Catherine Venable Moore — Writer & Producer

“River Road of Sand” Radio Documentary

In Appalachia, Audio, Black History, Fayette County, Past Projects, West Virginia History on October 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

Here are links to a 3-part series I just wrapped up for West Virginia Public Radio about the history of batteaux in the New River Gorge area, about 20 minutes of listening in all. Transcripts are available at So far I’ve received some really generous, positive feedback on the pieces, but would love to hear some critiques as well!

Part 1: A Survey of the New

Today we hear a story about the man who put the Marshall in Marshall University. Chief Justice John Marshall, that is. Two hundred years ago this September, he, along with a group of elite commissioners and a crew of hard-working boatmen, set off on a river expedition to survey a canal route over the Allegheny Mountains. Their month-long journey took them from Lynchburg, VA, all the way to Kanawha Falls in present day Fayette County, WV. This year, a crew from Virginia retraced that route on a boat they built themselves, called a batteau. Their long, flat-bottomed wooden boat, The Mary Marshall, is similar to those poled by boatmen up and down the waterways of western Virginia during Marshall’s era, and all the way into the 1920s. Before the interstate,  before the railroad, there was the batteau. Producer Catherine Moore has this first installment in a three-part series, called “The River Road of Sand,” about the history of batteaux in West Virginia.

Part 2: Hard Work

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Chief Justice John Marshall’s river expedition to survey a canal route over the Allegheny mountains. The boat that took he and his crew through the wilds of western Virginia was called a batteau—a flat-bottomed wooden boat like a long, skinny barge that could carry lots of cargo. We know that the men who labored to pole Marshall’s batteau up river were black, as were most batteaumen. Yesterday, we heard about a group of Virginians who built a batteau of their own to retrace Marshall’s 1812 journey. In this installment of a 3-part series, “The River Road of Sand,” producer Catherine Moore talks to one Hinton native with a deep and personal interest in the history of batteaux, and in the process learns more about the labor realities that made these boats run.

Part 3: Yee Haw

Sometimes all it takes is an anniversary to remind us of a long-forgotten piece of our history. Sometimes it takes an anniversary, and a crazy idea. In September of 1812, a 57-year-old Chief Justice John Marshall headed into the wilderness of western Virginia to survey a canal over the mountains to the Ohio River. This year, a group of young Virginians under Captain Andrew Shaw retraced Marshall’s journey in a long flatbottomed wooden boat, called a batteau, that they built themselves. In part 3 of our series on the history of batteaux in West Virginia, The River Road of Sand, producer Catherine Moore learns more about what happened after Marshall’s survey but before the New River Gorge became a center for whitewater recreation. Special thanks to Squirrel, a raft guide among raft guides, who saved this piece by having double-AA batteries lowered into the New River in a bucket.

Many thanks to Beth Vorhees, Robin Crawford, Jon Averill, Andrew Shaw, Jay Young, Dave Arnold, Norman Jordan, and the National Parks Service.

  1. Kat! This is amazing. I was just looking at a copy of the atlas (pictured at the top of this blog) in my office today thinking I would give it to you. So cool. Now I will listen to more radio. thanks for all the good work you do!

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