Recognizing and Preserving Our “Venerable Trees”

I first learned of Tom Kimmerer and his work during the late summer and into the fall of 2014 with the news related to a Ball Homes’ development near Harrodsburg Road and Military Pike that threatened a nearly 500 year-old bur oak. The developer hired Kimmerer to create a preservation plan for this ‘venerable’ tree which stands on a bluff above the old South Elkhorn schoolhouse. For the tree preservation plan, Ball Homes earned an award from the Lexington-Fayette Environmental Commission.

Although the preservation of historic buildings has been at times fiercely discussed over the past half-century in Lexington (at times more passionately than at others), the fight over the preservation of historic trees has not drawn the same level of attention. But the preservation of the Old Schoolhouse Oak may be a game changer.

And the premier guidebook for the preservation of trees was recently published by the University Press of Kentucky. The author, not surprisingly, was Tom Kimmerer. Kimmerer’s Venerable Trees: History, Biology, and Conservation in the Bluegrass is a self-described “celebration of the long relationship between people and trees and a cautionary tale of what happens when we neglect that relationship.”

Tom Kimmerer and Ben Chandler at the 2015 Kentucky Book Fair. Author’s collection

In Venerable Trees, Kimmerer harkens to the early days of Lexington when settlers like Robert Patterson and Josiah Collins felled significant bur oaks and walnuts to construct first a blockhouse and later cabins like the one standing today on the campus of Transylvania University.

In one particular image, a detail of the Patterson Cabin shows the grain on an old oak log that “may be one of the original bur oak pieces used to build the cabin.” Through the page, the history of the building speaks volumes but so does the ancient history that occurred while that tree grew before being cut down for utility by mankind.

The image immediately conjured, for me, the fire, demolition, and removal of the Lady Sterling House in Nicholasville. An 1804 structure which burned in 2014, the burnt original timbers showed their age. Of that loss, I wrote:

But the log cabin which had withstood over 200 years of history and two other major fires seemed resilient. It might be able to be preserved.

The logs had been cut and hewn by hand. The trees from which those timbers came could have stood several hundred years before the trees were felled. If the log cabin couldn’t have been reclaimed, those logs could have perhaps been rebuilt on the same or another site. Or the logs could have been repurposed and reclaimed in other ways.

The timber of this building spoke to me, but I’ve largely neglected to consider the honorable tree in my passion for preservation. But our venerable trees should not be forgotten – they should be preserved.

Truly, Venerable Trees is not what I expected. I expected that the book on biology would read like a textbook and would appeal only to a narrow subset of the population whose passion involves counting tree rings. And without a doubt, this book will appeal to those individuals as well.

But Kimmerer does a fabulous job of presenting complex matters in simple, readable prose. The stories of particular trees both in the Inner Bluegrass Basin and in the Nashville Basin are told alongside an understanding of how different species of trees reproduce, how that reproduction is aided by the natural environment, and with an emphasis on the importance of these significant natural monuments. All with a good collection of both black-and-white and color photographs.

Venerable Trees is highly recommended for the arborist, the history buff, the preservationist, and those who love Kentucky’s natural beauty. For more about Tom Kimmerer and his work, visit his website.

A Review of The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia

Over 150 writers contributed to The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia which is being published this month by the University Press of Kentucky. Editors Gerald L. Smith, Karen Cotton McDaniel, and John A. Hardin have compiled what is being described as “a foundational guide to the black experience in the Commonwealth.”

The beautiful 596-page tome is not without its flaws. Although the entry on “slave trade” did note that Lexington and Louisville “became centers of the slave commerce,” there was no entry dedicated to the markets themselves. An informed entry on “Cheapside” would have been an excellent addition – the full dialogue on this subject seems to be missing which has spawned a political issue in and of itself. Another addition I would have preferred to have seen would have been a place index. Connecting the dots of multiple references within the text to a particular Kentucky town or county would have assisted local researchers, though the information is probably easily gleaned from a digital version of the text.

