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Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Sunday
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

73 classic works about Appalachia going online

Key Appalachian studies publications now going onlinefrom press release, Jan. 27. 2016 Appalachian studies scholars and those interested in regional history will have greater access to out-of-print works thanks to a two-year National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Open Book Program grant totaling $88,000 awarded to Belk Library and Information Commons at Appalachian State University.  Pamela Mitchem, the library’s coordinator of digital scholarship and…See More
Jan 30
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

John Parris' home-grown prose

South of Sylva, back of yesterday: John Parris' inspiration             “For the life of me, I just can’t understand why folks stopped usin’ cradles,” John Parris’ 97-year-old maternal grandfather had told him 60 years ago.            The oil lamp, the buggy, and the spinning wheel—they all were replaced by things…See More
Jan 27
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

James Sturm expands scope of graphic novels

James Sturm blazes cartoon path to a new worldby Rob Neufeld             Why is it that when an author combines pictures with words, the medium is considered juvenile, like comics?  Words create literature; images, art.  Why, when you marry them, is it like pairing a milk cow with a mop?            Nothing against…See More
Jan 24
susannah eanes posted a blog post

The Writer as Pilgrim

Two articles leapt at my consciousness this week, both about writing. And suddenly, I know how to go forward from here. The first, The Price I Pay to Write, by Laura Bogart and published online in Dame Magazine, reflects on the difficulties of…See More
Jan 24
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Tired of thrillers with no soul?

Why read a 1940 man-on-the-run classicby Rob Neufeld             After reading a classic novel, you might think, “Oh, look at this superior ancestor of today’s fiction.”              For instance, “The Power and the Glory,” Graham Greene’s 1940 thriller about political oppression in Mexico, exemplifies the…See More
Jan 17
Susan True updated their profile
Jan 9
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Art of Grace by Sarah Kaufman

Dance critic applies grace to every moveby Rob Neufeld             It’s nice to find just the right word for something, especially when it sums up a main idea in your way of thinking.            That was the case with Sarah Kaufman when she’d first felt moved, nine years ago, to write her new book, “The Art of Grace” (W.W.…See More
Jan 9
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Jan 9
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Jan 8
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Fire and Ice Roses interview with author/gardening blogger Kathryn Hall

Fire and Ice Roses has been interviewing gardening bloggers and gardening experts and were kind enough to include this short interview recently which was quite fun and very much appreciated! http://fireandiceroses.com/ask-an-expert-kathryn-hall/See More
Jan 5
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

History in the making, January 2, 2016

History in the making: items of note, January 2, 2016It was reported in today’s print edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times that a new state law went into effect, requiring people who’ve filed for unemployment benefits to make at least 5 job contacts a week.  It had been 2.  How will that work?  Are there that many jobs for which a person is qualified?  Can you apply to the same job twice if it continues to be listed? Paul Bonesteel, noted Asheville filmmaker, revealed on Facebook that a…See More
Jan 2
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Local event of the day, Jan 1 2016

Tarantino, eminent domain, and emancipation Tarantino comes to townQuentin Tarantino’s New Year’s gore and gabfest, The Hateful Eight, is gutted by New Yorker reviewer Anthony Lane, who says that Tarantino toys with rather than explores history, using it “for boyish fantasies of revenge, as if enormous crimes could be undone, after the event, by lone and wanton acts of humiliation.” …See More
Jan 1
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Railroad history in Western North Carolina: a close-up and bottom-line look

Railroads in WNC: the perils, the people, and the profitby Rob NeufeldWritten in conjunction with exhibit, "How The West Was Won," in Rural Heritage Museum, Mars Hill University PHOTO CAPTION: The entrance to the railroad show at the Rural Heritage Museum is commanded by a mock-up of Climax engine…See More
Dec 24, 2015
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Hosts of Christmas Past

Traditions shall not expire say hosts of Christmas pastby Rob Neufeld PHOTO CAPTION: Maria Parker Taylor Beale, courtesy Chase Ambler.            On Christmas Eve in 1928, Maria Taylor Beale, mistress of Arden House, instructed her family to bring her downstairs in her bathrobe for she would not…See More
Dec 24, 2015
City Lights Bookstore posted an event
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Kakalak Journal Reading at City Lights Bookstore

