Roadside America: Marietta, Ohio

Marietta, Ohio, is your quintessential small town. With a population that wavers around 15,000 and a little liberal arts college, Marietta College, nested within the downtown perimeters, Marietta is a quiet escape, especially for those spending time in the relatively larger nearby cities of Columbus, Pittsburgh or Cleveland.

As the first permanent American settlement in the Northwest Territory, history often guides the sightseeing in Marietta. Established in 1788, reflections on Marietta made by famous historical figures are readily recited by schoolteachers. President George Washington remarked on the beauty he had seen in this area in 1788 when he said, “No colony in America was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that which has just commenced at the Muskingum … If I was a young man, just preparing to begin the world, or if advanced in life and had a family to make provision for, I know of no country where I should rather fix my habitation …” Benjamin Franklin acknowledged Marietta’s beauty a year earlier though and said, “I have never seen a grander river in all my life.” But Marietta’s historical intrigues extend beyond the settling of the area for the Northwest Territory.The Native Americans, primarily Shawnee, were settled in the region of Marietta prior to 1788. The large, still-standing burial mound, which is the oldest west of the Appalachians, is erected in the middle of Mound Cemetery. Many Revolutionary Soldiers, including Rufus Putnam, are buried within the cemetery. Mound Cemetery is now a must-see attraction when visiting Marietta, but the town’s attractions aren’t limited to the history books.

Marietta was built at the confluence of two rivers, the Ohio and the Muskingum. The town is nestled into the Appalachians and so if Ohio makes you think of flat cornfields as far as the eye can see, you’re not thinking of Marietta. Just across the river is West Virginia and like West Virginia, Marietta is marked by the dramatic slopes of the hills. Because of the rivers and the low mountains, Marietta is a great destination for outdoors enthusiasts. Whether you’re hiking, biking, or water-skiing, it’s nice to be outside in Marietta. But the town is also recommended for those who are drawn to antiques and haunted tours. There are a few good restaurants and bars in town and a strong arts community that keeps the town interesting with concerts and art walks, among other activities.

If you manage to make it to Marietta, here are some recommendations from a person who grew up there (me).

The Lafayette Hotel
The Brewery
The Adelphia Music Hall
Rinks Flea Market
Downtown Shopping
Sternwheel Festival

[flickr image via gb_packards]

Ireland added to the Appalachian Trail

The Appalachian Trail now extends all the way to IrelandYou’ve heard us sing the praises of the Appalachian Trail on more than one occasion here on Gadling. It’s the 2181-mile long trekking route that runs from Georgia to Maine that is considered amongst the best in the world. Turns out, the trail just got a whole lot longer, stretching all the way across the ocean to Ireland.

Officially, the AT is an American trail, and more than 2.5 million hikers use at least some segment of it on an annual basis. But there is also an International Appalachian Trail that extends all the way to the most northerly point of Newfoundland, Canada, adding an additional 1900+ miles to the route. That IAT is now jumping across the pond to Ireland, where it will run from Donegal to Antrim. According to Paul Wylezol, Chairman of the International Appalachian Trail, Ireland was added to the IAT because of “its direct physical connection to Newfoundland across geologic time, and its cultural and ethnic connection to eastern Canada and the US in modern times.”

In other words, Ireland once was connected to North America as part of the super-continent known as Pangaea, and because of that, it is getting added to the Appalachian Trail. Organizers hope to also add sections in Scotland, Norway and Greenland, as mountains in those locations are geologically related to the Appalachian Mountains. In fact, there are some indications that they may have once been a single range, before continental drift pushed the Earth’s land masses out to their current locations.

Hiking the length of the Appalachian Trail has long been considered one of the most impressive accomplishments in long distance trekking. For those hoping to achieve that feat in the future, it has suddenly gotten a lot longer and more challenging. I don’t think a pair of water proof boots are going to cut it.

