What the History of Salt, Slaves & Coal Can Teach us about Appalachia's Future


This week on Inside Appalachia, we travel to Cedar Grove, West Virginia, home of renowned novelist Mary Lee Settle. On this episode, we explore surprising, hidden histories through the work of Settle and the voices of women from Cedar Grove.

Settle, who passed away in 2005, spent three decades on a series of books called the Beulah Quintet. The five books are each set in a different moment in West Virginia’s history when a revolutionary change was at stake. Today’s economic uncertainty here in Appalachia has many people wondering whether we are also living in the midst of a transition. 

“There’s just kind of a feeling in the air, right now, in central Appalachia, that we have reached a moment, or a crossroads, where we’re gonna have to choose a path for our future,” said Catherine Moore, whose hour-long radio documentary called Cedar Grove is featured in this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia. “When I discovered that aspect of Mary Lee Settle’s work, it really resonated with me, as we face the projected long-term decline of coal.”

Settle is the author of 21 books, including The Beulah Quintet, which spans two continents and 300 years of Appalachian history. Beulah Land is a fictional place grounded in the reality of Settle’s family homeplace at Cedar Grove, a town in West Virginia struggling amid coal industry decline. West Virginia native Catherine Moore visits Cedar Grove and interviews the “real” residents of Beulah Land, searching for stories of survival and resiliency in the face of enormous challenges.

The scenes and characters that emerge take us through wilderness, Underground Railroad operations, the coal mine wars of the early 20th century, and John F. Kennedy’s visit to Cedar Grove in 1960.

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Inside Appalachia is produced by Jessica Lilly and Roxy Todd. Our executive producer is Jesse Wright.Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens.