In The Midst of Change, Preservation And Endurance In Appalachia


How can we hold onto traditions in a world that’s always changing? This week on Inside Appalachia, we explore stories about how our history and culture can help us find answers, and ask questions, about the types of future we want to build. Whether it’s learning the recipes of our ancestors, trying to bring back a heritage tree that was nearly wiped out, or rooting for the home team, our future won’t look exactly like the past. But some things can be preserved. We’ll meet people who are finding ways to adapt, and hold onto their roots, amidst challenges.

In This Episode:

Food has the power to connect us to past generations — sometimes across hundreds of years of history.

Just over a century ago, a wave of Lebanese immigrants flowed into Appalachia. They left their families and homes in the Middle East, and traveled to cities like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Roanoke, Virginia and Wheeling, West Virginia in search of jobs and economic opportunity. They brought a rich culture that flourished and also a vitality to the places they settled.

But now, generations have passed, and Appalachia’s Lebanese communities are seeing a familiar dynamic as young people move out and older generations pass on.

We’ll meet a young man from West Virginia’s Lebanese community, who says he’s determined to preserve its cultural traditions, including the smells and tastes of homemade Lebanese cooking, including making signature homemade dishes like kibbeh and tabbouleh.

Roosevelt’s ‘Tree Army’

And we’ll look back at the legacy of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC. Known as “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” it employed more than 3 million men and created thousands of parks across the country. Now, some are calling for a modern version of the CCC.


American Chestnut

American Chestnut trees provided food to early settlers and Native Americans, and was also used as livestock feed and by woodworkers. In the early 1900s, American Chestnuts were devastated by a blight that took down some 4 billion of these giants. Now researchers are moving forward with a genetically engineered tree that allows chestnuts to survive the blight. The Allegheny Front’s Julie Grant explains why the science is considered controversial, and why others say it’s necessary if we want to restore the American Chestnut.

And WUNC reporter Will Michaels takes us to the Black River in North Carolina, where scientists have discovered one of the oldest living trees in the world– a cypress tree that is over 2,600 years old.


Eric Douglas
Rod Blackstone, also known as the Toastman, leads cheers at the West Virginia Power Minor League Baseball park in Charleston, West Virginia.

At The Ballpark?

The love of baseball attracts fans of all ages, including Rod Blackstone, aka “The Toastman,” who’s attended almost every minor league game in Charleston, West Virginia over the last 30 years. But Minor League Baseball is contracting, and some Appalachian towns are losing their teams. MLB threw the West Virginia Power a curveball when it announced it was not one of the teams that would be part of the 120-team minor league lineup next season. Three other squads from West Virginia were also thrown out. Of the 42 teams that will lose MLB affiliation, 18 are in the Appalachian region.

Blackstone said the contraction is a disservice to communities like Charleston, which has hosted a minor league team for most seasons dating back to 1910. “It’s harder to swallow when you look at how there is now a large, gaping hole in this region of the country that has been expelled from the major league-minor league system,” Blackstone said. In a story that originally aired on NPR, Dave Mistich takes a look at how others in Charleston are reacting to the league reorganization.


Courtesy Stephanie Wolf/WFPL
Elizabeth DiSavino, associate professor of music at Berea College, stands near Katherine Jackson French’s gravesite in the AR Dyche Cemetery in London, Kentucky on Oct. 30, 2020.

Timeless Ballads Preserved In New Book

Across Appalachia, there are countless ballads, stories in music and verse, that have been passed down from person to person. Katherine Jackson French was a folklorist who worked to document many of the ballads across Kentucky that were disappearing. Her attempt to publish her work failed, in part because she was a woman. Stephanie Wolf, of WFPL, reports that Jackson French’s story is finally being told.

Family Story

book cover The Visit

Nellie Canterbury was born in 1933 in a mountain home above the railroad town of Hinton, West Virginia. She was the fifth of six girls and is the last surviving sister from her family today.

In her book The Visit, she writes about her family from the time her parents met to when her mother died. Canterbury, or Aunt Nellie, as she prefers to be called, recently spoke with our associate producer Eric Douglas about her parents’ story.

Let Us Know!

Got a story you think we should know about? Email us at, or find us on Twitter at In Appalachia.

Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by John Wyatt, Dinosaur Burps, Anna and Elizabeth, and Kaia Kater.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Eric Douglas is our associate producer. Our executive producer is Andrea Billups. Kelley Libby edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode. You can find us on Twitter @InAppalachia.

You can also send us an email to

Inside Appalachia is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.