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East Tennessee State University Documenting Community Traditions Class


The Vardy community of Hancock County, Tenn., sometimes known as Blackwater, lies in a valley stretching between Powell Mountain in Virginia and Clinch Mountain in Tennessee. Above Vardy lies Newman’s Ridge, an area often associated with Melungeons and Melungeon culture. Vardy was named for Vardemon (sometimes spelled Vardiman) Collins, a Melungeon, who was one of the first settlers in the valley. The population was mostly Melungeon.

The Melungeons are a group of mixed ethnic ancestry, whose origins remain mysterious and not clearly known. They are found primarily in northeastern Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, and southeastern Kentucky. Anthropologists called them “racial islands.” Several surnames are associated with the Melungeons, including Bowlin, Collins, Gibson, Goins, and Mullins. They have been the subject of numerous articles, books, and studies over the years.

In the early 1920s, the Presbyterian Church Board of Missions sent Mary Rankin as a missionary. She also served for several years as a teacher and midwife. In 1928, she was joined by Mr. and Mrs. Chester F. Leonard, who opened the Vardy Community School to educate the local population. Along with providing a traditional education, the school taught practical skills and served as a community gathering place. The Vardy Historical Society has in recent years undertaken to preserve the school building as a museum.

Between January and April 2000, Katie Doman, teaching the “Documenting Community Traditions” course at ETSU, led her students in conducting a survey project of the community and doing oral history interviews with residents. The collection is the compilation of the research she and her students gathered.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Documenting Community Traditions Collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: AppMs-610
Arrangement The collection is arranged in three series, as follows: Series 1, Subject Files, 1890-2001 and undated, Boxes 1-2 and oversized folder 1; Series 2, Photographs, 2000 and undated, Box 3; and Series 3, Audio-Visual Recordings, 2000 and undated, Box 4.