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Blog post by Nathan Kosmicki, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.

Today, Point Pleasant, West Virginia is known as the home of “Mothman,” an urban legend and iconic symbol for the small town at the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. An annual Mothman Festival is held every year, celebrating the small town and a creature which has faded into myth and legend rather than lingering danger. The Mothman legend originates from several sightings in 1966 and culminates with the collapse of the Silver Bridge on December 15, 1967. While the bridge collapse was clearly not the result of a mythical monster’s intentions, the legend persists. 

The Silver Bridge

The Silver Bridge was constructed in 1928 using high tension eye bar chains and rocker towers, which was unique for the period. Nearly 40 years after its construction the bridge collapsed, during rush hour traffic, due to a crack in one of the eye bar chains and years of poor maintenance. Additionally, as automobiles and trucks developed between 1928 and 1967, they both became heavier and more numerous. When the Silver Bridge was built it was designed to accommodate the weight of 1920s automobiles not the much heavier sedans, tractor trailers, and buses of the 1960s. With rush hour traffic crowding the bridge with heavier vehicles, the bridge failed and 64 people were plunged into the 44 degree Ohio River water; 46 did not survive. 

Silver Bridge as seen from the shore

In 1969 the Silver Memorial Bridge was constructed one mile down river from the original location. The new bridge is a steel cantilever bridge and allows traffic along U.S. Route 35 to cross between West Virginia and Ohio. To date, the Silver Bridge collapse is one of the worst in United States history and the new bridge as well as a memorial at the site of the original stand in remembrance of those who were lost. 

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC

I first tasted buckwheat as a child when my dad took me to a buckwheat cake breakfast in Bridgeport. I didn’t really like the buckwheat cakes because there were little pieces of the hull in the cake and I didn’t like finding something hard in an otherwise soft pancake.  I haven’t had buckwheat cakes since.  Recently I stopped at West Virginia’s throwback roadside attraction and store, Cool Springs Park, in Preston County.  On a whim, I purchased a bag of buckwheat flour milled in nearby Eglon, West Virginia.  It was time to give buckwheat another chance.

Cars in front of Cool Springs Park store
Photograph of the Entrance of Cool Springs Park, Preston County, West Virginia.

Preston County is home to the annual Buckwheat Festival held in Kingwood since 1938.  Buckwheat was once an important crop for farmers in the county because it’s hardy and can be planted late.  Deceptively like a cereal grain, it’s actually a fruit in the same family as rhubarb.  In recent years, only small amounts are still grown in the area, so the buckwheat groats are trucked in and milled locally at Eglon and the Hazelton Mill.

Bag of buckwheat flour with cakes recipe printed on it
Photograph of the Entrance of Cool Springs Park, Preston County, West Virginia.

First, I wanted to try to the classic buckwheat cakes again.  To my delight, the buckwheat flour I purchased was milled very finely.  No hard pieces of hull to be found!  Conveniently, there was a recipe right on the bag.  I followed the directions for “Raised Buckwheat Cakes,” but I halved the recipe since there are only two of us in my household.

Raised Buckwheat Cakes (full recipe)

1 cup buckwheat flour

1 cup water

1 tsp salt (scant)

1 tsp sugar

¼ tsp dry yeast

1 Tbsp oil (optional)

¼ cup buttermilk

Mix and allow to set at room temperature 8 hours or overnight. When ready to make, mix together 1 tsp sugar, ¼ tsp baking powder, and ¼ cup warm water and add to batter stirring well.  Bake on a lightly greased, hot griddle.  This will make 6 to 8 cakes.

Bowl of batter
Photograph of the mixed batter before sitting out overnight.
Buckwheat cake in a pan
Photograph of a buckwheat cake on the griddle.

I mixed the ingredients and let it sit overnight.  In the morning, I added a small amount of water, sugar, and soda to the mix.  I then fried them in a ceramic non-stick pan.  They were much better than I remembered, perhaps a little salty for my taste, so I will reduce that next time.  My significant other enjoyed his with West Virginia maple syrup and butter. He liked them just fine.  I can imagine this batter making very nice savory crepes.

Buckwheat cakes in maple syrup
Photograph of two buckwheat cakes smothered in maple syrup produced in Barbour County, West Virginia.

Using leftover batter, you can make a sourdough type starter.  According to the package, just store any leftover batter in the refrigerator. When you want to make buckwheat cakes again, add the same basic ingredients and follow the steps of the recipe. The longer it is used the stronger the sourdough flavor will develop.

