The Bland County History Archives

A few weeks ago somebody told me about The Bland County History Archives website.  Since then I’ve visited it several times, sometimes for a short time and sometimes for a long time.  This website is the result of work by John Dodson, a Rocky Gap High School teacher and his students and there is a lot of information here- there are photographs, a few videos and transcripts of many interviews done by student taking the Local History & Technology class at Rocky Gap High School.  This is an elective class that helps students learn about their local history and the computer skills necessary to manage the archival collection of the photographs, interviews and memorabilia they collect in the process.  This seems a wonderful mix of the past, present and future and the social, organizational and computer skills the students learn in this program will help them in any profession they later find themselves in.

The Local History & Technology class is part of a larger program found in Southwest Virginia-  AASIS (Appalachian Arts and Studies in the Schools).  AASIS (now in its thirteenth year!) is a program developed at Radford University that works with several area high schools to find and encourage students who might not go to college on their own, but have great college potential.  Here is a description of the program taken from RUs AASIS webpage:


During the 2008-2009 academic year, eighty Radford University students, eighteen high school teachers, and 160 students from Southwest Virginia high schools are participating in a program called Appalachian Arts and Studies in the Schools (AASIS).  The AASIS program, funded  by a private benefactor, was designed to achieve two goals: the first—to encourage promising young Southwest Virginia students to pursue higher education; the second—to give these students an opportunity to learn more about the culture of the Appalachian region.

The eighteen high school teachers participating in AASIS collaborate to prepare lessons for their classrooms on Appalachian studies.  Each teacher also chooses ten AASIS Scholars, high school students identified by their teachers as “college-able, but not college-bound.”  Each Radford University student participating in AASIS became a Mentor to two AASIS Scholars.   Mentors visit their AASIS Scholars’ school twice during the school year to make presentations about college life and about Appalachian studies.  They also act as hosts and tour guides for their AASIS Scholars during two field trips to the Radford University campus.  Mentors and AASIS Scholars get to know each other and keep in touch throughout the year via letters and e-mail.  The AASIS Scholars finish up the year by making presentations in their schools and communities about what they learn from the AASIS program.

The reason I enjoy visiting the Bland County History Archive site is because of the interviews.  Oral history is something I am very fond of and I enjoy reading these because for me, glimpses of daily life of days long gone are a fascinating and touching thing.  There are stories of families missing loved ones who were off fighting in World War 2, men working the railroad lines (this interests me because my grandfather worked the railroads his whole life), families involved in farming, kids walking to school, and other things that made up daily life for them that are often times far removed from the way we live today.  Take refrigeration for example- this is something we probably don’t think much about, but our great-grandparents maybe did things in a different way; in one of the interviews Virgie Bailey tells her grandson how they kept produce over the winter:

Steven: Did you have a root cellar?

Virgie: Well, not really. We buried our potatoes and our apples and the things we wanted to keep through the winter. We buried them and kept them like that.

Steven: What about fruit, like apples?

Virgie: We buried those, too.

Steven: Really?

Virgie: You would dig a hole in the ground, a wide place. Put straw under it, put your apples on top of it, cover it with straw, and then cover it with dirt. And they would keep just as good as you could keep them in any cellar, and they wouldn’t dry out like they do in a cellar.

I’m sure we have all heard stories about the older folks getting to school?  (Walking up hill both ways in knee deep snow perhaps?)  Here is a small excerpt from Barbara Bradshaw telling her story:

They didn’t have any school buses, So when it was real muddy, Bess and I would ride the horse over to Waterloo were the sidewalks were. We would turn the horse around, and put the bridle rein back on her neck and tell her to go on home, and she would go back. It was a mile. Dad or Mom would watch for her and they would put her in the barn yard. We did that when it was real muddy.

I have always thought it important to hear stories like this from our grandparents and great-grandparents because in a lot of cases, when these folks die, their stories die with them.  Getting glimpses of daily life from the people who lived them makes them real and I think gives us a stronger connection to our past and the people around us.  I always find it sad to think of things I didn’t ask my grandparents when I had the opportunity, but I’m glad John Dodson reminded the kids in his Local History and Technology class to ask theirs.

Give this website a look, but do it when you have some time to spend!

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