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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