January 23, 2016 from 3pm to 4:30pm
Contributors to the annual journal KAKALAK will visit City Lights Bookstore on Saturday, January 23rd at 3 p.m. to read and talk about their work. KAKALAK is an annual publication featuring North and South Carolina writers and artists.To reserve a copy of the journal, please call City Lights Bookstore at 828-586-9499. To view a list of contributing authors, please visit …See More
Dec 21, 2015

The railroad came here through the sacrifice of convicts

by Rob Neufeld

 

            Too many convicts, thought Jacob Allen, president of the North Carolina State Penitentiary board in 1874, as he reviewed the prisons.  There was an “urgent necessity to find employment for this surplus.” 

Incarceration and rehabilitation had replaced corporal punishment and execution as means of addressing crime.  Seven-eighths of the convicts were African-American.

            The solution: put the prisoners to work under heavy guard on expensive and arduous state projects, the most obvious one at the time being railroad building.  Twice previously, state-aided private companies had attempted to breach the mountains with rails.  The Civil War and then corporate embezzlement had gutted the efforts.

             In 1875, the state purchased the Western North Carolina Railroad; and on February 19, 1877, the legislature authorized the enlistment of “not less than five hundred convicts,” none of whom had been convicted of violent crimes.  “The costs of keeping these creatures (the convicts) is greater (in the Raleigh penitentiary) than in the mountains,” the railroad commissioners reported.

            James W. Wilson, contractor for the excavation of the Swannanoa Tunnel, told the General Assembly that the actual cost of the work (not counting the value of labor) was thirty cents a day—seven cents for the feeding of the prisoners, ten cents for the guarding, and the rest for miscellaneous care.

            Wilson was an old hand at the business.  He had been the railroad company engineer and superintendent during the Civil War.  At the time of his winning the contract for the Swannanoa Tunnel, he was also the state’s chief engineer, the president of the railroad, and a major stockholder.

            The Swannanoa Tunnel—the system’s longest at 1,822 feet—has become the stuff of legend.  Mountain society had been forever altered by the arrival of the train in 1879 as “convicts pulled the seventeen ton ‘Salisbury’…to tracks on the western side by dragging three ropes, laying track in front and removing track from behind as they traveled along the stagecoach road.” 

            139 convicts died on western North Carolina projects—in cave-ins and mudslides, and from disease and prosecution of escapes.  Bascom Lamar Lunsford wrote a song, “Swannanoa Tunnel”—“When you hear that hoot owl squallin’/ Somebody’s dyin’, babe, somebody's dyin’”

            John Ehle wrote a novel about the epic, featuring the convict laborers, mountain residents, the mountain itself, and a character named Weatherby Wright, based on James Wilson, he said in an interview.  The fictional chief undergoes a physical and mental weakening as his humanitarian nature yields to his obsession, and his ethics to progress.

            This article was based in part on theses by Steve Little for Wake Forest University in 1972 and by Homer S. Carson III for UNCA in 2003

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The 1880 US Census for McDowell County NC - pages 25-29 Old Fort Township- lists those who were " at work on the Western North Carolina RR and from the Penitentiary at Raleigh NC".  It lists (if I've read the census taker writing correctly) 1 in charge of the stockade, 1 steward, 1 overseer, 13 guards (all 16 are white men).  There are 175 prisoners listed ( 132 black males, 35 mulatto males, 5 white males, 1 mulatto female, and 2 black females; one of the black females is listed as washing and the other two females are listed as rail road laborers as are all the male prisoners).  These people were enumerated between June 25th and June 29th 1880.

Another interesting point!     The prisoners ranged in age from 14 to 66.

Are the names of the employees and prisoners listed?  What has been your interest in this subject.  Thanks very much for contributing!/Rob

They are listed but some are quite difficult to read.  I was looking for a Thomas Turner who I thought might have been from McDowell County.  One of the guards had that same name.  I have a keen interest in WNC history - whatever it is. 

I'll try to decipher the names as best I can and list them on this thread sometime within the next several days

William G. Hagan- in charge of stockade, William F. Neal- Steward, Joseph B. Moore- overseer.  The next 11 are guards: James Conley, Albert Hicks, Thomas Burnett, James G. Stroud, John C. Finley, William Gilbert, Thomas Gilbert, John Elliotte, Mills K. Norville, George Whitaker.

