Understanding the 7 Distinct “Nations” of Appalachia

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APP Map

Like the American nation itself, the United States of Appalachia is a broad and diverse collection of thousands of communities scattered across the map — often the residents of its small towns and hollers have very little in common with folks in the neighboring county, whereas at other times the cultural similarities span over 500 miles.

Nevertheless, the term “Appalachian”, which is the third oldest geographic place name in North America, has become a catchphrase to describe a particular region of the country with little thought given as to how broad of a place term such a term incorporates.

To help our friends in the media, who may be unaware of this reality, we have assembled a helpful guide that details “The Seven Distinct ‘Nations’ of Appalachia”, showcasing what makes each one of these places so incredible and different.

As you will see, the borders of these “nations” often have very little in common with state boundaries and were formulated using election data, shared histories, socio-economic identities and natural geography in order to provide the reader with a more accurate guide to understanding the folks in “them thur hills”:

Agrilachia

agrilachia
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia Photo courtesy: Brett VA

Stretching from northeastern Alabama to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the landscape of Agrilachia is unchanged for over 600 miles: cow pastures, cornfields, silos, red barns, cow pastures, cornfields, silos, red barns… All the while, breathtakingly gorgeous blue-walled mountains line either side of this massive valley.

These curious formations are known as ridge and valleys and represent some of the most ancient land formations in the entire country.

You won’t find much Appalachian coal in this region, but it is this portion of the Appalachian nation that keeps milk in the refrigerator and steak on your grill… Not to mention the fact that it makes Interstate-81 the hands down most scenic highway in the eastern United States.


Appalachian Coalfields

GREATER APPALACHIA Devil Anse Hatfield Family
Devil Anse Hatfield Family

Home to the likes of Devil Anse Hatfield, Loretta Lynn and a countless number of 20th-century labor uprisings, the Appalachian coalfields have served as the poster child for the entire United States of Appalachia for over a century and a half.

Often mischaracterized by outside media as being “hillbillies”, the fine folks of this region have been victims of a countless number of misfortunes over the years, including the basic takeover of their land by wealthy timber and coal barons in the late-1800s.

Though guided by an unshakeable faith in God and a neighborly compassion that is seldom seen these days, the people of the coalfields have on more than one occasion been forced to lay down their shovels and pick up their shotguns and rifles in order to demand their basic human rights… and they did so without batting an eye.

In recent years, this region has been plagued by an economic downturn that in some areas rival statistics from the Great Depression.  This has helped fuel a drug pandemic that has reached crisis levels in many communities.

Still, the people of what once were the Appalachian coalfields are undeterred.  With an unmatched skillset and a grittiness that can’t be found elsewhere, look for this region to come roaring back in the days ahead.


Metrolachia

Downtown Roanoke from atop Mill Mountain, photo courtesy: Joe Ravi
Downtown Roanoke from atop Mill Mountain, photo courtesy: Joe Ravi

Islands of liberalism dotting a staunchly Evangelical map, Metrolachia are localities that generally serve as the primary city for the surrounding communities.  This is not to say that they are the only localities where liberal ideas may be found, however, they are typically the only places where such ideas are the dominant political voice.

More often than not, these communities are home to a major university and serve as the primary media market for their region.

In many cases, Metrolachia’s residents are newcomers to the area and often these cities are one of the few places in their region that have not lost population over the past decade.

If money is your goal in life, you probably want to move to one of these places, as wages in these blue map dots are often higher than the neighboring counties; however, like all cities, each of these economic hubs have been forced to deal with a number of problems, including downtown decline and inner city poverty — some have dealt with these problems better than others.


Dixielachia

The view along Cecil Ashburn Drive in South Huntsville, Alabama Photo courtesy: Nhlarry
The view along Cecil Ashburn Drive in South Huntsville, Alabama
Photo courtesy: Nhlarry

This is the term used to describe the Appalachian region of the South where you’re not quite in the cotton fields, but you sure ain’t in the coalfields either.  Call it an identity crisis, call it Dixielachia, call it what you will, but we’ll just call it beautiful!

