1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Appalachian Mountains

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APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS, the general name given to a vast system of elevations in North America, partly in Canada, but mostly in the United States, extending as a zone, from 100 to 300 m. wide, from Newfoundland, Gaspé Peninsula and New Brunswick, 1500 m. south-westward to central Alabama. The whole system may be divided into three great sections: the Northern, from Newfoundland to the Hudson river; the Central, from the Hudson Valley to that of New river (Great Kanawha), in Virginia and West Virginia; and the Southern, from New river onwards. The northern section includes the Shickshock Mountains and Notre Dame Range in Quebec, scattered elevations in Maine, the White Mountains and the Green Mountains; the central comprises, besides various minor groups, the Valley Ridges between the Front of the Allegheny Plateau and the Great Appalachian Valley, the New York-New Jersey Highlands and a large portion of the Blue Ridge; and the southern consists of the prolongation of the Blue Ridge, the Unaka Range, and the Valley Ridges adjoining the Cumberland Plateau, with some lesser ranges.

The Chief Summits.—The Appalachian belt includes, with the ranges enumerated above, the plateaus sloping southward to the Atlantic Ocean in New England, and south-eastward to the border of the coastal plain through the central and southern Atlantic states; and on the north-west, the Allegheny and Cumberland plateaus declining toward the Great Lakes and the interior plains. A remarkable feature of the belt is the longitudinal chain of broad valleys—the Great Appalachian Valley—which, in the southerly sections divides the mountain system into two subequal portions, but in the northernmost lies west of all the ranges possessing typical Appalachian features, and separates them from the Adirondack group. The mountain system has no axis of dominating altitudes, but in every portion the summits rise to rather uniform heights, and, especially in the central section, the various ridges and intermontane valleys have the same trend as the system itself. None of the summits reaches the region of perpetual snow. Mountains of the Long Range in Newfoundland reach heights of nearly 2000 ft. In the Shickshocks the higher summits rise to about 4000 ft. elevation. In Maine four peaks exceed 3000 ft., including Katahdin (5200 ft.), Mount Washington, in the White Mountains (6293 ft.), Adams (5805), Jefferson (5725), Clay (5554), Monroe (5390), Madison (5380), Lafayette (5269); and a number of summits rise above 4000 ft. In the Green Mountains the highest point, Mansfield, is 4364 ft.; Lincoln (4078), Killington (4241), Camel Hump (4088); and a number of other heights exceed 3000 ft. The Catskills are not properly included in the system. The Blue Ridge, rising in southern Pennsylvania and there known as South Mountain, attains in that state elevations of about 2000 ft.; southward to the Potomac its altitudes diminish, but 30 m. beyond again reach 2000 ft. In the Virginia Blue Ridge the following are the highest peaks east of New river: Mount Weather (about 1850 ft.), Mary’s Rock (3523), Peaks of Otter (4001 and 3875), Stony Man (4031), Hawks Bill (4066). In Pennsylvania the summits of the Valley Ridges rise generally to about 2000 ft., and in Maryland Eagle Rock and Dans Rock are conspicuous points reaching 3162 ft. and 2882 ft. above the sea. On the same side of the Great Valley, south of the Potomac, are the Pinnacle (3007 ft.) and Pidgeon Roost (3400 ft.). In the southern section of the Blue Ridge are Grandfather Mountain (5964 ft.), with three other summits above 5000, and a dozen more above 4000. The Unaka Ranges (including the Black and Smoky Mountains) have eighteen peaks higher than 5000 ft., and eight surpassing 6000 ft. In the Black Mountains, Mitchell (the culminating point of the whole system) attains an altitude of 6711 ft., Balsam Cone, 6645, Black Brothers, 6690, and 6620, and Hallback, 6403. In the Smoky Mountains we have Clingman’s Peak (6611), Guyot (6636), Alexander (6447), Leconte (6612), Curtis (6588), with several others above 6000 and many higher than 5000.

