalachian people had traditionally enjoyed deer and squirrel for the unique flavors of wild game (traditionally monopolized by the aristocracy of Western Europe, but available for all in the colonial backcountry), and as a way to add protein and B-12 to their largely plant-based, agricultural diets. The loss of the forest meant loss of habitat for these wild animals, and by the early twentieth-century deer, in particular, became unusual in southeast Ohio. Only in the latter part of twentieth-century did deer and wild turkey become the common animals they are today.

But the truly devastating loss for Appalachia was forest fodder for hogs. Because of a hog's intelligence and craftiness, it was the preferred animal of the Appalachian farm family. Hogs could largely take care of themselves, while more domesticated animals like sheep and cows tended to wander off into the region's steep ravines and hollows, and simply wait for someone to come lead them out. However, getting a clumsy, heavy cow out of a steep hollow is not as easy as it might sound. The steep hillsides and wet soil of the central Appalachian forest made it nearly impossible for lost cows or sheep to climb out of hollows and ravines under their own power--today Appalachian families have stories about lost cattle or horses that simply starved to death or had to be killed because they had wandered into such a difficult spot. The film "Cold Mountain," for example, alludes to this by showing a cow that trapped itself in between two steep creek banks, and the resultant difficulty in getting the animal out alive using human labor. Importantly, hogs are smart enough to avoid getting themselves into this bad situation in the first place! Thus farm families saw wily hogs as their "go to" animal for guaranteed subsistence, and hogs were generally allowed to "free range" in the forests of the region. There, hogs would fatten themselves on chestnuts, hickory nuts, and acorns, and after the Autumn freeze, Appalachian men would hunt them down and harvest the meat. Many families kept dozens of hogs as their insurance against crop failures, largely because one could raise hogs almost for free in the forested, nut-tree dominated uplands (covered with the typical Appalachian chestnut-oak-hickory forest). The use of hogs by Appalachian people is not surprising in a global context. Hogs are the typical "subsistence" animal in rugged forest environments around the world, from China, to Vietnam, to parts of South America. Spanish conquistadors were the first to introduce the hog into southeast North America--they brought huge herds of rugged hogs with them for food on their colonial military expeditions. This is because they knew hogs could take care of themselves in the forest. The Cherokee and other southeastern Indians acquired hogs from the Spanish and later introduced them to American settlers in the Virginia-Carolina backcountry. The importance of the hog in the history of Appalachian agriculture cannot be understated. Hogs were the "linchpin" that made farming in the hills a stable, reliable economic practice--without hogs, Appalachian people would find themselves in a precarious position indeed.

With the loss of the chestnut/oak/hickory forest to outside industrial interests came the loss of the hog and the economic marginalization of Appalachia. This was true in southeast Ohio, eastern Kentucky, and in the uplands as far south as north Georgia. Studies have shown that the wealth of the average Appalachian farm sharply decreased in the 1870-1900 period. In particular, the number of hogs in some places dropped to one or two where previously dozens had been common. In order to compensate for the loss of this crucial animal, Appalachian farmers began clearing their own hillsides in order to plant more corn and other grain crops. Previously the Appalachian farm had been as much as 3/4 timber because the forest provided feed for hogs, and the uplands were extremely susceptible to erosion when cleared of trees. Yet, increased competition for nuts on the farm's timber-stand as deer and squirrels migrated off the clear-cut "forest commons" and onto the farms made it necessary for Appalachian farmers to find other ways to use their relatively small farm acreage to produce more fodder. Corn provided much more fodder per acre than forest, and thus Appalachian farms became increasingly deforested. However, planting corn with a plow on steep ground resulted in severe erosion and thus fields typically only produced good corn crops for a few years before needing to be fallowed. This resulted in a need for more corn fields and thus more farmers cleared more of their forest, severely reducing habitat for deer and effectively ending the forest-feeding of hogs. In order to protect the new hillside corn fields, farmers took to killing deer and other animals that intruded on what had previously been forest, thereby contributing to the near-extinction of game animals in the region.