Notwithstanding these small contentions, the volume is filled with the long-undertold parts of Kentucky’s rich history. Any lover of Kentucky history would be well-served by sitting down for an afternoon to peruse this book, then to keep it nearby for regular consultation.

To celebrate Kentucky’s bicentennial in 1992, the Kentucky Encyclopedia was born. Since, two regional encyclopedia’s (Louisville and Northern Kentucky) have continued to tell the stories of the individuals, places, organizations, and events that have shaped Kentucky’s storied past. Now, the stories involving Kentucky’s African-American past are being told in a single volume.

First African Baptist Church in Lexington.

The entry on Lexington’s First African Baptist Church tells the early challenges experienced by Peter Durrett, the slave who helped organize and pastor the church that was once the largest congregation in Kentucky. (At least two other historic black Lexington churches, Antioch (Colored) Christian and St. Paul AME lack entries.)

The entry on Margaret Garner, the escaped slave who was on the most “complex figures in the history of American slavery,” is heart wrenching.

The release of this book on August 28 itself holds significance. Seven years ago (2008), Barack Obama became the first African-American to accept the nomination of a major political party for President of the United States. Forty-five years earlier (52 years ago, 1963), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his I Have a Dream speech in Washington, D.C.

While history may not hold the release of the Kentucky African-American Encyclopedia on the same level from the perspective of national import, it is still a significant step toward understanding the history of all Kentuckians.

Disclaimer: The author was provided a courtesy copy of this book. This review followed.

A Review of Kentucky Maverick: The Life and Adventures of Colonel George M. Chinn

Published posthumously by the late Professor Carlton Jackson of Western Kentucky University, this biography of Colonel George M. Chinn is a must-read for those who appreciate Kentucky history. Chinn was active in so many aspects of 20th century Kentucky and, though he is a figure often overlooked by many, is worthy of honor and recognition.
Colonel M. Chinn was described as a Renaissance man which is an accolade that always piques my interest. As put in the book, Chinn had “‘multiples lives,’ and … excelled in all of them: football player (baseball, too, when called upon), coach, tour guide, restauranteur (in his cave), government sergeant at arms, civil rights leader (except the time he rejected the collection of black newspapers, bodyguard, military man, weapons expert, librarian, author, director and deputy director, [Kentucky Historical Society, head of military museum in Frankfort, raconteur, and, overall ‘good old boy.'”
Yes, Colonel Chinn (a military rank, though he no doubt also was a member of the Honorable Order as well) was both a Renaissance man and a maverick. His story, as told by Jackson, is an informative tale of Kentucky’s history during the 20th century and an even more informative tale of how that history is told.

As director (and deputy director) of the Kentucky Historical Society, Chinn was regularly called upon to interpret and guide the telling of Kentucky’s story. One way he accomplished this was through the development of the historic marker program which has successfully (albeit with more than a handful or errors) told about Kentucky’s people and places in nearly 2,500 spots along the state’s highways. 
Mercer County historic marker of New Providence Church. Growing the historic marker program was a major focus of Col. Chinn’s directorate at KHS. 
But Chinn was quick to point out that most of the historic markers placed were in central Kentucky, which mirrored the “blue blood” makeup of the historic organizations including KHS. China sought to broaden the reach and scope of the organization by reaching out to those in the western and eastern reaches of the Commonwealth. Further, Chinn’s qualifications made him not a ‘professional historian’ which left him at odds with many, including the esteemed Dr. Thomas Clark.

Chinn’s service in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were all discussed leaving no doubt of the Colonel’s commitment to America. His understanding of weaponry – described by Jackson as a “primitive genius” – kept him active in the Marine Corps, despite a weight that far eclipsed the Corps’ standards. China developed the M-19 automatic grenade launcher during the Vietnam conflict and which weapon still was in service during the recent conflicts in Afghanistan.