The following are included in the prisoner rail road labor:  Unless I have designated MU for mulatto, W for white, and female for the women, these are all black males- Charley Aikens, Henry Adams, Henry Brinson, Alexander Bargis, James Barns, Moses Bell, John Brown, Henry Bigger, John Braswell, Thomas Boyakin, Edward Banner MU, Richard Baits MU, Ellen Bell (B) female- prisoner washing, Daniel Baird, David Brown MU, Joseph Barnes, Dorsey Blair, Degrand Barber, Henry Bobbitt, Daniel Brown, Hampton Best, Sampson Best, James Bost MU, Edwards Bradley, Pinkney Boyd, Cissiro Bryant, George Bullock, Joseph Cox, Stephen Carmon, Milton Clark, Isomgission? Dever, Frank Day MU, Servian? Dick, Chester Davis, Henderson Dossett, George Fox MU, John Folk, Gould Foy, Peter Foy, George Ford, David Fitzgerrell, Linsey Green, John Glen, Charley Gaston, Winslow Gash, Henry Gilliam, Webb Gudger MU, William Hill MU, John Hargrove MU, Wilson Hunt, Lorance Hunter, James Hunt W, Hampton Holeman, William Davis MU, Isaac Hunter, William Harris, Charley Hansley, John Hicks, Burley Haygood MU, Israel Hays MU, Anderson Harshaw, Jeff Hamilton, Charles Harper, Tobe High, Thomas Jones, Jessie Johnson, William Jones, George Johnson, Albert Jessup, William Jones, Samuel Jones MU, Thomas Jones MU, Henry Jones, Jones Miller MU, Alexander Johnson, Benjamin Jones, Nash Kindsey, Harry Knight, John Lauib?, George Laurbant MU, Peter Lathan, Jones Lathans, Back Lee, Archey Leach, George McEntire,  Lucy Morgan MU female, Henry McKee, William Montague, Israel Morrison, Green McCullep MU, Thomas Moore, Isaac Mitchell, Tim Newkirk, David Odem, Sicamo? Parrett, David Passmore W,  Jesse Phillips, Anderson Pearch MU, Sandy Pagan MU, Hery Partree, Sylvester Parker MU, Cato Pews?, Jesse Johnson, Cornelius Rich, David Richardson, Rainerd? Ruffin, George Roundtree MU, Arch Ragan, Henry Revels, George Rolin, David Rine, Dan Richardson, Norton Roundtree, George Smith W, John Simmons, Henry Shaw, Hardy Saunders, Charley Smith, Willis Sprewell, Frank Sikes, Tobe Street MU, Nedimus? Sanders, Arch Stewart, Monroe Smith MU, Moses Smith, Allen Sergis, John Sewell W, Dan Simmons, Rolley Sanders, David Satchwell, Shepherd Smith, Lewis Smith, Joseph Smith, Peter Smith, Fred Satterfield, Robert Sawyer W, Armisted Troutman, James Torrance, Arthur Timmons, William Turner, Hampton Tompson MU, Abeni? Taft, Nash Trollenger, James Vick, Susan Restow (B) female, Henry Williams, Rick Wilson MU, David White, George Miller, Miles Williams, Mest? Ward, Abe Watt W, Willis Williams, Everett Williams, Thomas Williams, Lee Williams MU, James Wilson, William Walker MU, James Warren, William Woodley, Robert Willis, Alford Wallace, Robert M. Walker W, Jessie Williams, Felix Whitson, John Walker, Rufus Young, Lewis Yokely, Sam Reid, Fork Johnson MU, George Parson.  I placed a question mark by those names I simply could not read.  There are others I may have copied incorrectly but I felt fairly certain of spelling.

This is a great find.  It takes us a big step closer to knowing the human stories behind one of our region's most historic events.  Now, when someone googles "Charley Aikens" and "Swannanoa Tunnel," they get one hit--your blog post!  Is anyone working on genealogy or a memorial?  McDowell County created this oral history feature: http://mcdowellhistory.com/the-railroad/

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