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The Poco Field

The Poco Field: An American Story of Place

Talmage A. Stanley
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 256
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    The Poco Field
    Book Description:

    In this beautifully written meditation on identity and place, Talmage A. Stanley tells the story of his grandparents' middle-class aspirations from the 1920s to the 1940s in the once-booming Pocahontas coalfields of southern West Virginia. Part lyrical family memoir and part social study, The Poco Field: An American Story of Place addresses a long-standing gap in Appalachian and American studies, illustrating the lives and choices of the middle class in the mid-twentieth century and delving into questions of place-based identity._x000B__x000B_Exploring the natural and built environments of the towns of Keystone, West Virginia, and Newbern, Virginia, Stanley delineates the history of conflict and control of local industry and development. Through his grandparents' struggle for upward mobility into the middle class, Stanley narrates a history that counters ideas of Appalachia as an exception to American culture and history, presenting instead an image of the region as an emblem of America at large. Stanley builds out from family and local history to examine broad structures of values and practices as they reflect and relate to place, showing how events such as the development of extensive mineworks, the ghettoization of the area's black residents, the catastrophic flooding of the Elkhorn Creek, and the fraud-induced failure of Keystone National Bank signal values that erode a place both literally and figuratively. Giving voice to activists now working to break down boundaries and assumptions that long have defined and restricted the middle class in the global economy, The Poco Field also champions the creative potential of place for reinvigorating democratic society for the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09377-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. [Map]
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. PROLOGUE Coal Dust under My Feet
    (pp. xvii-xxii)

    I began graduate school with no acquaintance with the jargon of cultural studies. I did not know how to use effectively terms such as hegemony, counter-hegemony, deconstruction, historicism, cultural materialism, structuralism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, and ideology—to name a few examples. This, along with a pronounced rural, southern mountain dialect produced in me an abiding and defining reluctance to speak in seminars and to engage in even informal conversations, for fear professors and fellow students would judge me ignorant and incapable of graduate study. My fears and apprehensions drove me to days and nights of study, of creating lengthy vocabulary lists,...

  7. INTRODUCTION The Places toward Which I Seem to Bend
    (pp. 1-10)

    The Poco Field: An American Story of Place is an effort to hear the stories, to understand the places at the edges of a particular family’s history and photographs, and to gain a deeper understanding of Appalachian and American culture. This book is an endeavor to give voice to the experiences and histories that rest behind the silences and assumptions of middle-class American culture and the global economy. The Poco Field encourages a new vision of what it means to take seriously the whole way of life of a place and the people who daily define it. I demonstrate that...

  8. CHAPTER 1 To Hold Hands with My Kin
    (pp. 11-22)

    They came by the scores of hundreds. On their way to the Old Southwest and Old Northwest territories, toward Kentucky and Tennessee, toward the Ohio, the Mississippi, and beyond, down the Valley of Virginia, they followed what has been variously described as the Great Road, the Great Wagon Road, the Wilderness Road, the Baltimore Turnpike, the Valley Pike, even known derisively as the Irish Road, for the great number of Irish immigrants who journeyed over it.¹ From where it entered Virginia below Hagerstown, Maryland, the route ascended to the upper valley, at its southern end. After crossing the New River...

  9. CHAPTER 2 The Poco Field
    (pp. 23-55)

    When Apperson wrote of the Poco field and his fellow store men in 1937, he did not have a consciousness of Appalachia. Likewise, he was not thinking of the hundreds of millions of years of history, conflict, and change that had transpired across that landscape. Instead, what he knew was Keystone, West Virginia, a town built on the banks of Elkhorn Creek, the Koppers Company that operated the mine and company store in Keystone and other towns along the Elkhorn Valley, and that Koppers offered him and Aldah a chance at “making something of themselves” and “to be somebody.” Born...

  10. CHAPTER 3 “On a Plane with the Best in the Country”
    (pp. 56-63)

    On the north bank of Elkhorn Creek, in a sharp bend of the stream, Isaiah Welch stopped in his journey. He found there a high bank of coal that the creek’s waters had worked against for millennia to expose. By the time Welch stood before it, the coal bank was well above water level, with Indian Ridge rising above it. It was probably lichened and mossy, damp with the early spring’s rainwater and snowmelt seeping down through the forest’s dark soil. The exposed coal was located squarely between what in a few years would become the Keystone neighborhoods of Westfield...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Moving to Westfield
    (pp. 64-97)

    He was sixteen years old when he stepped off the train into the steam, coal dust, smoke, and noise of Keystone, in the summer of 1926. He would have boarded the westbound Norfolk and Western passenger train in Farmville, Virginia, not far from his home in the town of Dillwyn, in Buckingham County. Once on the train, his journey would have taken him to Roanoke and then to Radford. At Radford, following the route Welch and Kimball would have taken on horses the train would have turned north along the New River and at Glen Lyn turned up the East...

  12. CHAPTER 5 He Saw It Coming
    (pp. 98-127)

    Apperson traveled south and east by train from Cleveland, to Columbus, through Chillicothe down the Scioto River Valley, to the Ohio at Portsmouth, the same route the Shawnee had followed on their way to the hunting grounds in the river valleys of the Clinch, Holston, and New. At Portsmouth, he changed trains to one of the Norfolk and Western Railway’s elite passenger trains, “The Powhatan Arrow,” “The Pocahontas,” or “The Cavalier.” His route followed the Ohio River upstream and then down through the West Virginia coalfields Isaiah Welch and Frederick Kimball had envisioned on their journeys.

    Alone and perhaps preoccupied...

  13. CHAPTER 6 Through the Deep Waters
    (pp. 128-153)

    Shortly before Christmas 1953, in the Life Saving Crew Hall in Dublin, Virginia, Aldah Apperson, a widow for a little more than seventeen months, handed Fred Hale, chief of the newly formed Pulaski County Life Saving Crew, a check representing the money she helped raise to support a volunteer ambulance service for the area. She and others had raised the money going door to door in Newbern. Although the raising of the money was a project of the Newbern Community Improvement Club, for Aldah there was a more personal reason for her involvement in the effort. The morning that Apperson...

  14. CHAPTER 7 “He Always Wanted a Cadillac”
    (pp. 154-175)

    “He liked cars and always wanted a Cadillac.”¹ It would have been for him the marker and the sign that his journey had brought him to his long-planned destination. As he set out that morning in the early summer of 1952 to purchase what would be his last automobile, Apperson was prepared to own finally what to his mind was, and what American consumer culture regarded as, the best car money could buy. He was also prepared to pay cash for it, having enough money to purchase outright the luxury car. Leaving their home in Newbern, he was wearing work...

  15. CHAPTER 8 The Poco Field: Elegy and Ferocious Hope
    (pp. 176-194)

    America was coming out of the Depression. Europe had been at war for almost a year, and the signs were increasingly apparent that the United States would become involved. Coal production was increasing and American industry was beginning to expand. From Sunday through Wednesday, August 18–21, 1940, Apperson had been in a Koppers meeting in Cleveland, Ohio. While he was away, Aldah and their daughter, Alecia, little more than a month old, were staying in Newbern with Aldah’s family. His letters are rife with references to company gossip, to staff changes, and to what he is doing at “the...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 195-224)
  17. Index
    (pp. 225-232)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-235)