China Gas Station and entrance to Chinn’s Cave in Brooklyn (Mercer Co.), Kentucky. UK Libraries.

And when not overseas or away from home, Chinn retired to his wife, Cotton, at their Mercer County home which overlooked the palisades. The home’s construction and design, as described in Kentucky Maverick, was unique. But Chinn’s time was spent below the home in his cave that opened up onto Highway 68. There he engaged in many entrepreneurial efforts – both legal and illegal. 

Reading Kentucky Maverick: The Life and Adventures of George M. Chinn contains many interesting stories that are beautifully woven together into an interesting read. Jackson gives the reader a better understanding of the history behind the Kentucky Historical Society and an appreciation for how politics can seep into everything.

And as we approach autumn and a new football season, I truly enjoyed the full accounting of the great game played in Cambridge when ‘underdog’ Centre from Danville defeated the mighty Harvard – C6, H0 – in the game of the century. But whether you anticipate the pigskin or not, the stories of this Renaissance man will intrigue any Kentuckian.

Disclaimer: The author was provided a courtesy copy of this book. This review followed.

Jefferson Davis Got His Citizenship Back, But Fortunately the Statue is Gone

Jefferson Davis. Library of Congress.

This post was originally written in 2015 and entitled “Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back”, but was updated in 2020 following the Historic Properties Advisory Commission voting 11-1 to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis from the rotunda of the Capitol. Changes are in bold

It is not often that I review a book that came to print more than thirty years ago, but events of late have brought Jefferson Davis to the forefront of our national psyche. In Kentucky, we are asking whether a statue of Jefferson Davis should or should not be removed from the rotunda of the state capitol. In South Carolina today (2015), the Rebel flag is likely to be permanently removed from the grounds of the state capitol in Columbia.

Back in Frankfort, Davis’ statue stands in a ring of four around a larger, central statue of Abraham Lincoln. The other three Kentuckians recognized in the statuary collection are Ephraim McDowell, Henry Clay, and Alben Barkley. That is, until Davis’ statue was removed. On June 12, 2020, the statue was removed following an emergency meeting of the advisory commission which oversees the rotunda. The recommendation and motion to remove the statue was made by the state curator, Carol Mitchell. Following discussion, the motion carried 11-1. The statue will ultimately be relocated to Jefferson Davis’ birthplace in Fairview, Kentucky, where it can be appropriately contextualized.

But it is the fifteen foot tall statue of Jefferson Davis that is drawing attention. The question and discussion is good: should Kentucky recognize and honor in her seat of government a man who was a traitor to the United States by leading a rebellion against the Union for the cause of enslavement of millions of Americans?

In considering the question, I wanted to better understand Jeff Davis. I turned to a book on my shelf that I had not before read: Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back. Written by Kentucky-native Robert Penn Warren, this 114-page short history of Jefferson Davis was first published in 1980.

Both Davis and Warren are natives of Todd County, Kentucky. In late 1978 and nearly nine decades after the former Confederate president’s death, Jefferson Davis’ U.S. citizenship was posthumously restored. Warren took the opportunity to recall Davis’ life and legacy which he intertwined with his own memories of Todd County.

It is in Todd County that the great obelisk to Jefferson Davis stands. The building of the obelisk in Fairview, Kentucky was begun in 1917 and suspended during the war effort (World War I). At the age of about twelve, Warren was driven by his family to see the construction site. His conflicted opinion of both Davis and the monument follow as he was unsure “about the mystery of the pain, vision, valor, human weakness, and error of the past being somehow transformed into, glorified into, the immobile thrust of concrete (not even the dignity of stone).”

By the time this construction had begun, the former Confederate president had been laid in the ground some twenty years earlier. In his life, Jefferson Davis served valiantly in the Mexican War leading a regiment of the Mississippi Rifles, most notably, at the Battle of Buena Vista. For his valor and success on the field of battle, President James K. Polk promoted Davis to the rank of brigadier general. But Davis “decorously [threw] back into [Polk’s] face with a lesson in constitutionality: no one but the governor of Mississippi could legally promote a colonel of the Mississippi Rifles.”