This cycle continued in Appalachian Ohio, with small farms increasingly a patchwork of fallowed and marginal corn fields, and the stock of each farm reduced to a couple of penned hogs, chickens in a barnyard, and perhaps a milk cow fed on poor sedge-filled fields. Timber and other industries continued to strip the landscape of its resources, until most of Appalachian Ohio was deforested by the 1920s. Some small farmers were, fortunate, however, as their land was too rugged for exploitation by industries. These pockets of small farmers maintained a quality of life similar to their nineteenth century forebears--which, in terms of estimated per capita wealth, was slightly above average for the United States--and free-ranging hogs continued to be the wealth of the Appalachian farmer. These last traditional farmers were ultimately defeated, however, by a plague as devastating and "out of control" as industrial exploitation: the Chestnut Blight, which hit Appalachia hard in the 1920s.

Within a few years, entire uplands were full of dead trees no longer producing nuts. Environmental historian Donald Davis reports that for some farmers and residents in the region during the Blight, it seemed as if "the whole world was dying." In a sense, it was. The chestnut was the major tree of the Appalachian upland forest: it provided food for hogs, for deer, and for farm families who gathered bushels of nuts for their own nourishment and sometimes for barter at stores. It would take decades for the loss of the delicious chestnut to be replaced by mature nut-bearing oaks and hickories, and by that point most of the Appalachian farms had collapsed. Millions of Appalachian people migrated from their homeplaces in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, in part as a result of this final blow to their forest-dependent agriculture. The loss of agriculture also pushed more Appalachian people into the region's coal mines and other industrial jobs, which only increased the generally destructive power of these extractive industries in the region.

If outside industries had not controlled tens of thousands of acres of land in the region, it is likely that Appalachian farmers could have simply expanded their production over what had previously been common land. Existing oaks and hickories (the two dominant trees in the region today, although secondary to the chestnut traditionally) might have supplemented the loss of chestnuts, and ultimately Appalachian farmers who had once made remarkable adaptations to the tough upland, forest environment in the 1700s and 1800s might have managed to make new adaptations in the 1900s. What would this world of sustainable twentieth-century Appalachian agriculture have looked like? What would Appalachia have been like if, instead of being dominated by extractive industries, Appalachian people would have been left alone to adapt to modernity on their own terms? We will never know. Most farmers who remained in the region followed the advice of the state and began synthetically increasing the productivity of their land using chemical fertilizers and erosion-increasing tractors during the push for farm mechanization in the 1930s. They no longer aimed at family self-sufficiency or diversified crop-stock production, but increasingly turned to monocropping. Thus the typical Appalachian farm of today resembles a poorer version of farms elsewhere in America, rather than a unique agriculture adapted to the Appalachian bioregion. It is difficult for many to imagine that Appalachia had once been a slightly wealthier (per capita) region than anywhere else in the US.

One major problem associated with the transformation of Appalachian agriculture is that few outsiders understand what happened. In the twentieth century, the myth of the dumb hillbilly and the impoverished Appalachian farmer--descended, as Harry Caudill suggested, from the genetic "dregs" of European society--is fixed in many of the imaginations of insiders and outsiders. Undoubtedly Hollywood and other mass culture industries (including tourism) have profited off this vicious depiction of Appalachian people. For a discussion of this stereotype's origins in late-nineteenth century Social Darwinism, see [ Wilma Dunaway's article]

In the state of Ohio, the impoverishment of Appalachia is more-or-less supported by the state. The primary means through which marginalization and exploitation is sustained is through the region's sub-standard, unconstitutional public schools. Despite multiple Supreme Court rulings declaring Ohio's school funding system illegal, the Ohio legislature has not proposed an alternative. Appalachian schools--funded by the local tax-base, which is extremely low due to the region's poverty, lower-class jobs, and large amounts of government-owned (therefore un-taxed) land)--remain overcrowded, under-staffed places in which little learning is possible. Thus Appalachian Ohio today is largely filled with an under-employed, functionally-illiterate mass of workers competing for a few service jobs (such as janitor positions at Ohio University), the land is monopolized by the state, wealthy outsiders, and a local elite enriched by state-funded bureaucratic and educational jobs, and Appalachian children face few opportunities but to migrate to the residual American industrial jobs elsewhere in the country. A large underground economy of marijuana and meth production and distribution has filled the void created by the loss of Appalachian agriculture. The state has responded by increasing surveillance and policing of this poor region, but so far has offered few alternatives to its desperate residents. The Appalachian Regional Commission purports to represent and foster development in the region, but in practice, according to ARC-funded scholar Ron Eller, the ARC is little more than a "governor's slush fund" (quoted in a 1999 Columbus Dispatch article, [ "Mountain Money"] .) Since the 1960s, many Appalachian counties have only grown poorer, despite ostensible "development" by the ARC. For some eco-tourism represents the best option for the region's future, but it is difficult to see how this will not merely enrich the local elite who own land and have access to development resources.