After conquering the buckwheat cakes, I looked for other recipes that use buckwheat flour.  A basic Google search returns quite a few recipes, more than I expected.  I decided to try Salted Chocolate Buckwheat Cookies created at the Bien Cuit bakery in New York City. Apparently, buckwheat can be pretty sophisticated too!  

Salted Chocolate Buckwheat Cookies

(makes 15 cookies)

1 cup buckwheat flour

2 Tbsp + 2 tsp cocoa

1 ½ tsp baking powder

¾ cup brown sugar (lightly packed)

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

½ cup chocolate chips (mini chips work best)

½ tsp espresso or strong coffee

Powdered sugar for dusting

Sea salt for sprinkling (I used JQ Dickinson flaked salt.)

Mix flour, cocoa, and baking powder and set aside.  Using an electric mixer, beat brown sugar and butter until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Gradually add dry ingredients and beat on medium low.  Add the espresso and chips and mix until blended.  Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and shape into a log about 10 inches long. Chill for at least an hour. After chilling, cut into 15 pieces. Sprinkle with sugar and salt. Bake 12 to 15 minutes at 375 degrees.  Cool on the pan briefly and then move to a wire rack.

Log of cookie dough on plastic wrap
Photograph of the mixed dough, shaped into a log, and chilled.
Balls of dough on cookie sheet, dusted with powdered sugar
Photograph of cookies cut from the dough log and prepared for baking.

I mixed the ingredients per the recipe, chilled the dough for a couple of hours while I cooked dinner, added the salt and sugar, then sliced and baked the cookies. Again, I halved the recipe since we are a small household.  These came out pretty nice. Good flavor.  Very crispy on the bottom though. The bake time was 12-15 minutes.  I let them stay in for the whole 15 but I think they would have been just a little better if I would have taken them out at 12 minutes.  

Plate of cookies
Photograph of the finished cookies, yum.  These cookies pair perfectly with a glass of milk. I have a few friends that are gluten free – I will be making these again to give as gifts.

I’m glad that I gave buckwheat a second chance!  I’m looking forward to using the rest of the bag and trying other recipes.  There are some really wonderful ones shared on this Good Press blog post written by a local Preston Countian. If you can’t make it to Cool Springs or other local retailers, buckwheat can sometimes be found at the grocery store in the Bob’s Red Mill or Hodgson’s Mill brands.

Resources:

West Virginia Encylopedia Buckwheat Festival Entry

Goldenseal article excerpt

Blog post by Linda Blake, University Librarian Emerita

I am always somewhere in the process of reading an eBook, an audiobook, and a book-book, old-fashioned print on paper.  Recently I have been migrating toward West Virginia authors and West Virginia history probably because of the in depth look at West Virginia history working in the West Virginia and Regional History Center has afforded me.  The books I am featuring in this blog post are all non-fiction, except Ludie’s Life, which is a novel in poetry, and the Kentucky novel, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek All include themes of particular interest to Appalachia: the importance of place, family loyalty, and struggle.     

Note:  Each title links to the WVU Libraries catalog entry.  Those held in the West Virginia and Regional History Center book collection cannot be removed from the Center, but those in the Appalachian Collection or the general book collection may be borrowed by WVU faculty, staff, or students.  Most West Virginia academic and public libraries should have these titles, or they can be requested through the libraries’ interlibrary loan services.   


The Buffalo Creek DisasterHow the Survivors of One of the Worst Disasters in Coal-Mining History Brought Suit Against the Coal Company—And Won by Gerald M. Stern. 1977. 

Man sitting in front of a house that has been swept off its foundation by a flood
Flood victim at Man, Logan County, February 29, 1972 

In 1972 on a quiet Saturday morning a Pittston Coal Company slurry impoundment broke and flooded Buffalo Creek hollow with 132 million gallons of water creating a 25-foot wall of water and debris.   It washed away either all or partially 17 communities along the creek in Logan and Wayne Counties.  The disaster resulted in the total annihilation or destruction of homes leaving thousands homeless; the death of 125 men, women, and children; and left behind devastation and guilt-ridden and confused survivors.  This book details why this was not “an act of God” as declared by Pittston Coal and the legal battle by over 600 tenacious survivors and family members.  The group hired the book’s author’s law firm to represent them in a class action suit.  In the 1970s, terms such as post-traumatic stress did not exist, but in a unique move for the time, Stern sued for compensation for “psychic-damage” in addition to property damage and bodily injury. Stern also had to delve into the morass of corporate ownership and its legal implications.  This book provides a fascinating account of how the legal case was won. 