Davis’ commitment to states rights and to Mississippi were without doubt. The resurrection of such a commitment to the ideal with today’s Tea Party movement would have seemed odd to Robert Penn Warren, just as he observed the oddity of it 150 years ago:

How odd [the overemphasis on states’ rights] seems now – when the sky hums with traffic, and eight-lane highways stinking of high-test rip across hypothetical state lines, and half the citizens don’t know or care where they were born just so they can get somewhere fast.

Warren notes, too, that it was this commitment to state that, in part, might have cost the South the war. Just as the new colonies declaring their independence from England could not survive under the Articles of Confederation, the Confederacy was doomed because of its form. While Lincoln could order men to fight for the Union, Davis possessed far fewer powers when he served as President of the Confederate States.

It is the conflict of the man Jefferson Davis – his weakness, his ideals, his weak role in an institution that was structurally defective, his military success in the Mexican War, his personal love and loss – that make Robert Penn Warren’s book a beautiful story. And it is through the lens of history, circa 1980, that Warren makes what I think may be a profound point: if Davis “were not now defenseless in death, he would no doubt reject the citizenship we so charitably thrust upon him.”

The monetization of America would have distressed Davis (just as it would both Lincoln or Grant) such that Warren questioned whether any of these men would accept a “nation that sometimes seems technologically and philosophically devoted to the depersonalization of men? In a way, in their irrefrangible personal identity, Lincoln and Grant were almost as old-fashioned as Jefferson Davis.”

But in discussing Davis’ views on Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves, Warren didn’t delve deep enough for our more modern lens. Davis was a slaveholder, true, but he believed in a lesser and a superior race thinking that it was a moral duty of the superior race to care for those in the lesser class. This omission leaves a chasm in the person of Davis. This superior-inferior representation and description by Warren went too far in restoring Davis to a better light than is appropriate.

Notwithstanding that omission, Robert Penn Warren weaves a portrait of Jefferson Davis that is complicated and the book – Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back – is worthy of reading.

And fortunately, the statue of Jefferson Davis has now been removed from the Kentucky Capitol. 

Shortly before removal, the statue of Jefferson Davis (behind Linoln). Joe Gerth, C-J.

Grisham’s Gray Mountain, Mountain Top Removal & Appalachian Citizen’s Law Center

I don’t ordinarily review national bestsellers on this site, but I’m making an exception for John Grisham’s latest work of legal fiction: Gray Mountain.

Set in Brady, Virginia – a fictional town in far western Virginia not far from either West Virginia or Kentucky – the book depicts a recently furloughed New York City lawyer assuming an unpaid internship at a legal clinic after her firm downsized in the wake of the 2007/08 economic collapse. (More on that legal clinic below.)

In the book, the best and the worst of Appalachia are on display and Grisham does a good job of bringing to life some of the turmoil – internal and external – suffered by the people who live there. The lack of economic opportunity, the collapse of the coal industry, environmental and health issues, and the drug issue all appear in the pages of Gray Mountain.

Despite all of the negatives, it is clear that Samantha (the heroine protagonist of the story) learns to appreciate the nuances of Appalachia.

While Gray Mountain follows the classic Grisham mold of a ‘legal thriller,’ it is worth reading simply because its setting seems so familiar.

One issue that features very prominently in the book is mountain removal. A few of the protagonist’s clients suffer from its consequences, while key supporting characters have been impacted even more.

