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Transforming the Appalachian Countryside: Railroads, Deforestation, and Social Change in West Virginia, 1880-1920
     

Transforming the Appalachian Countryside: Railroads, Deforestation, and Social Change in West Virginia, 1880-1920

by Ronald L. Lewis
 

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In 1880, ancient-growth forest still covered two-thirds of West Virginia, but by the 1920s lumbermen had denuded the entire region. Ronald Lewis explores the transformation in these mountain counties precipitated by deforestation. As the only state that lies entirely within the Appalachian region, West
Virginia provides an ideal site for studying the broader

Overview

In 1880, ancient-growth forest still covered two-thirds of West Virginia, but by the 1920s lumbermen had denuded the entire region. Ronald Lewis explores the transformation in these mountain counties precipitated by deforestation. As the only state that lies entirely within the Appalachian region, West
Virginia provides an ideal site for studying the broader social impact of deforestation in Appalachia, the South, and the eastern United States.

Most of West Virginia was still dominated by a backcountry economy when the industrial transition began. In short order, however, railroads linked remote mountain settlements directly to
national markets, hauling away forest products and returning with manufactured goods and modern ideas. Workers from the countryside and abroad swelled new mill towns, and merchants ventured into
the mountains to fulfill the needs of the growing population. To protect their massive investments, capitalists increasingly extended control over the state's legal and political systems.

Eventually, though, even ardent supporters of industrialization had reason to contemplate the consequences of unregulated exploitation. Once the timber was gone, the mills closed and the railroads pulled up their tracks, leaving behind an environmental disaster and a new class of marginalized rural poor to confront the worst depression in American history.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A very fine book that will be of enormous use to Appalachian historians in the future.

Journal of Social History

[P]rovides the best account yet of how industrialization transformed the Appalachian forests at the turn of the century.

Journal of American History

Meticulously researched, well written, and enhanced by dozens of poignant photographs.

Journal of Southern History

A thorough and detailed account of the emergence, florescence, and decline of the timber industry in West Virginia.

Environmental History

A book that everyone interested in the process of development in the mountains should read—and read again.

Journal of Appalachian Studies

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807862971
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
11/09/2000
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
368
File size:
5 MB

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Lewis's superb study of the logging industry in West Virginia . . . provides the best account yet of how industrialization transformed the Appalachian forests at the turn of the century.—Journal of American History

A very useful book that will be of great value to historians of agriculture, but also to those interested in the history of American environment, politics, law, and Appalachia.—Agricultural History Journal

The most important recent book on Appalachian society. . . . Lewis's book stands virtually alone.—American Historical Review

A major scholar of Appalachian history has brought together, synthesized and made sense of much of the debate and literature that have characterized the field of Appalachian history for the past two decades. . . . A very fine book that will be of enormous use to Appalachian historians in the future.—Journal of Social History

A skillful blend of economic, legal, and social history, this is the most complete study to date of the impact of human institutions on the Appalachian environment.—Timothy Silver, Appalachian State University

A thorough and detailed account of the emergence, florescence, and decline of the timber industry in West Virginia, in particular in five of the state's Allegheny Highland counties.—Environmental History

An important contribution to the growing body of scholarly writing that has been revising the idea of Appalachian exceptionalism for the past decade. . . . Will help banish forever the persistent social construct of a people and region somehow set apart from the major developmental currents of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century industrial capitalism. . . . Meticulously researched, well written, and enhanced by dozens of poignant photographs. It is a welcome addition to the growing body of literature on the dynamism of a rural-industrial society historically dismissed as static.—Journal of Southern History

The story of the deforestation of the mountains is a drama of monumental tragedy and waste. In Lewis's hands that story comes alive with meaning for Appalachia today. . . . A book that everyone interested in the process of development in the mountains should read—and read again.—Journal of Appalachian Studies

Carefully scrutinizing the actions of all those involved—from the most savvy railroad executive to the toughest 'wood hick' logger—Lewis unravels the complex legal, social, and economic relationships that led to the destruction of West Virginia's forests. This is, to date, the most complete study of the impact of humans and their institutions on the Appalachian environment.—Timothy Silver, Appalachian State University

"A moving book that deserves reading by environmentalists, sociologists, social, agricultural, and economic historians, and those with interests in southern Americana.—Choice

Meet the Author

Ronald L. Lewis is Stuart and Joyce Robbins Chair in History at West Virginia University.

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