Mary Breckinridge: The Nurse Pioneer of Appalachia

The story of Mary Breckinridge and her service and dedication to helping children and families in Appalachia is truly legendary.

Mary Breckinridge was not a native of Appalachia. She was from Memphis, Tennessee and trained in nursing in New York in 1910 before moving on to London, England for advanced Midwife Training. Mary followed this path because of her passion for helping children. This passion was born from tragedy. She was widowed when her first husband died suddenly. Later she married a man from Kentucky and they had two children together. Her first child, a girl named Polly, was born prematurely and died. Her second child, a son, died at the age of four due to appendicitis.

In the early part of the 20th century for every 1,000 births in America, 100 babies died within their first year. That rate was even higher in Appalachia, with many families living off the beaten path away from towns and cities. Health care in the far reaches of these mountains was almost non-existent. Addressing this problem became the life’s focus of Mary.

After a time in Europe to help French refugees with medical care after World War I, she came back to Kentucky and made Leslie County her home. This was the time before the coal boom in Eastern Kentucky, and before there were paved roads and rail transport. She became a pioneer in her chosen industry that made house calls on horseback! With some public support and funding, she invited other nurses from England and Scotland to work with her in Hyden and was able to help countless families with their skills in nursing and midwifery. At the time there was no such thing as training for midwifery in America. Mary was breaking new ground right here in Appalachia.

She founded the Frontier Nursing Services in 1925. Nowadays her name is commonplace in Eastern Kentucky, especially around Leslie County. She founded the Frontier Nursing University in Hyden and has a local hospital named after her. She died in 1965 at the age of 84, still leading the Frontier Nursing Services. In the forty years of service her nurses delivered over 14,000 babies and treated about 58,000 patients. She was honored by the United States Postal Service in 1998 with a Great American series of postage stamps.

Her story and life’s work is amazing and should be celebrated. For more information about Mary Breckinridge you can visit the following links:

PLAY BALL! - Baseball’s Rich Appalachian History

Dante Baseball Team - 1924

Dante Baseball Team – 1924

We’re upon another season of Appalachian League baseball. The game has been a part of our lives here in this region for as long as baseball has been played in our country. However, there is a much longer and somewhat forgotten history throughout our region about our national pastime. It is much older than the Appy League, and goes back to the years after the Civil War, to a time when companies set up shop in our Appalachian region and began mining coal.

As coal camps became common throughout Appalachia, the need for some form of entertainment and community bonding was necessary in the daily lives of friends and families. Baseball fever began to catch on after the Civil War and many of the small towns throughout the region formed their own teams. These teams weren’t professional teams, but the players (mostly coal miners in Central Appalachia) were very competitive and took the game seriously. Baseball was a way to bring the community together in these coal camps, and teams would play other local teams from surrounding towns and counties, mostly for bragging rights.

In fact, Raleigh County West Virginia had an A League, a B League, and a United Mine Workers League. For those that weren’t very good at baseball, softball was another fun alternative to keep everyone in the community interested in the game. These teams sprang up everywhere!

Baseball flourished in the early 1900’s up until World War II. After that many parts of daily life changed. Technology in the coal mines changed. What once took 300 miners, by 1950 maybe only 80 miners were needed for the same work. That changed the dynamic of coal camps and coal mining towns everywhere. Also, the advent of television and movie theaters and cars being more accessible changed how we chose our entertainment. By 1950 most of these community teams had disappeared.

Although this is a big part of history during that part of the 20th century, most of it has been lost and forgotten. If you have memories of baseball during this era in your town and have a story to tell, please share it with us. If you have old photos you’d like to share, please do! This is a lost part of history that needs to be saved. It was such an important part of our communities that it should never be forgotten.

To read more about baseball in this era, here are some helpful links:

http://www.swvamuseum.org/coalcamps.html

http://www.herald-dispatch.com/sports/gathering-set-to-honor-w-va-coalfield-baseball/article_cfdc57a7-a793-565a-8e5f-abf1a03b8564.html

https://coalheritage.wv.gov/coal_history/Pages/Coal-Camp-Baseball.aspx

God’s Country and the Devil’s Bathtub

God’s Thumbprint

Burke’s Garden in Tazewell County, Virginia is one of those rare places where the wonder and natural beauty of the place sort of takes your breath away. Driving across a mountain on a narrow crooked road to find the place, you’d just think that you were in another valley until you get out and take a look around. You’ll see that off in every distance you are surrounded by mountains. In fact, you are standing in what people have long called God’s Thumb Print.

Burke’s Garden, VA

The place seems relatively flat even though you are standing right in the middle of the Appalachian mountain chain. Burke’s Garden is one of the best areas for farming in the state, explaining why the Amish settled here long ago. The area used to be a huge limestone dome formation, but collapsed and the eroding limestone makes the land great for farming. It was discovered by a settler named James Burke who was following elk into the territory (a territory where native Americans hunted for game). It wasn’t long after Burke brought others to the place that they noticed their old potato peels growing into potatoes. They realized how fertile the land was and it became Burke’s Garden. The aerial photograph shows exactly how this place got its nickname.

If you are a hiker and don’t mind climbing over some huge rocks along the trail, you’ll find another hidden gem in Southwest Virginia near the town of Dungannon in Scott Count, Virginia. If you follow Devil’s Fork Loop Trail far enough you’ll run into a spectacularly beautiful watering hole to sink down into and relax or swim. This beauty is called the Devil’s Bathtub and was even highlighted at one point on the Weather Channel.

