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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Rail and the Cross in West Virginia Timber Country: Rethinking Religion in the Appalachian Mountains
by Super, Joseph F., Ph.D., West Virginia University, 2014, 417; 3672976
Abstract (Summary)

West Virginia underwent significant changes in the four decades between 1880 and 1920. The Gilded Age and the Progressive Era witnessed political, social, cultural, and economic upheavals as industrialists looked to exploit natural resources and propel the Mountain State into a position of leadership in a modern national economy. Railroads opened up the remote interior counties, paving the way for the oil, coal, and timber industries. The West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway, under the direction of Henry Gassaway Davis, scaled the highest peaks of the Allegheny Mountains. Davis and his business associates quickly took control of the timber and coal reserves in the mountain counties. Local elites allied themselves with larger capitalists, forming partnerships which enabled outsiders to dominate local political and economic life throughout the period.

Religious transformations characterized the period as well. Nation-wide, Protestant missionaries moved into the South, seeking to evangelize, educate, and uplift whites and blacks. Northern churches paid particular attention to the mountain South. However, West Virginia received significantly less money and manpower from national denominations than the other states in Appalachia. State and local religious organizations stepped in and ensured that the rapidly in-creasing population of the state would not go unreached. They used the railroad to their ad-vantage as well.

Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians, the three largest Protestant groups in the country and in West Virginia, led the way. All three already had some presence in the mountains, and denominational networks ensured that these mountain churches had some ties to mainline Christianity. Missionaries working in the most remote regions reinforced traditional doctrine and practice while strengthening denominational ties. Churches attracted people of all social ranks, although Methodists and Baptists offered more opportunities for working class members. While the secular affairs of mountain communities and counties remained firmly in control of industrialists and their local affiliates, the sacred sphere remained open for all.

At the same time, churches across the state joined in increasingly loud calls for moral re-form, particularly for new Sabbath and temperance laws. Thus, Protestant churches across the state reflected a mainline yet conservative doctrinal outlook that emphasized denominational distinctives while championing a unified, broadly Protestant culture for the creation of sought-after Christian America. Industrialists such as Henry Gassaway Davis shared the vision of a Christian America and favored many of the same moral reforms. They worked together with churches to achieve common goals. However, despite the autonomy of the sacred sphere, the secular sphere had become dominant in the Alleghenies, in West Virginia, and in the United States. Thus, when the goals conflicted, as in the case of Sabbath reform, the secular usually won, thus further weakening and isolating the sacred.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Fones-Wolf, Kenneth
Commitee: Donovan, Jane, Fones-Wolf, Elizabeth, Frazier, Krystal, Luskey, Brian
School: West Virginia University
Department: Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
School Location: United States -- West Virginia
Source: DAI-A 76/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religion, Religious history, American history
Keywords: Railroads, Religion, West virginia
Publication Number: 3672976
ISBN: 978-1-321-50559-7
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