If there was one aspect to this story that I overlooked, it was in characterizing the massive migration of Highlanders as being one going only north, to the big cities. There is actually another road taken by many of them: the military.
I received an email from a retired navy man who happened to have read "The Highlands Clearances" yesterday and felt compelled to respond. His name is Phil Toth and he's given me permission to reprint his letter, a portion of which I'm making public here:
Jerry,Mr. Toth goes on to relate how he's now married to a wonderful woman, living over in Floyd County, Virginia, shares my disdain for the accomplishments - or lack thereof - of the Democratic Party here in Southwest Virginia, has a particular problem with Rick Boucher's and Mark Warner's hypocrisy, and that Floyd is overrun with hippies - which we all know to be true.
I am a displaced West Virginian, and your post today about the Highlanders brought a tear to my eye. I left Glenville in 1975 to join the Army. I ended up in the Navy and retired in 1997 (military retirement is just a word. I had to go get a real job.)
I went home 22 years after I left and the employment prospects were less than when I left. The bustling town I left, which had 2 dept. stores, 2 car dealers, 3 gas stations, 2 drugstores, 2 pool halls, a sporting goods store, and 3 grocery stores, were gone. The flood from Hurricane Juan in 1985 had wiped out Main Street. Insurance wouldn't rebuild in the flood plain. The coal mine had closed in the late 60's, but the associated oil & gas industry had dried up during that time.
Phil Toth is one of thousands of young West Virginians who left the state to secure a future for himself and his family. He wanted to return years later but found that his hometown had died away. Crumbled to dust. As has so much of West Virginia. Because outsiders - from New York - have decided for him - despite him - what the state of West Virginia is to be. It's to be environmentally friendly. A garden of Eden. Paradise. His hometown, Glenville (up towards Weston, I think), didn't fit the stereotype. It didn't make the cut. It's therefore being scrubbed out of existence. Like a dirt spot on the floor.
For those of you who like to wax poetic about the mountains and the area's flora and fauna, I ask that you keep it in perspective. On your way to Stonewall Jackson Lake for a weekend of hiking, boating, camping, campfire singing, dope smoking, and all that, make a run over to Glenville. Take a look at all the buildings that housed the "2 dept. stores, 2 car dealers, 3 gas stations, 2 drugstores, 2 pool halls, a sporting goods store, and 3 grocery stores" and ask yourself, "Where did everyone go?"
Phil Toth can tell you. They're scattered to the four winds. An entire generation of West Virginians - proud Highlanders - exiled by government decree.