I won’t spoil the plot line, so I’ll jump to my interest in that Grisham rightfully attacks mountaintop removal with a vengeance. The literary pen is strong and Grisham uses his to highlights the evils of mountaintop removal while carefully extracting a clear difference between it and traditional means of coal mining or even old-style strip-mining:

Mountaintop removal is nothing but strip-mining on steroids. Appalachian coal is found in seams, sort of like layers of cake. At the top of the mountain there is the forest, then a layer of topsoil, then a layer of rock, and finally a seam of coal. Could be four feet thick, could be twenty. When a col company gets a permit to strip-mine, it literally attacks the mountain with all manner of heavy equipment. First it clear-cuts the trees, total deforestation with no effort at saving the hardwoods. They are bulldozed away as the earth is scalped. Same for the topsoil, which is not very thick. Next comes the layer of rock, which is blasted out of the ground. The trees, topsoil, and rock are often shoved in the  valleys between the mountains, creating what’s knows as valley fills. These wipe out vegetation, wildlife, and natural streams. Just another environmental disaster. If you’re downstream, you’re just screwed. As you’ll learn around here, we’re all downstream.

The blasting described above also resulted in some of the litigation that is at the center of Gray Mountain.  But not all the litigation is centered around the coal companies. Much of the legal work mentioned in Gray Mountain is much more mundane.

Samantha’s internship is at the fictitious Mountain Legal Aid Clinic which serves the people living in western Virginia, West Virginia, and southeastern Kentucky. When interviewing for the unpaid position, Samantha was told that the clinic’s clientele have important needs:

There’s no shortage of poor folks with legal problems around here. These people can’t afford lawyers. Unemployment is high, meth use is even higher, and the coal companies are brilliant when it comes to finding new ways to screw people. Believe me, dear, we need all the help we can get.

So while Grisham’s created legal clinic is fictitious, a real-life clinic that takes up the cause of the citizens of Appalachia.

The Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center (ACLC), located in Whitesburg, Kentucky, is committed to “fighting for justice in the coalfields.” In an author’s note, Grisham notes that dozens of nonprofits in the region work “diligently to protect the environment, change policy, and fight for the rights of miners and their families.”

So remember how Samantha was told that the clinic needed all the help they can get? Well, the same is true for non-profits like ACLC. And the good news is … there’s a really easy (and fun) way to support ACLC!

This Saturday – February 7 – from 4-8 p.m., West Sixth Brewing’s SIXTH FOR A CAUSE will promote and support the ACLC!! Actually, 6% of the entire day’s proceeds will help support this great organization, but the ACLC folks will be on hand during that 4-8 window. More details (and say you’re going) at the event’s Facebook page!

‘Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel’ Reviewed

Belle Brezing died in 1940 and her business had closed some twenty-three years earlier. Despite the passing of years, Ms. Brezing remains in the conscience of Lexington and a part of our communal lexicon.

Last year, Maryjean Wall’s Madam Belle: Sex, Money, and Influence in a Southern Brothel was published and the book is filled with colorful and illustrious characters just as were Brezing’s brothels. Wall tells the story of a business-savvy woman who had risen from the most difficult of circumstances.

Belle’s first sexual encounter was with Dionesio Mucci; both lived in the Western Suburb, but they were not contemporaries. Belle was only 12 years old, while Mucci was in his thirties. By the age of 15, Belle was both an orphan and a mother with “few prospects for the future.”

In 1879, at the age of 19, Belle entered the employ of Jennie Hill who operated a brothel in what had been the childhood home of Mary Todd Lincoln. Within two years, Belle opened her own “house of ill repute.” It would be the first of several she would own, each being more lavish than the one before.  She also shifted operations from the west end of Lexington to the city’s east end.

Clients included big names in horse racing, breeding, politics and business. Judge John Riley, a police judge, took interest in one of Belle’s prostitutes before marrying the girl. Her connections to the law aided her in keeping out of trouble and when trouble found Madam Belle, but a pardon from the governor came in handy after an 1883 indictment.

Wall’s ninth chapter – ‘Crackdown on Vice’ – begins with almost a vilification of James Ben Ali Haggin and his manager, Charles Berryman, for “advocating a new moral code for Lexington.” The beginning of the 20th century was a challenging one for Belle Brezing and the other madams of Lexington.

