· African American · German · Scottish · Swiss ·
The Potomac Highlands region of West Virginia has a population of approximately 117,000, and encompasses eight counties: Mineral, Hampshire, Tucker, Grant, Hardy, Randolph, Pendleton, and Pocahontas. The larger communities in this region include Elkins in Randolph County and Keyser in Mineral County. Like much of West Virginia, mining industries attracted immigrants from at least 18 different countries into this part of the state in the late nineteenth century. Lumber camps were also important employers in the early history of this region and were responsible for creating diverse, though ephemeral, communities. At one time, for example, there was a vibrant Polish community in Davis, Tucker County. There was a Polish lodge for the Polish National Alliance, and polka bands were common entertainment at community parties. The Polish families in Davis attended St. Veronica Roman Catholic Church. In the past, there were large Italian communities in towns like Davis and Coalton, Randolph County. These communities at one time were very large and active and have now essentially disappeared. Today, Buckhannon and Elkins have culturally rich communities surrounding the colleges in each town. However, there are currently few large ethnic communities in the region. One outstanding pocket of ethnicity in the Potomac Highlands is the thriving Swiss community of Helvetia, Randolph County.
There are approximately 1,600 African American individuals in the Potomac Highlands. In this region, there are a few small rural African American communities. African Americans are an active part of the general population. Currently, there are very few predominantly black churches or community centers in the Potomac Highlands. Small communities have existed throughout the region, though most are now gone, and the churches that once served them are also closed.
There is a small community in Moatstown, Pendleton County. The church provides a common meeting place for the community. The church community has an active gospel choir. Moats Chapel AME in Moatstown and Emmanuel Chapel AME are two black churches in the region.
HC 61 Box 35
Moyers, WV 26813
Throughout the state, approximately 30% of the population claims German ancestry. Although there is no strong contemporary German community in West Virginia, the older German influence is exemplified in the Potomac Highlands where there is a particularly strong German heritage. Here, approximately 54% of the population claims German ancestry. Heirloom skills are especially well-represented in Germany Valley in Pendleton County, where German craft traditions and skills are still practiced by West Virginians of German descent.
No contemporary German community exists in this region, however the skills practiced by numerous elder craftspersons demonstrate traditions passed down from an older German community. Traditional German crafts practiced in this region include coopering, rifle making, stool and chair making, and barn building. Though individuals and families in this region do not strive toward a formal ethnic identity as do others mentioned elsewhere in this report, German descendants in the Potomac Highlands perpetuate many aspects of a valuable heritage.
Lost River Museum
P.O. Box 26
Lost City, WV 26810
The Potomac Highlands are home to numerous people of Scottish ancestry, although there is no distinct Scottish community in the area. Approximately 2,100 individuals have Scottish ancestry, which is consistent with the statewide proportion. Davis & Elkins College in Elkins is a prominent institution in the area which has Scottish and Presbyterian roots.
For over 50 years, the local West Virginia Highlanders pipe and drum group of Davis & Elkins College has been a strong presence in the Elkins community, representing Scottish pipe and drum traditions. The group consists of a color guard and a bagpipe and drum corp. Currently, there are approximately 25 active members. The group practices weekly and performs 20-25 times a year.
311 Scott Ford Rd.
Elkins, WV 26241
Authentic Swiss traditions are well-represented in the Potomac Highlands. At one time, there were three Swiss colonies in Randolph County: Helvetia, Adolph, and Alpina. These were established in the late 1800's. Helvetia, first settled in 1869, is the most isolated, and the community still carries on Swiss traditions brought over by the original settlers, including farming, foodways, music, dance, and festivals.
The rich cultural heritage of the Swiss in Helvetia has been well-documented, and numerous activities throughout the year continue to bring these activities to the public. Swiss foods, furniture, songs, and proverbs are all part of this rich heritage. Fasnacht, a Mardi Gras-like celebration and costume ball, is held the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. A community fair features a parade to commemorate the procession of cows down from the Alps at summer’s end. The Helvetia Folkdancers exemplify Swiss cultural influence in music and dance. Foodways are an important aspect of the traditional lifestyle in Helvetia of which cheese making is one well-known example.
c/o Helvetia Hutte Restaurant
#1 Main Street
Helvetia, WV 26224
HC 76, Box 200
Pickens, WV 26230
HC 76 Box 196
Helvetia, WV 26224
P.O. Box 205
Mill Creek, WV 26280
Swiss Mountain Retreat at Granpa John’s
HC 76, Box 194
Helvetia, WV 26224
D-86941 St. Ottilien
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