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View Full Version : The Pennsylvanian Appalachians: Who lives there and what are they like



ssbittner
02-23-2019, 11:18 PM
Hi, all. I am beginning an urban fantasy book set in the Pennsylvania Appalachians. I picked this location because it has the right type of mountains for the plot of the book. However, I have never visited Pennsylvania and I do not have the funds for a trip to explore the place. Does anyone have personal experience with this area or know of nonfiction or fiction books set in this area that would give me a good idea of the local culture and setting? I am interested not just in the immediate area of the Appalachians but also in the surrounding areas where my characters might visit. I will probably not venture to major cities but resources on that wouldn't hurt either.

Thanks so much in advance!

Best,
ssbittner

Marissa D
02-24-2019, 12:40 AM
It's about a 19th century occurrence, but David McCullough's The Johnstown Flood draws a terrific picture of the natural history and background of part of this region.

Chris P
02-24-2019, 03:00 AM
For non-fic geology, Annals of he Former World by John McPhee was super good.

Not all of it takes place there, but Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods is entertaining at least. The portions of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen that take place in West Virginia and the first few chapters of Tom Wolfe's (rather disappointing overall) I Am Charlotte Simmons were pretty accurate (although Franzen was a touch over the top on the rube-ness of the characters).

I've visisted the Harpers Ferry area some, but I'm sure there are others with a better perpective and more experience. Happy to help however I can, though.

s_nov
02-24-2019, 05:27 PM
I'm from the area in PA and I'd be happy to help. Feel free to message if you have any specific questions about places!

ssbittner
02-24-2019, 09:51 PM
Marrisa D, thanks! I'll look up the Johnstown Flood. Although I'm planning on writing in the modern day, it really is a great idea to know what the history of the area is like.

ssbittner
02-24-2019, 09:54 PM
Chris_P, I will look into that geology book! You can never know too much about mountains. The rest of your recommendations are great, too. And thanks for the offer of help.

ssbittner
02-24-2019, 09:56 PM
s_nov, I really appreciate your willingness to answer questions about the region. I am just starting the book, so I am still getting a general sense of the area and don't have specific questions yet, but you may well hear from me. Thanks again!

Al X.
02-25-2019, 03:40 AM
Can't tell you about the Pennsylvania Appalachians, but I have traveled through the Virginia Appalachians as a kid. Think crooked teeth and banjos.

Cobalt Jade
02-25-2019, 11:08 PM
Been through this area many times as a child.

First off, these mountains are not very high -- 3,200' elevation is the highest. Most are between 1,000 and 2400 in elevation. So of course they will not stay snow-covered in the summer, or even have snow outside of regular snowfall in the winter. In late fall and early spring, the highest parts may have snow even if the lower elevations are clear.

In the Poconos part (the eastern-northeastern part) there are lots of skiing places which are active in winter. I wouldn't exactly call them resorts -- they are a sort of working peoples' getaway. That whole area is very blue collar. Coal mining and production was a big thing. Bet there are lots of abandoned mines up there still. The city of Scranton can be perhaps be called the Poconos' capitol. It was built on coal mining and immigration -- German, Irish, Polish, and other Slavic nationalities. In the summer, boating, fishing, and hunting are popular, and camping. Very rednecky in that regard, and politically conservative. Deer hunting with shotguns, duck and turkey hunting also. Black bears still roam. Lots of boy scout camps in these mountains and the like. Since you are writing urban fantasy, there would be a lot of places for strange creatures to hide, and strange people as well, off logging and forestry roads. The doings on one mountain can be entirely separate from those on another. in the valleys, there are farms. Mostly family farms -- the coast of living up there is low so it's possible to turn a profit from farming and live comfortably.

The mountains have a mixed deciduous forest on them with some pine. These are not the forests of the American west with their big pine trees. The undergrowth is tangled. In the summer, it can be hot and humid.

In the present day the area is more populous, but in the 1970s, not so. You could drive on the state highways and see only little towns with a few houses and maybe a diner or antiques store. In the present day, of course, there are McDonalds and Duncan Donuts and strip malls.

The part of the Pennsy Appalachians directly under New York state is -- in present day -- more isolated and wild than the Poconos. That's the area between interstates 79 and 81, bounded on the bottom by interstate 80.

Chris P
02-26-2019, 02:09 AM
s_nov, I really appreciate your willingness to answer questions about the region. I am just starting the book, so I am still getting a general sense of the area and don't have specific questions yet, but you may well hear from me. Thanks again!

