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There Are Deep Roots in These Mountains

Salena Zito on

SCHOHARIE, New York -- The roots of faith, family, patriotism, dialect and work ethic are a prominent feature here. One of the first modern American presidents to recognize those characteristics here and in the swath of Appalachia that extends to the southwest was John F. Kennedy, who when speaking to his Cabinet in April of 1963 said that despite automation passing it by and poverty now defining it, he did not doubt its ability to succeed.

"The Appalachian region is an area rich in potential," Kennedy said. "Its people are hardworking, intelligent, resourceful, and capable of responding successfully to education and training. They are loyal to their homes, to their families, to their states, and to their country."

Within months, Kennedy was dead, but the 35th president's promise to help this region succeed lived on in the form of the Appalachian Regional Conference. Approved by Congress a year later, ARC is a federal-state partnership whose goal has been to bring the region into socioeconomic parity with the rest of the nation.

Schoharie County marks the spot where Appalachia begins a 420-county journey through 13 states, including parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, in addition to all of West Virginia.

From beginning to end, the Appalachian region comprises 205,000 square miles that over 25 million people call home.

Many of the cities, villages, towns and rural farms in this region were some of the first plots of land settled in North America beginning in the 17th century. The original settlers were mostly Ulster Scots, fleeing religious persecution and looking for freedom and opportunity.

 

Family-oriented, they often kept to themselves and were early to identify themselves as part of this land and not part of any particular ethnic tribe. That is why few of their decedents even know of their Scots heritage. For them, their stories began here, which is often reflected in both the oral history and the music that has come out of these hills.

The dialect here has a choppy twang that is sharp and often contains words left over from the early settlers. The farther south you go, the twang becomes more of a drawl. Outsiders and elites often associate it with a lack of education or intellect. Locals, in turn, hear the deliberate cadence of cosmopolitan elites, which often carries no dialect, and find that it lacks character and contains too many words to make a point.

Take the back roads throughout the region, and you will find that its greatest asset is also its greatest obstacle to economic success. The distinctive mountainous terrain allows only winding, two-lane roads.

Taking a trip from one town to another, or even just going somewhere nearby, often involves snaking through narrow valleys, where the streams overflow onto the roadways or over mountaintops that are often impassable in snow, sleet or heavy rain.

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