Road Trip: Appalachia’s Hidden Gems


This week on Inside Appalachia, we’re going on a road trip to meet people who are working in Appalachia to preserve American culture and traditions.

We’ll hear from a young woman whose family has been singing traditional Appalachian and British ballads for eight generations.

And we’ll meet a man in West Virginia who returned to his home to help his uncle run their family’s historic gristmill. 

And an artist discovers inspiration when he rediscovers his grandfather’s traditional pottery. 

You’ll find these stories and more this week, Inside Appalachia.

We’ll travel to places that aren’t on most maps or tourist brochures and learn about new ways to explore the places we already know. We’re celebrating Appalachians who have been making things in the mountains for generations, and those who are preserving those traditions and keeping them alive for others to enjoy.

On this show, we’ll take you to some of those places and find out why it really is important to get outside. It’s part of our ongoing series called, “Hidden Gems,” where we will explore some of Appalachia’s best-kept secrets. 


Neon Glow

In recent years, neon signs have emerged as a decorating trend in homes and apartments. But we usually associate them with cities and bars, as a signal of bustling nighttime activity. Peggy Lee declares, “I’m going out where the neon signs shine down on the avenue,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light,” the Kinks sing of “the traffic jams and neon lights of the great metropolis.”″,”_id”:”00000174-a7be-ddc3-a1fc-bfff633f0000″,”_type”:”035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2″}”>″><brightspot-cms-external-content data-state="{"url":"″,”_id”:”00000174-a7be-ddc3-a1fc-bfff633f0000″,”_type”:”035d81d3-5be2-3ed2-bc8a-6da208e0d9e2″}”>

The signs that light up many businesses in West Virginia’s Greater Kanawha Valley were made far from the places those songs depict, in a workshop on a quiet side street in the small town of St. Albans. Emily Hilliard visited the owner of Day Sign Company and brings us this story. Hilliard is the state folklorist at the West Virginia Folklife Program, a project of the West Virginia Humanities Council. The project is also supported by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Folk & Traditional Arts Program.

Reed’s Mill

A few years ago, we brought you a story about bloody butcher corn. It’s a type of corn that’s ground into meal at one of the last remaining gristmills in Appalachia. 


Credit Daniel Walker/ WVPB
Larry Mustain holds heirloom Bloody Butcher corn that he grinds at his historic mill in Monroe County, W.Va.

A hundred years ago, gristmills weren’t just a place where people went to buy cornmeal and flour, they were also community gathering places. But supermarkets replaced the local gristmill economy, and few working mills are still in operation today. The West Virginia Preservation Alliance placed Reed’s Mill on the list of its endangered properties last year. Roxy Todd revisited Monroe County, where the millman Larry Mustain is wondering how long he can continue to keep his family’s business going.

You can catch the video companion to this story about Reed’s Mill at our first public live recording session. Come join us on Saturday, Oct. 20, in Beckley, West Virginia, at the Raleigh Playhouse and Theatre. Watch our website over the next few weeks for more details.

North Carolina Potter Keeps Family’s Legacy Alive

A family connection can be what helps some Appalachians find value in a place they call home. In this episode we’ll travel to Lincoln County, North Carolina, to meet an artist who is putting his own spin on a family legacy.  Historically, the Catawba River Valley is pottery country. The Reinhardt family worked here for generations, making utilitarian pots for farmers. Now, Michael Gates is building on his ancestors’ work. Joe O’Connell introduces us.

New Album Explores Tradition of Ballad Singing in Appalachia


Credit courtesy photo
Sheila Kay Adams

In North Carolina and East Tennessee, several families have passed down the art of singing traditional Appalachian ballads. Ya know, those stories told in a song? There are love ballads, murder ballads — and often the two go hand in hand.

A new album titled “Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition” celebrates the rich tradition of songs that tell stories, one that influenced many genres of music, including country, bluegrass and rock. The collection has been nominated for a Grammy Award. From member station WETS in Johnson City, Tennessee, Wayne Winkler brings us a review of this new album.

Getting Outdoors in Apppalachia 


Credit Kara Lofton/ WVPB
Christiaan Abildso and Sam Zizzi at White Park in Morgantown

Also in this episode, we’ll hear a series of stories by our health reporter, Kara Lofton, about why putting down your phone and getting outdoors, and bringing your kids with you, may be one of the best things for your body, mind, and your mental health. And we’ll go explore Blackwater Falls, at night, for stargazing.

Fly Fishing

When people talk about getting outdoors in Appalachia, some things that may come to mind is ATV riding, white-water rafting, hunting, or fishing. If you’re searching for the best fly-fishing spots to catch wild trout in the U.S., central Pennsylvania still makes top-10 lists. That’s despite historical pollution and runoff from agriculture and development. The Allegheny Front’s Julie Grant heads to the region to find out how people there are working to keep these premier streams clean.

Join Our Team!

We’re growing our Inside Appalachia team. We are hiring a new part-time Folklife Reporter. Click here to learn more about how to apply. And be on the lookout for even more opportunities to join our team.

Appalachian Ghost Stories

We’re working on an episode about ghost stories in Appalachia. Do you have a favorite scary story or legend from your community that you’d like to share with us? We’re teaming up with the West Virginia Folklife Program for this episode- so call their hotline and tell us about your ghost story. Leave a message at 1-844-618- 3747. You can also email

Music in this episode was provided by Rosanne Cash, who is featured on the new Grammy nominated album called Big Bend Killing: The Appalachian Ballad Tradition. Music was also provided by Dinosaur Burps, Ben Townsend, Marisa Anderson, The Howie Tapes and Earthskins.

Roxy Todd is our producer. Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Molly Born edited our show this week. She’s also our web editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens.

You can always reach out to us on Twitter @InAppalachia.