Belle’s final brothel, which remained her home during her twenty-three year retirement, was auctioned off after her death in 1940. In 1973, the house burned closing a tangible reminder of Belle’s influence in Lexington.

But her legacy remains clearly visible and Madam Belle provides a thoroughly researched and enjoyably readable account of this Lexington legend and the community in which she lived.

Published by the University Press of Kentucky, Madam Belle is available at all purveyors of fine books.

Disclaimer: The author was provided a courtesy copy of this book. This review/assessment followed.

Jack Jouett: Portrait of An American Hero

No portrait of Captain Jack Jouett was ever painted; his profile is known only through a silhouette. His story, like his face, have been by and large forgotten by history at-large. But for those who recall the tale of Captain Jouett, he has been remembered as the “Paul Revere of the South.”

Silhouette of Capt. Jack Jouett

Jouett, a Virginian by birth, heard that the British were coming one night while sleeping at the Cuckoo Tavern in Louisa County, Virginia. He hurried on a 40-mile ride to Charlottesville on the back of his bay mare, Sally. His rush to was to warn the members of the Virginia legislature and Thomas Jefferson that the British were headed in their direction with the intent of capturing the Patriots. All but seven legislators successfully escaped thanks to Jouett’s heroics. (Jefferson leisurely stayed at Monticello and escaped himself by horseback with only second to spare, but Jouett definitely warned him!)

A new children’s book published this year, Jack Jouett: Portrait of An American Hero
tells the story of this brave man, his devoted horse and the daring midnight ride of June 3, 1781. Recommended for readers ages 8-12, the story is told from the perspective of Matthew Jouett (the Captain’s son).

Jouett and his family would relocate to Kentucky. Captain Jack Jouett lived in Woodford County but passed away while visiting a daughter in Bath County. He was buried on her farm.

Matthew Jouett tells the story of his father almost regretfully. A celebrated painter who created wonderful portraits of many of Kentucky’s notable citizens never had his father in the studio for a portrait painting. As a result, the only ‘image’ of Captain Jack Jouett is the silhouette cut by Matthew.

So as the title of the book suggests, Matthew set out to create a portrait of his father by telling the story of what the elder Jouett has done. The story is delightfully told and the pencil illustrations by Rebecca Blair carry the reader back to that night in 1781.

An excellent little read for young children through which they can learn about one of history’s great untold stories.

And best of all, the book – penned in reality by Martha J. Hutcherson – was a commissioned project by the Jack Jouett House Historic Site in Woodford County. That means that much of the proceeds from the sale of Jack Jouett: Portrait of An American Hero go to the ongoing programming and maintenance of that historic place.

10 children’s books about Appalachia that every child should read

If you’re like me, you’ve got kids. And you love Kentucky. So fill up your home library with some Kentucky tales and stories that are good and straight from the heart of our Mountains. This week’s Wednesday list comes from guest contributor Courtney Hall. More about her and her blog, The Bourbon Soaked Mom, is at the bottom of the post. – {from Peter}:

Courtney offers these 10 books about Appalachia that every child should read (the titles and images link to each book on The Kaintuckeean receives a percentage of each sale from these links – thanks!):

Trouble in Troublesome Creek
by Nancy Kelly Allen

An inspiring story of bravery, and courage. I grew up on the banks of Troublesome Creek, and this book is a reflection of times when one could wander along creek banks and splash in watering holes with a child’s spirit. Beware: reading is sure to make you nostalgic.

When I was Young in the Mountains
by Cynthia Rylant

My all time favorite children’s book. Rylant explores life as a child of Appalachia. She recalls her Grandfather coming home, covered with coal dust, her love of fried okra, and having to be chaperoned outside late at night to use an out-house. This book is a wonderful, and poetic reflection of simpler times, when family and love was all you really needed.