This is only a brief sketch of Appalachian history and culture. A fuller account would include the experience of Appalachian people who have worked in industrial jobs, like coal mining, for over a century. Regardless, Appalachian culture and history must be understood as a series of adaptations to the region's political economy and position at the margins of the American nation-state. The future of the region depends upon economic stabilization, the development of a consciousness of Appalachian history by the region's population, and support from Americans outside the region. Likely the revitalization of Appalachian agriculture will be part of this process, with improved cultivation methods drawn from biointensive approaches used by alternative development activists in the Global South. Perhaps Appalachia will receive attention from these organizations, many of them based in India, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America--it is likely that these organizations have more experience and skill working with marginalized "peasant" (quasi-autonomous agricultural producers, like Appalachians) populations than the bureaucrats involved with the ARC. Globalization and the decline of the nation-state's hegemony should be understood as a positive development for Appalachia, given its systematic exploitation by the American state and America's corporate elite. It is possible that Appalachia will once again sustain a high quality of life and an independent, highly-skilled population, negotiating modernity on its own terms. Perhaps the first book attempting to foster this "new Appalachia" is the 2007 [ Healing Appalachia: Sustainable Living through Appropriate Technology] by Al Fritsch and Paul Gallimore and published by University of Kentucky Press.

In the meantime, many Americans will associate the region with bigoted, fictional movies like Deliverance and Appalachian people will continue to struggle in a modernity over which they have little control.


Billings, Dwight B. and Kathleen M. Blee "Agriculture and Poverty in the Kentucky Mountains: Beech Creek, 1850-1910" in "Appalachia in the Making: The Mountain South in the Nineteenth Century", eds. Pudup et al. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Blethen, H. Tyler "Pioneer Settlement" in "High Mountains Rising: Appalachia in Time and Place", eds. Straw and Blethen. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Davis, Donald Edward. "A Whole World Dying" and "Medicinal and Cultural Uses of Plants in the Southern Appalachians" in "Homeplace Geography: Essays for Appalachia". Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2006.

Lewis, Ronald L. "Railroads, Deforestation, and the Transformation of Agriculture in the West Virginia Back Counties, 1880-1920" in "Appalachia in the Making: The Mountain South in the Nineteenth Century", eds. Pudup et al. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Saelstron, Paul. "Newer Appalachia as One of America's Last Frontiers" in "Appalachia in the Making: The Mountain South in the Nineteenth Century", eds. Pudup et al. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

External links

* [ DeRolph v. State of Ohio]
* [ Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding]
* [ Appalachian Voices]
* [ Of Place: Traditional Appalachian Music in Southeast Ohio, by Rich Greenlee]
* [ Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition]
* [ Foundation for Appalachian Ohio]
* [ Governor's Office of Appalachia]
* [ Appalachian Ohio Map]
* [ Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia]
* [ Appalachian Studies Association]
* [ Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Gender in Appalachia]
* [ Center for Appalachian Studies and Services]
* [ Center for Appalachian Studies]
* [ Appalachian Regional Studies, Radford University]
* [ UK Appalachian Center]
* [ Appalshop]
* [ Appalachia: Land and People (Ohio University Professor Geoff Buckley's Syllabus)]

ee Also

*Ohio University
*Appalachian Regional Commission
*Hocking Hills
*Settlement school
*Appalachian Dulcimer
*Log Cabin
*Shawnee State Park
*Zaleski State Forest
*Wayne National Forest
*Underground Railroad
*Black Cohosh
*Morel Mushroom
*War on Poverty
*Critical Pedagogy
*Appalachian Studies

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