The homeplace is the home of the heart for many West Virginians. The term usually does not refer to one’s actual present home, but rather to the place where one grew up or to the original home of one’s extended family. In some cases a relative may still live at the homeplace, while other families work together to keep up the old family home, as a joint family camp or vacation home. Some West Virginians have held onto their homeplace for generations, while other families have lost theirs altogether. But many have such a place, at least in memory, which they cherish as the true home of themselves and their kin.
The use of the term is widespread, but more prevalent in the central and southern counties and perhaps the Eastern Panhandle. It is a term of country people and of country people who have moved away to cities and towns in West Virginia and elsewhere. A yearning for the homeplace helps keep native West Virginians attached to the state, and some retire to the homeplace after spending their working lives out of state.
The term homeplace usually does not refer merely to a house, but rather to the house and its environs, at least the immediate grounds and associated outbuildings. In this sense, the term is similar in meaning to homestead, although it carries more emotional weight. Often a homeplace will comprise an entire farm, perhaps reduced over time from a working spread to a few acres kept for recreation or sentiment.
West Virginians share the word and the idea of the homeplace with other residents of the Appalachian region and the Upper South. The multi-volume Dictionary of American Regional English, a comprehensive survey of American regionalisms, finds ‘‘home place’’ in use as far west as the Missouri Ozarks. The meaning is similar wherever the term is used, although the Dictionary specifies an additional, related meaning: that of the homeplace as one’s place of residence when one also has other properties or places. Thus a farmer might speak of the house and farm where he lives as the homeplace, in contrast to outlying tracts. This is not the sense in which West Virginians commonly use the word.
In 1985, songwriter Kate Long of Charleston wrote ‘‘Who’ll Watch the Homeplace,’’ incorporating the feelings of many West Virginians. Recorded by Laurie Lewis, the song won the 1994 Song of the Year award by the International Bluegrass Music Association.
This Article was written by Ken Sullivan