Traveling 219 is a web-based multi-media project documenting stories from communities along US Route 219 in West Virginia and Maryland. Following the tradition of the Federal Writers’ Project from the 1930s, Traveling 219 collects stories and helps put more local voices from those communities on the radio, newspapers, and the web.
The impetus behind Traveling 219 first developed in 2008 when the Smithsonian channel aired its documentary, Soul of a People, the story of the Federal Writers’ Project during the Great Depression. The history of that period is poignantly reflective of our own stagnating economy, job loss, and home foreclosures. The Federal Writers Project was launched in 1935, giving modest employment to jobless individuals with literary and writing skills.
Most of the material researched and recorded by the Federal Writers’ Project in the Mountain State was never published, though some of the material was compiled into the 1941 publication, part of the FWP State Guide Series, called West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State. The State Guide Series dug deeply into the real lives of everyday Americans to chronicle the wonders in our own backyards. The FWP included writing from communities that had experienced poverty, economic loss, and hardship, and for the most part, the writers documented these stories thoughtfully and with respect, relying on interviews with local people for most of their material. They explored the uncommon stories of America at a time when our country was searching for its own identity, by looking to the past to help build the future. So it is too with our own “219 Writers’ Project, Documenting Rural America”: We are looking to the past to help build the future.
The information covered by the FWP writers includes a broad number of topics, some of which were found controversial for its time. The archives of the West Virginia Writers’ Project are in the West Virginia and Regional History Collection at the WVU library in Morganton. These files, written on old onion skin paper, represent countless hours worked and miles traveled to chronicle the geography, culture, folklore, and history of West Virginia.
That so much vital material had been written on local history and culture—at such a historic point in America’s history—and that so much of this largely ignored material has never been published, is one of the reasons for the 219 Project. This material deserves not simply to be reprinted, but also to be re-birthed.