The Relatives Came
by Cynthia Rylant

Rylant illustrates the simplicity of life in Appalachia again, in this tale of an annual visit from far away relatives. She notes the anticipation and excitement that is brought by the mention of “relatives” coming, along with all those little inconveniences that are endured when accommodations have to be made. “It was hard going to sleep, with all that new breathing in the house.”

My Mountain Song
by Shutta Crum

A beautiful tale about Brenda Gail, who is spending the summer with her grandparents in the mountains of Kentucky. Grandpa tells her everyone has a song, just waiting to come out. That summer, Brenda finds her own song, and learns about life along the way. The illustrations in this book are so wonderful, and will make you want to head over to Grandma’s and get out your fiddle.

Appalachia: The Voices of Sleeping Birds
by Cynthia Rylant & Barry Moser

Once again, Cynthia Rylant paints a true and honest picture of the beautiful, unique and sometimes harsh realities of life in Appalachia. Both Rylant and Moser draw from their own upbringings and memories of this much fabled region, and the unique group of people who inhabit “those shimmering painted mountains.”

My Great Aunt Arizona
by Gloria Houston

A beautiful, true life story about the author’s Aunt, who against all circumstance and hardship, became an inspiring teacher in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Houston touches on the days of one-room schooling, and how even the most unexpected teachers can inspire us in more ways than we could ever dream.

Ida Early Comes Over the Mountain
by Robert Burch

Set in rural Georgia, during the Great Depression, Ida Early turns up at the doorstep of the Sutton family, whose household in wholly unhappy. Even though Ida exaggerates much of her life, and her accomplishments, it is she, the non-conformist, who teaches the Sutton family what life is all about.

A Penny’s Worth of Character
by Jesse Stuart

Stuart epitomizes the value of honesty in this well loved classic. Set in Stuart’s native (and mine, as well) Eastern Kentucky, Shan Shelton is faced with a dilemma. Be dishonest and receive what he wants, or face the repercussions and guilt of gain by being deceitful. I have always loved this book, and it is a great way to show your children strength of character.

The Big Toe: An Appalachian Ghost Story
by Ellie Kirby

This well known Appalachian folk story has been passed down from generation to generation. I remember my Grandmother telling it to myself and my cousins, and being completely bewildered by it. Children are sure to enjoy this spooky addition to the colorful folklore of this area, and be just a little scared by it, too.

Miss Dorothy and her Bookmobile
by Gloria Houston

Set in the North Carolina mountains, Miss Dorothy is a librarian with a problem. There are no libraries. She decides that if the folks in her community have no library, she’d bring the library to them. She used her bookmobile to distribute books to children and families who otherwise would have no means to get books. A beautiful and inspiring story of determination and love of community.

I hope you all enjoy reading these books to your children. If you are familiar with Appalachia, I hope they make you smile. If you aren’t, I hope you gain insight into this lovely area and come to appreciate it’s beauty and simplicity.

Courtney Hall is a wife, mother of two and daughter of Appalachia. Hailing from Hazard Kentucky, she writes a blog, The Bourbon Soaked Mom, that continually aims to draw positive attention to her hometown, her region, and all things Kentucky.

Read more from Courtney at

A Is for Appalachia shares the heritage of Appalachia with children

A is for Appalachia: The Alphabet Book
of Appalachian Heritage

I grabbed a new book for story time with the kiddos last night that had been on the shelf for a few years but had not yet been read. Parents know the curse: kids want the same book over and over again. But daddy wanted a change.

It was getting a late start to story time, so we only made it through a few letters of the new book. It was an alphabetical book that explores the traditions and culture of Appalachia entitled A is for Appalachia: The Alphabet Book of Appalachian Heritage.

Reading about Appalachia, Baskets, Coal, Corn, and Dulcimers begat questions from my six year old. 
Do we live in Appalachia? No, but we are awfully close.
Have I been to Appalachia? Sure let’s look at the map and explore when we’ve driven through on trips. And every time we’ve gone to visit Mawmaw, we’ve been in Appalachia?
Was church camp in Appalachia? I’m not sure, but it was sure was pretty like these pictures. Wasn’t it?

