Southern Appalachian Culture
In the following essays, we will explore Southern Appalachian culture as it existed in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, with a particular focus on the religious beliefs, health care practices, recreational activities, agricultural methods, social/economic class structures, gender relationships, and educational standards common to the region at that time. Before doing so, however, it behooves us to do two things: first, to establish what we mean by “ Southern Appalachia”; and second, to indicate which part of this rather vast, rather topographically varied region we will be exploring, in search of Southern Appalachian “cultural norms.”
In The Southern Highlander and His Homeland, writer John C. Campbell provides us with a perfectly adequate definition of Southern Appalachia: “the four western counties of Maryland; the Blue Ridge Valley, and Allegheny Ridge counties of Virginia; all of West Virginia; eastern Tennessee; eastern Kentucky; western North Carolina; the four northwestern counties of South Carolina; northern Georgia; and northeastern Alabama.” He also points out that, of the numerous mountain ranges included in this territory, the Unaka or Great Smoky Mountains form “a single chain that dwarfs all other in the . . . system.” Needless to say, such a vast landmass ( Campbell’s Southern Appalachia is roughly equivalent in size to Great Britain, excluding Ireland) defies easy description. For although the region’s terrain is more or less uniform, consisting primarily of steep parallel ridges, fertile intervening valleys, and shallow, rock-infested rivers, it nevertheless exhibits a rather profound variety in terms of soil quality, plant life, mineral resources, weather patterns, and topographical features--and thus in terms of unique human subcultures.
For the sake of clarity, then, we will focus our attention on the residents of one small Southern Appalachian community, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which was situated in one of the more profoundly isolated corners of the region (the foothills of the aforementioned Unaka or Great Smoky Mountain chain). The essays that follow are in no way intended to be representative of the entire region, although one may certainly discover similarities between the cultural manifestations of Gatlinburg residents and those exhibited by the residents of other, similarly-situated Southern Appalachian communities.