Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Kenneth Fones-Wolf

Committee Co-Chair

Melissa Bingmann

Committee Member

Elizabeth Fones-Wolf

Committee Member

L. Christopher Plein

Committee Member

Paul Salstrom


Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing through the 1970s, thousands of people migrated from America's cities to the countryside to establish communes and independent homesteads on small plots of land. By working the land they hoped to achieve autonomy, self-sufficiency, and closeness with nature. Cheap land, mild climate, beautiful scenery, and folk culture drew many of these predominately young, white, well educated, and affluent migrants to Appalachia. During the earliest years of the back-to-the-land migration suspicion and occasionally conflict surfaced as natives and newcomers navigated different lifestyle preferences and worldviews, for many of the back-to-the-landers, or "alter-natives," had identified with 1960s social movements or the counterculture. Reactions to differences softened somewhat as the in-migrants engaged in mutually supportive relationships with their native neighbors. The alter-natives also formed countercultural sub-communities in the mountains that provided emotional and physical support for what could, at times, be a trying lifestyle.;Many alter-natives eventually became involved with broader community initiatives that addressed economic, educational, and environmental problems. Through various campaigns they forged bonds with like-minded natives, although disputes sometimes occurred as their "cosmopolitan" visions for local development and environmental sensibilities clashed with local procommodity interests. Different notions of the meaning of community and perceptions of sense of place shaped these contests. Both parties wanted to nurture community, but to many natives that meant preserving the traditional social structures and kinship networks that existed prior to the back-to-the-land migration. To many alter-natives community meant preserving the environment in which those exchanges occurred. Sometimes the clashes resulted in "outsider/insider" distinctions but they also brought diverse groups of individuals together.;Scholars who study the back-to-the-land movement have generally overlooked the impulse for community that existed alongside the desire for autonomy. Using Floyd County, Virginia, and Lincoln County, West Virginia, as case studies, this dissertation analyzes the in-migrants' integration into Appalachia and the broad effects they had on the region's social, political, and economic landscape. So the story of Appalachian alter-natives is the story of the search for community, of the push to reclaim---or preserve---interpersonal connections that provided support, grounding, and identity for multigenerational and new residents in rural Appalachia.