With a diverse economy that is not nearly as reliant upon a single industry as many other regions of the United States of Appalachia, many portions of Dixielachia have seen population growth in the face of a mass exodus from several other regions of Appalachia.

Here you’ll find a region that is forward thinking, but at the same time has a healthy respect for tradition and all that is sacred.  The bottom line: SEC-Appalachia country is not a bad place to live!


Yankeelachia

Vermont State House Photo courtesy: GearedBull
Vermont State House
Photo courtesy: GearedBull

Shhhh… Don’t tell anybody, but practically all of the Northeast is technically in the Appalachian region!  In fact, the Appalachian Mountains even run through France… but that’s a whole ‘nuther story.

Though many of our northern counterparts may describe their homeland as being “App-ah-lay-sha”, we know the truth and that’s all that matters!

Admittedly, Yankelachia is a very broad region we have presented, but for the sake of this article, it serves its point.

Politically speaking, like most of the northeast, the region leans to the left, with the exceptions being southwestern New York State and regions of Maine which have gone for the Republican Presidential candidate in all of the past three elections.

Meanwhile, approximately 20,000 libertarians have signed a pledge to move to the State of New Hampshire, in order to make the state a stronghold for libertarian ideas in what is being called the Free State Project.  Signers of the agreement have within five years of February 2016 to move to the state, so we’ll have to wait and see where this one goes.

With a growing Federal government, Yankeelachia has in recent years extended its borders, invading many of Virginia’s Agrilachia communities.


Pennsylachia

Photo courtesy: Alf van Beem
Photo courtesy: Alf van Beem

Geographically serving as one of the smallest Appalachian regions, the area known locally as “Pennsylvania Wilds” is distinct and proud part of the Keystone State whose history, heritage and daily activities are unique from other localities in Pennsylvania and the nation.

Unlike the rest of the primarily agrarian Commonwealth, the region we call “Pennsylachia” has served as an energy producer for over a century.

It was here that oil was first discovered in the United States and with maps names that include places such as Oil City and Oil Creek, it’s no wonder that the region once served as America’s primary source of petroleum.

Pennzoil and Quaker State have both relocated their headquarters elsewhere, but the region’s influence can be spotted in the names of these products.

In recent years, the energy industry in this part of Appalachia has been on the comeback – a trip down the curvy roads of “Pennsylachia” will reveal this in the number of work trucks visible.

With 513,175 acres of national forest lands, deer hunting, hiking, and outdoor recreation are huge in this beautiful mountain wonderland.


Smoky Mountains

Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Photo courtesy: Blinutne
Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Photo courtesy: Blinutne

The crown gem of the Appalachian nation, the Great Smoky Mountains have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the mountains of this region suffered from massive deforestation, leading the United States Congress to charter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934.  Today, the park serves as the most visited national park in the world and is dissected by the Maine to Georgia Appalachian Trail.

Getting its name, “Smoky” from the natural fog that often hangs over the range and presents as large smoke plumes from a distance.

Tourism is the name of the game in a number of these localities, with Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg serving as the capital cities of this All-Appalachian district.

The region also boasts of the highest point east of the Mississippi River, Mount Mitchell in North Carolina, as well as a mountain shadow that appears in the form of a black bear two times a year.

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23 COMMENTS

  1. Where’s the rest of the Ohio Appalachia region? Ohio has almost a quarter of the state that is considered part of Appalachia.

  2. Hi! I’m from Somerset county PA. You’ve got us a little wrong.. Yes, we definitely look like Agrilachia, but Cambria (just north of Somerset Co.) and Somerset are serious coal county. The Cambrian period of time (when coal was laid down ) is NAMED for Cambria county.
    And Yes… We also have cows and corn…but we also have oranges streams from mine seeps and boney piles big enough to crush small towns.

  3. I agree with comment that Ohio is omitted, and the Ohio and Kanawha Valleys should have been labeled differently as Insustrial Appalachia. There is little or no coal in these counties and they live always relied upon heavy industry. I love this idea, but as a Huntington, WV resident, I get tired of explaining to people that not only didn’t grow up in a coal town, I didn’t even grow up near it.