Perhaps you're already doing this, but when I research from afar, Google Streetview is the best tool I have. Also local online newspapers, travel blogs, YouTube, and online local radio station streams are great too.

benbenberi
02-26-2019, 06:01 PM
Just a note that, while geologists may talk about the Pennsylvania Appalachians, that's not how people who live there commonly think of it. (https://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/brian-oneill/2011/12/08/Yes-we-and-yinz-are-part-of-Appalachia/stories/201112080418) The mountains in Pennsylvania are the Alleghenies and the Poconos. Pittsburgh and Scranton are the big cities. The cultural influences are at least as much Eastern European/Slavic and German as the Scotch-Irish that historically dominates the stereotypical "Appalachian" regions of West Virginia and Kentucky.

As Chris P says, Google Streetview, YouTube, and online local media are your research friends!

starrystorm
02-26-2019, 07:46 PM
Just a note that, while geologists may talk about the Pennsylvania Appalachians, that's not how people who live there commonly think of it. (https://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/brian-oneill/2011/12/08/Yes-we-and-yinz-are-part-of-Appalachia/stories/201112080418) The mountains in Pennsylvania are the Alleghenies and the Poconos. Pittsburgh and Scranton are the big cities. The cultural influences are at least as much Eastern European/Slavic and German as the Scotch-Irish that historically dominates the stereotypical "Appalachian" regions of West Virginia and Kentucky.

As Chris P says, Google Streetview, YouTube, and online local media are your research friends!

Interesting. I've spent whole summers in the Pittsburgh area for the last fifteen years or so and never have I heard it called the Appalachians. I didn't even know the Appalachians were in the state.

benbenberi
02-27-2019, 12:53 AM
Geologists will tell you that the Appalachian mountains extend from Alabama north through Pennsylvania, and on to Vermont, Maine, and ultimately Newfoundland. It's a very big, very old, very complicated mountain range. (But it probably does not include the Adirondacks in NY, which are something completely different. It's complicated.) Geographers & sociologists agree their "Appalachian" region is generally restricted to the southern portion of the range, and Pennsylvania is on the fringes of it at most.

ssbittner
02-28-2019, 11:17 PM
Cobalt Jade, this is incredibly helpful. It gives me a really good overview of the area and a lot of ideas for where to start researching. Thanks for your input!


Been through this area many times as a child.

First off, these mountains are not very high -- 3,200' elevation is the highest. Most are between 1,000 and 2400 in elevation. So of course they will not stay snow-covered in the summer, or even have snow outside of regular snowfall in the winter. In late fall and early spring, the highest parts may have snow even if the lower elevations are clear.

In the Poconos part (the eastern-northeastern part) there are lots of skiing places which are active in winter. I wouldn't exactly call them resorts -- they are a sort of working peoples' getaway. That whole area is very blue collar. Coal mining and production was a big thing. Bet there are lots of abandoned mines up there still. The city of Scranton can be perhaps be called the Poconos' capitol. It was built on coal mining and immigration -- German, Irish, Polish, and other Slavic nationalities. In the summer, boating, fishing, and hunting are popular, and camping. Very rednecky in that regard, and politically conservative. Deer hunting with shotguns, duck and turkey hunting also. Black bears still roam. Lots of boy scout camps in these mountains and the like. Since you are writing urban fantasy, there would be a lot of places for strange creatures to hide, and strange people as well, off logging and forestry roads. The doings on one mountain can be entirely separate from those on another. in the valleys, there are farms. Mostly family farms -- the coast of living up there is low so it's possible to turn a profit from farming and live comfortably.

The mountains have a mixed deciduous forest on them with some pine. These are not the forests of the American west with their big pine trees. The undergrowth is tangled. In the summer, it can be hot and humid.

In the present day the area is more populous, but in the 1970s, not so. You could drive on the state highways and see only little towns with a few houses and maybe a diner or antiques store. In the present day, of course, there are McDonalds and Duncan Donuts and strip malls.

The part of the Pennsy Appalachians directly under New York state is -- in present day -- more isolated and wild than the Poconos. That's the area between interstates 79 and 81, bounded on the bottom by interstate 80.

ssbittner
02-28-2019, 11:18 PM
These are great suggestions. Google street view is already a lifesaver and I've barely started using it.

ssbittner
02-28-2019, 11:23 PM
This is a really good point. I didn't think about how the locals would regard the mountain ranges as something other than the Appalachians, but it makes sense that they would since they are on the tail end of them. I did know that Germans had influence on the area, since a distance ancestor of my came from the German communities in that region, but I will look into the other influences you mention. Thanks!

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Apparently, geologists say they are, and everyone else says they aren't, as far as I can tell from this post.

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Got it. I will keep in mind that Pennsylvania is barely included, and probably has a very distinct culture from the rest of the Appalachians.

AW Admin
03-01-2019, 12:15 AM
YouTube; search for not only Pennsylvania and Appalachians (geologists and hikers call them that, no one else) but Poconos and Alleghenies