Diamond Doris: The Ture Story of the World’s Most Notorious Jewel Thief by Doris Payne and Zelda Lockhart. 2019 

The Life and Crimes of Doris
Doris Payne mug shot. Source: Variety Magazine

West Virginians are amazing people full of surprises.  Doris Payne is one of these amazing people.  She was born in the small segregated southern West Virginia town of Slab Fork during the Depression.  She became one of the most notorious jewelry thieves ever.  Payne was a woman, and she was Black, but refused to conform to the stereotypes of what a Black woman could accomplish.  She used her intellect, good looks, and flair for style to rescue her mother from her abusive father and to rescue herself.  How did she accomplish this notoriety?  What drove her to steal jewelry around the world?  Was she justified?  What happened to her as she aged?  All the answers are in this fascinating memoir, an autobiography which reads like a novel. 


Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy. 2018 

Dopesick

Dopesick is an eye-opener for those of us who thought where we live made us immune to the opioid epidemic.  How could opioid addiction, once considered isolated to urban areas, come to small town America and what role did West Virginia play in the epidemic?  Macy gives us a very personal and detailed view by tracing the story of some addicts and their families from the beginning of drug abuse. She not only explains how addiction occurs but also the chain from pharmaceutical companies to user, current therapeutic practices, and the justice system’s involvement.  The subtitle indicates that Macy points a finger directly at drug companies.  This book is not about the oxycotin use in southern West Virginia but about the link between Martinsburg, West Virginia, sitting next to the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan areas, as a wide distribution point for illegal drugs.   


Ludie’s Life by Cynthia Rylant. 2006 

Text, letter

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I am a fan of Cynthia Rylant and I particularly like When I Was Young in the Mountains, a picture book.  Rylant is a true West Virginia treasure for the way she captures our traditions and attachment to home with joy and reverence.  In Ludie’s Life, a life told in free verse, Rylant again works her magic by giving us Ludie through birth, marriage, childrearing, old age, and death.  The book also traces the changes to her coal field community as Ludie observes from her company house. While promoted as a young adult book, I think the themes such as childbearing, illness and death, aging, and loneliness are too raw for youth.  For example, Ludie describes her husband’s brother as “a man just teetering on the line between good and bad. No one knew for sure if he was crazy or just plain mean. This much was true: Ludie feared him.”  The book is full of truths such as this passage about change “…it seemed to Ludie that little by little life was packing her up for the long journey home.  The chickens and chicken pens gone. The hogs gone from the hog lot. No beagle tied to the doghouse. No doghouse.”  Maybe you don’t care for poetry, but I promise you that you will fall into Ludies’ Life, see it to its end, and then keep it close by for rereading.   


Running on Red Dog Road: and Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood by Drema Hall Berkheimer 

Running on Red Dog Road: And Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood by [Drema Hall Berkheimer]

My friend loaned me Running on Red Dog Road. I put it in my “to read” pile and left it there since I thought it was probably another vanity press title.  I had seen red dog roads, created by reusing coal mining slate, when I visited McDowell County in the 1970s, so after the book sat in that pile for years, I finally read it.  As I began to read, I discovered that the little memoir of life in 1940’s Beckley was a very pleasant surprise.  Ms. Berkheimer captured the life of a young girl in southern West Virginia with such detail that I was transported back to my own childhood.  I could almost taste the foods my mother made, including thick crust blackberry cobblers, stewed tomatoes, leather britches, and peas with pearl onions.  I remembered stories of hobos coming to Mom’s door for food.  I remembered long church services and tent meetings on hot summer nights.  I remembered playing freely and falling into the stories people liked to tell. The one about her aunt’s experience with a lonely-hearts club was laugh out loud funny.  Berkheimer recounts these stories with not only humor for the lightness of life but with compassion for the hardness of life.   


The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. 2019 

A group of people holding a sign

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Richardson deals with two fascinating topics in her recent popular novel.  The “book woman,” Cussy Carter, is based on the New Deal circuit-riding librarians of Kentucky, part of the Pack Horse Library Project.  Cussy is also one of the genetically altered blue-skinned people of Kentucky. Two themes emerge then: the power of reading and education for escapism as well as practical information; and the bigotry and isolation faced by someone who looks different. As Cussy travels her route on her mule over rough terrain, she meets and befriends a cast of characters, mostly poor and struggling.  They are the women, men, and children of the isolated Kentucky mountains.  Poverty, class, and hunger are other prevalent themes in this Depression era engaging novel.   

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