Useful Notes: Appalachia

Appalachia is a cultural region in the United States that stretches from western New York down to central Alabama. It is named for the Appalachian Mountains, which technically includes most of New England and a tiny bit of eastern Canada as well, but "Appalachia" commonly refers to the central and southern portions of the mountain range. The region is stereotyped as the Deep South's snowier cousin and they share many defining traits, especially where the two overlap. As always, the truth is more complex than the media's representation.

The basics:
  • Appalachia is stereotypically characterized by rural isolation, poverty, and coal mining. Inbreeding was a major problem historically; the "blue people" of Kentucky are a famous case of a recessive gene showing up due to this. Nowadays, inbreeding isn't much of a problem anymore, but various other health issues arise due to mining hazards, abysmal poverty, diabetes, and rampant drug abuse. The coming of TV and radio in the mid-20th century helped to break the isolation somewhat (though the hilly terrain makes reception a problem without a lot of repeaters), and the construction of Interstates 64, 77, and 79 (the former only completed in 1988) opened up the barely-touched interior of West Virginia to the masses.
    • Ironically, the isolation created by the mountains actually created a prime position for a National Radio-Quiet Zone that allowed the Green Bank Telescope to function in the heart of the Appalachian plateau of West Virginia
  • Pittsburgh is the largest city in Appalachia proper, with a metro area of over 2 million. Two other significant metro areas are within the region—"The Upstate" of South Carolina (Greenville–Spartanburg), with about 1.4 million,note  and Birmingham (no, not the British one-—the one in Alabama), with about 1.2 million. Other major cities border the region, such as Washington, Atlanta, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Louisville. Many Appalachians seeking the urban life will relocate to one of these cities. Important smaller cities in the region include Huntington, Wheeling, and Charleston, West Virginia; Knoxville, Chattanooga, and the "Tri-Cities"note , Tennessee; Asheville, North Carolina; Huntsville, Alabama; and the Roanoke-Blacksburg-Christiansburg area in Virginia.
  • Major industries of this area included timber production, as well as oil drilling, natural gas, iron production, and the big one, coal mining. The coal town is a major part of Appalachian lore and it still provides a significant income and proportion of jobs to people living in the area. Small ghost towns left behind after coal seams or oil wells have dried up dot the landscape around much of the region. The northern part of Appalachia is also located within the Rust Belt and is suffering from similar problems in loss of steel industry that once drove communities.
  • The primacy of fossil fuels as an industry has also sparked many controversies over environmentalist issues. One of the biggest issues to arise in the 2010's is hydraulic fracking, the practice of fracturing underground rock formations with high-pressure water blasts to access the oil or gas within. Proponents argue it brings in much-needed jobs to impoverished areas, but others argue that it is not worth the destruction to the environment or the possible health hazards to the people and wildlife living in or near the affected areas.
  • The region is also notorious for its production of Moonshine; alcoholic beverages made by locals without any kind of regulation. It came to prominence during prohibition, and still continues to this day. The remote, isolated geography of the region makes it ideal because moonshiners can easily conceal their operations from authorities. It's also been joked (with varying levels of seriousness) that due to many similarities (lack of regulation, ease of dismantling and hiding from the authorities, being volatile and prone to exploding,) the meth lab is the Moonshine still's (ahem) Spiritual Successor (and again, meth is a big problem in the area.)
  • Aside from all that, the area is popular for tourism because of the tall mountains and deep ridges, boasting prime opportunities for hiking, biking, rafting and kayaking, fishing, as well as skiing and snowboarding in the winter.
    • Geologically speaking, the Appalachian mountains are very old, first being formed around 480 million years ago, and reaching what scientists think was a height similar to the Himalayas or the Rocky Mountains before being eroded entirely and covered up by a shallow inland sea by the Mesozoic era. The crust was then uplifted and the resulting erosion against the uplifted crust created the mountains people now live among today.
      • Despite the current form of the Appalachians being a relatively recent creation, geologically speaking, the former heart of the original mountains can still be seen in the Blue Ridge Mountains and other folds and formations throughout the uplifted peaks and valleys. Mount Mitchell in the far western end of North Carolina stands as the tallest peak in the mountain range, as well as the highest peak in the United States east of the Mississippi River, with an elevation of 6,684 ft.
  • One very popular reason for visiting is to hike the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, usually simply referred to as the Appalachian Trail. The Trail is a 2,200 mile hiking and camping route that stretches from Maine to Georgia. Most hikers simply enjoy parts of the trail, as hiking the entire thing is a months-long ordeal.

Tropes relating to / in works about Appalachia:

  • Bad Ass Driver: A trait stereotypically associated with the Hillbilly Moonshiners and their Cool Cars. After all, you need to be able to handle that suped up hot rod on bad roads to outrun the law.
  • Company Town: In many areas of Appalachia, coal mining is the only significant economic activity, and coal companies created a lot of these throughout the area.
  • Cool Car: Moonshiners were prone to suping up their vehicles the better to outrun and outmaneuver lawmen. This eventually gave rise to stock car racing, and ultimately NASCAR.
  • Hillbilly Moonshiner: Appalachia is the source of many of the associated stereotypes, and home to a lot of moonshiners
  • Mountain Man: An idealized stereotype of the frontiersmen who originally the rugged terrain of the region

Works set in Appalachia


  • "The Crooked Man" story within the Hellboy series takes place in rural western Virginia in the late 1950's and deals with common ghost stories and folklore of the area.
  • The Guthrie family from X-Men are from eastern Kentucky. Best-known members are eldest son Cannonball and eldest daughter Husk, though most of the younger kids are mutants as well, and mother Lucinda is a staunch ally.

  • Sharyn McCrumb's Ballad Novels are a series of mysteries that take place in and around a small Appalachian community.
  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark owes a number of its stories to Appalachian folklore and ghost stories.
    • As you might have guessed from The Mothman Prophecies and Hellboy borrowing from this tradition as mentioned on this page, this area of the country has a long tradition of scary campfire stories, hauntings and witch tales, another by-product of its long isolation from outside modernization and communication.
  • A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson deals with an attempt to hike the trail.
  • District 12 in Hunger Games is explicitly stated to be in "what was known as Appalachia.". It is poor and its main industry is coal mining.

  • Aaron Copland's ballet Appalachian Spring, about the folk celebrating after building a barn, takes a more idealized view of the region.

Tabletop RPG