    • We perfectly understand those sentiments, but Huntington was included in the “Coalfields” region because it was created as a hub for the C&O and ultimately served as the gateway into coal country… or out of coal country. Thanks for the feedback!

      • Thanks for the polite response. I do see the connection but it suggests you’re going to see coal mines in those counties, and you are no more apt to than you would in Yankeelachia or Agrilachia. When the Matthew McConaughey film “We Are Marshall” was made about the Marshall plane crash in Huntington, I read different stories or reviews in places like Philadelphia calling Huntington a “small coal mining town.” I wrote the writers and told them that Huntington is as close to West Virginia’s coalfields as Philadelphia is to Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal fields. People truly have no idea about the region’s industry.

        And it isn’t just Huntington that is industrial. The Ohio Valley is very different than the rest of the region and more urban. Moving down the Ohio: The famous mills of Pittsburgh; Chester, WV, and East Liverpool, OH where pottery is made; Weirton/Wheeling WV and Steubenville, OH areas has a heavy concentration of steel mills; Parkersburg, WV & Marietta, OH is loaded with chemical plants; Ravenswood, WV with its now shuttered aluminum plant (*sob*); the many electric plants around Pt. Pleasant, WV and Gallipolis, OH; then to Huntington, WV, Ashland, KY, and Ironton, OH with factories making steel, dyes, etc.; and Portsmouth, OH with many different plants. I will grant that many of these run on coal, but the culture and economies are as much a world apart from the coalfields and much more lie that of Metrolachia.

        I have always said that West Virginia itself is about 5 different states. Some counties on the borders of different economies can feel like three different states, such as Wayne (northern part is Huntington area, southern part is rural) and Kanawha (western part is Charleston area, eastern part is rural). So, I’ve been dying for someone to make these differences. And once someone does, they lump is in with coal again! LOL!

        Don’t get me wrong. My parents are from the coalfields and I love those places, and I love your map otherwise. But calling the Ohio Valley the Appalachian coalfields, when there’s not a piece of coal there, is misleading and keeps the mythology going. It also underplays the fact Appalachia has been a player in American industry, which most of America doesn’t even know.

        I implore you to add “Industrial Appalachia,” or “Midwestalachia,” since the flavor here is more Midwestern than Northern or Southern. I would even love to see a book discussing these regions..but ONLY if you separate out the Ohio Valley and Ohio counties with the accurate description.

        My apologies for going on so long. I truly did enjoy the article. 🙂

  4. Upstate NY may be to the left of Dixielatchia or the coalfields, but the reality is that most of it is much more conservative than you give it credit for being. With the exception of Tompkins County (home to Cornell University and a place that should be in Metrolatchia.) and Onondaga County, I would put the “conservatism” (read xenophobic, “small government” types) there against places that are better known in Appalachia. Also, the Southern Tier is officially Appalachia, according to the ARC.

  5. As a geographer, I appreciate the work that went into this and I agree with the overall premise, but like all geographers, I will quibble over the lines.

    Nothing about Fairfield or New Haven Counties in Connecticut, or Bucks, Montgomery, or Chester Counties in Pennsylvania is Appalachian, Yankee or otherwise. These are densely populated commuter suburbs of NYC and Philly.

    Also, I would say Clinton, Franklin, Essex, and Warren Counties in New York State are at least as ‘Yankeelachian’, if not more so, than the Vermont counties across Lake Champlain. In fact, Chittenden County, Vermont, should be Metrolachia. As others have pointed out, why are no Metrolachia counties in the north? Broome, Tompkins, Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga Counties in New York, etc.

    Finally, certainly Onondaga County, NY, probably Ontario County, NY, and perhaps others, are more tied to the culture and economy of Buffalo-Rochester-Syracuse Great Lakes basin area than not and probably shouldn’t be included in Appalachia.

  6. I like the concept, but I don’t know I can trust a map that puts the D.C., Baltimore and Philly suburbs in any form of Appalachia. Seems waaaay off there.

