Buckley, Geoffrey L. 1988. The environmental transformation of an Appalachian Valley, 1850-1906. The Geographical Review 88 (2/April): 175-198.


The main thesis of Buckley, in the article “The environmental transformation of an Appalachian Valley,” is the reason for the dramatical alternation of the physical environment of the George’s Valley in western Maryland is not the coal industry alone, but also the act of misuse/depletion of forest and water resources were the contributing factors. As suggested from the reports by Clark and Besley (who were accountable for Maryland State Board of Forestry and State Forester respectively), Buckley places forth his evidences that excessive cutting and fires (p. 177) and water pollution (p.177) were the contributing factors for alteration of the physical environment of the George’s Valley.

As a conclusion (p. 193), Buckley mentions:

“To one degree or another, all of western Maryland’s inhabitants were responsible for the environmental transformation of western Maryland. Coal-mine operators routinely released acid mine waters into local streams; slaughterhouses and pulp mills dumped organic wastes; tanneries, breweries, and distilleries poured effluent into the region’s waters; and residents, including those of Cumberland, discarded their domestic and human waste directly into George’s Creek and sundry other streams. All western Marylanders relied on wood. Coal and railroad companies utilized huge quantities of cross ties, and coal companies required large numbers of mine props. Meanwhile, a growing population demanded a steady supply of lumber for construction. Considering the degree to which landowners could do what they wanted to with their land-without regard for any impact on others-the extensive physical alteration of western Maryland’s environment is not surprising (Clawson 1972; Jack- son 1987)”.

In the article he mentions how the “almost virgin territory” converted into “vast fields of ugly stumps” the valley became turned into the choice for wood requirements associated with expanding settlements, local-mining operations, iron-processing operations, and railroad lines (p. 178-182). The removal of enormous amounts of timber affected the land in several ways. Extensive tracts were left vulnerable to forest fires and left topsoil exposed to vulnerable soil erosion which made the surviving trees more susceptible to pest infections (p. 184). 

There were many warnings regarding the seriousness of western Maryland’s environmental problems, especially those relating to deteriorated forests (p. 194) however when it comes to confronting the impacts of the Industrial Revolution, whether the positive effects of economic growth or the negative effects of environmental degradation (p. 178), the state can plan for the lowest possible negative effects while enhancing the Industrial Revolution to its peak.

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