That place is Sylva, N.C. It’s a mountain town that over many decades sent hundreds of its sons and daughters out west to the Darrington area to find work and a better life.
Two Western Carolina University history professors have studied that migration. They have visited Darrington, and know families with loved ones in both places.
“The connections are really, really interesting,” said Rob Ferguson, an assistant professor of history at the university in Cullowhee, N.C.
Ferguson has been to the Darrington Bluegrass Festival three times since 2003. There, he interviewed “tar heels” who moved out in the ’50s. “When they talk about home, they’re talking about North Carolina,” he said.
In news coverage of the monster mudslide, Ferguson noticed how often Darrington’s rugged independence was voiced — an attitude that “we take care of our own.”
“We were inspired to do something,” Ferguson said. With his colleague Scott Philyaw, an associate history professor and director of Western Carolina University’s Mountain Heritage Center, Ferguson and one of the musicians organized Friday’s concert. The show and Sylva’s ties to the mudslide area were featured in a recent article in The Sylva Herald.
The name of the concert — “The Circle is Unbroken: A Benefit for Oso, Washington, from Western North Carolina” — suggests strong ties between the distant communities, and also their shared musical traditions. “Will the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord by and by” are lyrics to a hymn that was rewritten by the Carter Family, a traditional folk group.
At the concert in Sylva’s Bridge Park, Mountain Faith will be joined by another bluegrass band, the Boys of Tuckasegee. Scott Norris, a Mountain Faith musician, is a history graduate student at Western Carolina University. Donations will be sent to an Oso mudslide relief fund at Coastal Community Bank.
Music led Ferguson to discover family bonds between Jackson County, N.C., and the Darrington area. His master’s thesis focused partly on the Queen family, an Appalachian mountain music dynasty. “Through researching this family, I found out they had a lot of family in Washington,” he said.
Philyaw, once Ferguson’s professor, has done extensive research on migration from the Sylva area to Skagit County and Darrington. North Carolinians came in waves, and not all were loggers.
“In our Sylva Herald, we routinely have obituaries for people who had gone out there in the 1940s and ’50s,” Philyaw said. Loggers who came in the mid-20th century weren’t the first to leave home.
“The first came from western North Carolina in the 1880s, mainly to the Skagit River valley,” Philyaw said. “One was a merchant from Bryson City.” The name of that North Carolina town is echoed in Darrington, which has a Bryson Road and families with that surname.
Migration before 1900 included dairy farmers and business people. An article in a Sylva newspaper in the early part of the century “was lamenting that our best people were leaving and going to Washington,” Philyaw said.
“Washington had just become a state. There was lots of land available, and this area was in an economic downturn,” he said. And the Northwest’s rain and wooded mountains were much like home. By 1909, Philyaw said, a tar heel picnic was being held in Sedro-Woolley.
By the 1930s, North Carolina logging was in serious decline. “Washington was needing more and more people, and we had more out-of-work loggers,” Philyaw said.
Another wave of migration in the 1940s and ’50s solidified the Darrington-Sylva ties. “Forests around here needed time to regrow, so a lot of loggers ended up going out to Washington,” Ferguson said. During that time, he said, Darrington resident G.W. Clayton wrote a monthly column of Darrington news that was published in The Sylva Herald.
“Darrington was a thriving logging community,” Ferguson said. Clayton would write that Darrington “needs more tar heels. He acted like a booster.”
In Darrington, “hard-working folks were asked to recruit more hard-working folks,” Ferguson said. “They wrote home to their brothers, cousins and friends. You go where you know people.”
Stunned by the mudslide and the loss of so many lives, Ferguson said “it’s really unbelievable.” His fondest memory of the area is from the summer of 2006. “My wife and I sort of fell in love on a road trip out to Darrington. We went to the music festival. And we swam in the river.”
Philyaw said when they began planning the concert, they considered an indoor venue. “We’re in our rainy season,” he said. “But it suddenly hit us — rain isn’t stopping what the people are doing out there. We won’t let it stop us. Now the forecast says the sun is supposed to shine.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
Music in N.C.
“The Circle is Unbroken: A Benefit for Oso, Washington, from Western North Carolina,” a concert in Sylva, N.C., to help people affected by the Oso mudslide, will feature two bands, Mountain Faith and the Boys of Tuckasegee. It’s set for 7-9 p.m. Friday at the Bridge Park Pavilion, 76 Railroad Ave., Sylva, N.C. Donations will be sent to Coastal Community Bank in Darrington. Donate online at: www.coastalbank.com/notice-details.html
Or mail donations to: North Counties Relief Fund, c/o Coastal Community Bank, P.O. Box 90, Darrington, WA 98241
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