  7. If I’m reading your map correctly, you have left Russell and Tazewell Counties in Virginia out of the coalfields. While both counties seem agricultural (from the main roads) both also contain significant coal and are/have been certainly part of what has been the coal-based economy.

    • These areas are a tough one and can certainly go either way. They were ultimately placed in the “Agrilachia” column due to their ridge and valley nature, as opposed to the more rounded and “splotchy” mountains (Permian and Pennsylvania Sedimentary Rocks) to their west in Wise, Dickenson and Buchanan. Though the northwestern corner of Tazewell county is “Coalfield”, the county as a whole, i.e., Burkes Garden, Abbs Valley, Thomason Valley, etc. are all rich in agriculture.

      Same can be said regarding Russell County, where there were 187,620 acres of farmland, this number grew by more than 36,000 acres compared to 2007. There are also 55,987 cows in Russell County, compared to only 28,264 — Source: https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/County_Profiles/Virginia/cp51167.pdf

  8. I live in the most southwestern tip of Va. I disagree with view. You may see the cows from I-81 with your scenic view, but your descriptions still generalize a wide range of culture and life. Most of the economy is still ran by coal in my region. The appalachian life is not something u can generalize into categories. The people make the appalachian region, not the mountain range itself.I live 10 miles from the town of appalachia….. it is strictly coal. The mountains would not allow for large dairy farms. IMO the map is substandard. Someone may have failed in the research or the lack there of.I agree with several comments above.

  9. As a Pennsylvanian resident, I wouldn’t consider Centre or Fayette counties a booming metropolis. And Westmoreland county only because of its close proximity to Allegheny.

    In fact, Fayette is notoriously poor since the industrial downturn and Centre has always been more agriculturally-oriented.

  10. As someone from southwest PA, I think you have it labeled wrong. As a native of Fayette County, I can tell you it isnt metrolachia, it is definitely the Appalachian coalfields. Fayette county produced most of southwest PA’s coal at one point and the landscape tells that story. It has two very small cities with the largest holding only 10,000 people, the rest of the county is either mountains or patch towns outside od it. In fact, it looks more like coal country than neighboring Greene County, which you have in the Appalachian coalfields category. In my opinion, the only counties in southwest PA that need to be placed in the metrolachia category is Allegheny and Westmoreland.

  11. Most of the Appalachian region, including the areas found eastern Ky, southwestern Va, eastern Tn, Western Nc, northwestern Sc, Northern Georgia & Alabama, have been widely neglected by the state governments in which they belong for over a century. It is my personal belief that the entire region should merge with West Virginia to become the state of Appalachia with it’s own government & economy. While that may not have been feesible in the past, especially with the war on coal being waged by liberals, the possible legalization of medicinal marijuana in America may just be the spark needed to drive an independent Appalachia economy.

  12. If this article is for real (rather than pure entertainment) you’ll appreciate feedback and use it to build a finer detailed picture. Ohio: Vinton County is the edge of the coal fields (black), Athens County is a metro area (blue) built around a major state university that votes liberal consistently. Build your map accurately and people may buy posters and T shirts of it. Appalachia is already used to being ignored, misunderstood, and misrepresented.

  13. You should change the name of “Yankeelachia” to “Ain’tlachia”. That is more descriptive of the complete absence of Appalachian culture in that region of the plateau.

    Most of my family comes from the counties immediately west of the areas shown on the map as Agrilachia and Pennsylachia. There is a large segment of the populations in Trumbull, Mercer, Mercer and Lawrence counties that is every bit as “Appalachian” as the people in Venango, Butler, and Allegheny counties. I think there might have been a large migration of peoples from the Allegheny river valley and northern KY/WV during the boom of the steal industry. Maybe call those 4 counties “Rustlachia.” 😀

    Anyone who naturally addresses their friends as “Yhins,” calls the city “Picksberg,” roots for the “Stillers,” and lived “accrost” from something notable, deserved at least an honorable mention as being “Appalachian.”

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