I could sense an appreciation for Appalachia developing as the pages turned.

A is for Appalachia! was written by Linda Hager Pack and illustrated by Pat Banks. It shares the great Appalachian heritage in a simple way for children, but the book is a delight to read for adults as well.

The book can be a simple alphabet recognition tool, but the few paragraphs under each letter are informative yet simple. And the illustrator included a helpful map of the southern Appalachian mountains identifies the states in which the verdant green Appalachians stand out as crossing the geo-political borders almost to in one illustration say that Appalachia is a united place bound by custom and heritage more than anything else.

And, best of all, my kids are looking forward to more about Appalachia tonight!

You can order A is for Appalachia: The Alphabet Book of Appalachian Heritage from

Book Review: Crawfish Bottom

Here, brothels were commonplace for generations. Here, alcohol flowed freely before, after and during prohibition. Here, crime was inherent and living conditions deplorable.

And it was all in the shadow of the old state Capitol.

Douglas Boyd explored the lost community of Crawfish Bottom in his book, Crawfish Bottom: Recovering a Lost Kentucky Community. It is now available in paperback from the University Press of Kentucky.

Since the Commonwealth’s earliest days, Frankfort has been our capital. Seated on the Kentucky River, the community had a history interwoven with the river. Lumber would be transported by water with the mountaineers accompanying it. Receiving their pay in Frankfort, these men might be interested in partaking of the local flavor.

And as the state capital was home to the state penitentiary, felons upon release might seek the pleasures they were unable to access from the cell block.

It was entirely natural, then, that a seedy area would develop in Frankfort. Its proximity to the river (adjacent to and partially in a flood plain, as evidenced by the regular flooding) created a natural fit for the area which was generally viewed as being to the west and north of the old state Capitol.

Professor Boyd examined this swampy land through the eyes and voice of her people utilizing and relying to a great degree on oral histories prepared in 1991 by a University of Kentucky master’s degree candidate. Through Boyd’s expert pen and insight, a history of the people who lived in the Craw is told.

For those who lived in this area, it represented a great deal more than the prostitution and crime that occurred here. It was a community with churches and schools and stores and commerce. Race was less divisive than elsewhere in the capital city as residents were “more unified … by their socioeconomic condition … than they were divided by their race. Blacks and whites lived together [and] everybody looked out after each other.”

And so “for the overwhelming majority of residents interviewed, … the Bottom was a safe place for them and their families to live.”

Boyd drew on the memory and nostalgia of displaced residents to approach the concept of urban renewal from their perspective. Nostalgia “is a feeling or expression of longing, in the present, for a more positively associated place or time imagined in the past, a phenomenon that introduces” outside distortion, yet is now accepted as being “critical to understanding embedded meaning in historical interpretation.”

Whether or not the methodology historical recordation is deemed appropriate, Boyd’s use of nostalgia draws readers to a deeper understanding of the daily lives of this locality.

And after all, as Charles Joyner wrote, “all history is local history somewhere … still, no history, properly understood, is of merely local significance.” Yes, the reach of the Craw extended beyond its mere fifty acres.

Long were attempts to rid Frankfort of Crawfish Bottom and the urban renewal effort finally struck a final blow to the entire neighborhood in the 1960s when space was made for the new state office tower and plaza. Ridding Frankfort of its “slums” was deemed a positive, despite whatever sense of community was lost.

The area is a microcosm for the efforts to alter the nation’s urban cores — efforts which began in earnest during the middle portion of the last century and continue today.

Boyd’s book received great accolades in hardcover and readership should increase now that it is accessible in paperback among those interested in virtually any of the social sciences.

Disclaimer: The University Press of Kentucky provided the author with a courtesy review copy of the book here reviewed. The link to the reviewed book is part of an affiliate agreement between the author and