[Photo credit: Paulbalegend via WikiMedia]

Appreciating Winter in West Virginia

West Virginia is about as Appalachia as Appalachia gets. For those of you who don’t know, Appalachia isn’t just a mountain range… it’s an adjective that describes the culture of this sliver of a region in the USA. And of all the states the Appalachian Mountains pass through, West Virginia is the only one enveloped completely by these rolling hills. It’s a small state. It borders several other states and isn’t too far from big East Coast cities (my folks live just 3 hours from DC), and yet I get this ubiquitous sense of aloneness in West Virginia that I don’t easily find in other places. Maybe that’s why I like it.

Being raised in a section of Appalachia close to West Virginia, southeast Ohio, I learned early on to appreciate the enchanting beauty of this region. Bluegrass is big, just like you’d imagine, and even Moonshine has its place. But the outdoors are the bigger attraction in this area of Appalachia. Rock climbing, caving, snow boarding, skiing, hiking, white water rafting… the options are exhausting. Even on my most languorous days, I find the scenery to be inspiration enough.

Although it is believed the Appalachians were once the highest mountains on earth (It’s said that they were higher than the Himalayas during the Ordovician Period, about 466 million years ago, when they connected to mountains in Morocco), they’re much more humble highlands these days.

%Gallery-112317%The area my family calls home is part of the Appalachian Plateaus, one of the thirteen provinces that make up the mountain range. Generally speaking, the Appalachian Mountains act as the geographical dividing line between the eastern seaboard of the USA and the Midwest region, so generally speaking, I grew up in Ohio but not in the Midwest.

My family relocated to West Virginia after I’d moved out and on to New York. So while I don’t regularly visit my hometown anymore, going ‘home’ still looks the same… rugged hillsides and sprawling valleys contrasted against stunning sunsets–at least most evenings. There’s something especially beautiful about this area and people I meet who have spent time there seem to agree… something about the landscape just stills you. This area in the winter is particularly magnetic and eerie, quiet and calm. Take a look at the photos from my most recent trip and see if you can catch a glimpse of what I mean.

[photos by Ben Britz]

Language and Landscape: Retaining Heritage Through Words

When I heard and read about the number of indigenous languages dying off, I thought of the Appalachian Mountains where my mother grew up and where several of my relatives are buried in a small wooded family cemetery in Southeastern Kentucky. It’s not just other languages that are becoming obsolete, certain aspects of the English language are also changing. In the region where part of my heritage stems, as older generations die, phrases, expressions and a certain sentence structures are also disappearing. While people travel to Appalachia to take in the music, crafts and beauty of the scenery (providing coal mining leaves something behind), many people who once lived here have hit the highways long ago for points beyond and an income. Those that have stayed behind can flip on the TV and join the rest of the U.S. in the endless stream of coast to coast media blitz that, I think, is partly responsible for the growth of sameness.

There is an effort to retain the culture and language patterns here. People determined to retain and promote this sense of place through language are an integral part of the literary, music and art scene. I’ve been to the Appalachian Writers Workshop twice now, and Appalachian Family Folk Week once, both held at in Hindman, a town that has dwindled from the bustling county seat I remember from my childhood, to one where you can almost envision the tumbleweeds blowing through town in the late afternoon if this was in the west. The drugstore lunch counter is the one place to get a meal and that closes about 2 PM.

The Hindman Settlement School, established more than a century ago has operated both workshops for years. These endeavors have continued to nurture established writers like Lee Smith and George Ella Lyon while providing a venue for those who have moved from workshop participant status to presenter and successful published novelists in their own right. Silas House, and Gretchen Moran Laskas come to mind. All of them are travelers of the human spirit in this part of the world. This is where they call on words to sustain them and us in this place they call home.

For a wonderful read about one person’s experience with English use in this area, check out this essay, “Where the Creek Turkey Tracks: Wild Land and Language.” It is in the Winter 2007 edition of Appalachian Heritage.

The photo is of Uncle Sol’s cabin on the Settlement School grounds. Fred1st snapped this shot of the house where one of my great greats lived. Uncle Sol Everidge is one of my kin and credited with getting Katherine Pettit and May Stone to come to Hindman eons ago to establish the school and bring education to the mountain’s children.