Devil’s Bathtub

You can find a pretty significant social media buzz about this place with a quick online search. Make no mistake about this location. Despite its unique features and beauty, you have to hike at least a couple of miles to get to it and the seven mile round trip trail is no easy hike. In fact, hikers have rated this one as being difficult. However, if you have the energy and desire this place is worth the effort, especially if you’re going to spend some time relaxing once you get there. Don’t be surprised to find other hikers waiting for you when you arrive. It is a very popular trail!

Promise Zone for the Coal Counties?

In January 2014 eight counties in Eastern Kentucky were declared as a “Promise Zone” by federal and state officials with the vision of helping these counties build more diversified economies, promote job growth, and overall wellbeing. The vision of the council behind the Promise Zone is to develop a competitively trained workforce, a healthy environment, a more active civic life, and a continued growth in culture through the arts and rich histories of the region. Given our organization’s mission, the idea of a Promise Zone is certainly right in our wheelhouse.

Just to be clear, the Foundation For Appalachian Advancement is not a political organization. In fact, far from it! However, the mission of the Promise Zone is very similar to ours as we work to operate in all of Appalachia. The concept itself is a great idea. It’s very likely that there are, and have been, political disagreements on the “how” part of achieving the vision and goals of the Promise Zone.

The “how” is a political argument that our Foundation will not engage in. That is for the citizens and elected officials in each region to decide for themselves. It is important that we encourage the debate about extending the Promise Zone to include other counties in Appalachia that have seen terrible job loss in the coal industry.

Consider the coal counties of Southwest Virginia, or West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania that also lack economic diversification. Should this vision and mission of the Promise Zone be extended to them, as well? If not, then why not?

If it is important, perhaps the citizens of those regions would be best served by contacting their local leaders and encouraging them to work with their Governor to bring this to fruition.

Economic diversification in these parts of Appalachia is just as vital to us as it is for other states outside of our region that have strong and resilient economies and growing job opportunities. Nothing in Appalachia seems to come easy. It is a duty that we all must undertake from the grass roots to ensure that our region moves forward in the areas of job growth, educational opportunity, and cultural advancement.

As far as our part with the Foundation For Appalachian Advancement, we hope we can spark a debate and discussion that leads to positive change.

Pound-Jenkins Rail Tunnel

There is growing interest along the Kentucky-Virginia border to reopen the old Chesapeake and Ohio railroad tunnel through the mountain that connects Jenkins, KY and Pound, VA. “Our beautiful mountains are a unique attraction,” says James Hibbitts, Director of Foundation For Appalachian Advancement and resident of Pound, VA. “Upgrading our local hiking trails on both sides of the border should be a priority.”

Local officials and citizens as part of a grassroots effort are working to make the old rail tunnel and local trails a unique destination for hikers and tourists.

However, more citizens on the Virginia side are needed in the grassroots effort to keep interest going to help ensure additional funding for the project. To be a part of the grassroots effort, contact James Hibbitts at james.hibbitts@hotmail.com.

The Pound Gap Massacre

Pound Gap MassacreThere are countless small towns throughout Appalachia, and each can boast of a unique history all their own. One such place is Pound, Virginia and what came to be known as the Pound Gap Massacre. The Pound Gap, as it is called, is located on the border of Virginia and Kentucky, currently between Jenkins, KY and Pound, VA. Today we call it U.S. Route 23. Many pioneers and hunters used the gap to settle into eastern Kentucky. Daniel Boone often traveled the gap, referring to it as “Sounding Gap.”

In 1834 the Kentucky General Assembly passed an act to improve the road, which made driving livestock to Virginia and other southern markets much easier. It also made the gap vitally important during the Civil War. However, it wasn’t until 1892, long after the Civil War, when the gap became known for the Pound Gap Massacre. Ira Mullins, a local moonshiner, was ambushed. Dr. M.B. Taylor (also known as The Red Fox) and two confederates slaughtered Mullins and members of his family by a rock near the gap. Five of seven were killed at what is now called Killing Rock at Pound Gap. If you are an avid hiker you’ll find a trail named after the massacre. The Red Fox Trail & Killing Rock runs through Jefferson National Forest.  Dr. Taylor was later hanged at the Wise County Courthouse for the murders.

Al Capone in Appalachia?

Was Capone ever in our region? Maybe. Did his organized crime organization have a presence in the region during the days of prohibition? Probably. We may never know the truth, but it certainly adds to an interesting chapter of Appalachian history.

It’s no big secret that in these Appalachian mountains a good amount of moonshine has been made over the years. And during the early part of the 20th century our nation experimented with prohibition which led to one heck of a black market for the stuff. And as with many myths and legends that live on in the form of tall tales and stories passed down the years, it is speculated (confirmed in the minds of some!) that none other than notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone made his presence felt in Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee and Eastern Kentucky.

Many of you may already know this, but during the 1920’s Johnson City, TN was known as Little Chicago. Most people assumed that was because of railroads coming through town. (Chicago was the leading rail city at that time-often referred to as Big Chicago.) Some, however, think it was called that because of ties to organized crime and the Capone crime family. There is no direct evidence to this but there is plenty of circumstantial evidence to make the argument. After all, illegal booze was Capone’s money maker and Central Appalachia was known for moonshine. Also, Johnson City would have been a perfect stopping point on the way to his other home in southern Florida (now a well known route for smuggling booze during Prohibition).

Also, there were many newspaper articles dating back to the mid 1920’s referring to the growing crime in Johnson City surrounding the illegal industry of alcohol and the growing number of “thugs” in the region.

During that era Johnson City was one of the hardest hit areas in the nation with a nuerological disorder called “jake leg” that was a result of consuming alcohol that had been tainted. Those that survived the disorder carried a unique hitch in their step as an effect of consumption. Part of the local folklore was that Capone even had a house in Wise County, VA where he stayed to conduct business.

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