How the region’s industrial history continues to shape contemporary life in Appalachia

By Chad J. Reich

Pollutive industries, like manufacturing and energy, continue to drive economies across Appalachia. Air and water quality suffer, landscapes are scarred, and communities are held at the mercy of a boom-and-bust cycle, trending toward bust.

The term “path dependency” refers to a sort of historical inertia resulting from a resistance to change and a desire to stay the course. Existing structures and institutions can constrain the ways we live—economically, politically, culturally, ecologically. In other words: the past matters. Historical choices limit our options today. Contemporary choices limit options tomorrow and into the future.

The following photos, made in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, illustrate the ongoing influence of industrial technologies on Appalachian life. We’re hanging on to an economy driven by extraction, even as we are developing clean methods of meeting needs. This is a visual document of the legacy our ancestors left for us—and what we will leave for others.

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Cheshire, Ohio.

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Willow Island, West Virginia.

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Perry County, Ohio.

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Willow Island, West Virginia.

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Little Hocking, Ohio

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Washington County, Pennsylvania

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Washington County, Pennsylvania.

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Washington, Pennsylvania.

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Marianna, Pennsylvania.

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Washington County, Pennsylvania.

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Athens County, Ohio.

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Belpre, Ohio.

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Marianna, Pennsylvania. ■


This project is part of a collaboration with the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture’s project POWER: Infrastructure in America.

Chad J. Reich is a multimedia journalist and graduate student based out of Athens, Ohio, and Crested Butte, Colorado, who covers environmental and community-level issues, often simultaneously.

Cover Image: Eureka, West Virginia by Chad J. Reich.

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