In spite of the existence of the Great Appalachian Valley, the master streams are transverse to the axis of the system. The main watershed follows a tortuous course which crosses the mountainous belt just north of New river in Virginia; south of this the rivers head in the Blue Ridge, cross the higher Unakas, receive important tributaries from the Great Valley, and traversing the Cumberland Plateau in spreading gorges, escape by way of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers to the Ohio and Mississippi, and thus to the Gulf of Mexico; in the central section the rivers, rising in or beyond the Valley Ridges, flow through great gorges (water gaps) to the Great Valley, and by south-easterly courses across the Blue Ridge to tidal estuaries penetrating the coastal plain; in the northern section the water-parting lies on the inland side of the mountainous belt, the main lines of drainage running from north to south.

Geology.—The rocks of the Appalachian belt fall naturally into two divisions; ancient (pre-Cambrian) crystallines, including marbles, schists, gneisses, granites and other massive igneous rocks, and a great succession of Paleozoic sediments. The crystallines are confined to the portion of the belt east of the Great Valley where Paleozoic rocks are always highly metamorphosed and occur for the most part in limited patches, excepting in New England and Canada, where they assume greater areal importance, and are besides very generally intruded by granites. The Paleozoic sediments, ranging in age from Cambrian to Permian, occupy the Great Valley, the Valley Ridges and the plateaus still farther west. They are rarely metamorphosed to the point of recrystallization, though locally shales are altered to roofing slates, sandstones are indurated, limestones slightly marblized, and coals, originally bituminous, are changed to anthracite in northern Pennsylvania, and to graphite in Rhode Island. Igneous intrusions consist only of unimportant dikes of trap. The most striking and uniformly characteristic geologic feature of the mountains is their internal structure, consisting of innumerable parallel, long and narrow folds, always closely appressed in the eastern part of any cross-section (Piedmont Plateau to Great Valley), less so along a central zone (Great Valley and Valley Ridges), and increasingly open on the west (Allegheny and Cumberland Plateaus). Asymmetry of the folds is a marked characteristic in the zones of closer folding, the anticlines having long gently inclined easterly limbs, and short, steep and even overturned limbs upon the west. The effect of such folds is often exaggerated by thrusts, and faulting of this sort is prominent in the southern section, where the existence of over-thrusts measured by several miles has been established.

What may be termed the ancestral Appalachian system was formed during the post-carboniferous revolution, though certain of its elements had been previously outlined, and perhaps at different dates. Folding of the rocks resulted from the operation of great compressive forces acting tangentially to the figure of the earth. Extensive and deep-seated crumpling was necessarily accompanied by vertical uplift throughout the zone affected, but once at least since their birth the mountains have been worn down to a lowland, and the mountains of to-day are the combined product of subsequent uplift of a different sort, and dissection by erosion. Produced by long-continued subaerial decay and erosion, in later Cretaceous times this lowland extended from the Atlantic Ocean well toward the interior of North America; since then the whole continent has been generally elevated, and by successive steps the Appalachian belt has been raised to form a wide but relatively low arch. The crosswise courses of the greater rivers result from the rivers being older than the mountains, which indeed have been produced by circumdenudation. The master streams of the present have inherited their channels from the drainage systems of the Cretaceous lowland, and though raised athwart the courses of the lowland trunk streams the great arch was developed so slowly that these channels could be maintained through pari passu deepening. Former tributaries have given place to others developed with reference to the distribution of more or less easily eroded strata, the present longitudinal valleys being determined by the out-crop of soft shales or soluble limestones, and the parallel ridges upheld by hard sandstones or schists. Parallelism of mountain ridges and intervening valleys is thus attributable to the folding of the rocks, but the origin of the interior structure of the mountains is to be kept distinct from the origin of the mountains as features of topography.

Flora and Fauna.—Much of the region is covered with forest yielding quantities of valuable timber, especially in Canada and northern New England. The most valuable trees for lumber are spruce, white pine, hemlock, cedar, white birch, ash, maple and basswood; all excepting pine and hemlock and poplar in addition are ground into wood pulp for the manufacture of paper. In the central and southern parts of the belt oak and hickory constitute valuable hard woods, and certain varieties of the former furnish quantities of tan bark. The tulip tree produces a good clear lumber known as white wood or poplar, and is also a source of pulp. In the south both white and yellow pine abounds. Many flowering and fruit-bearing shrubs of the heath family add to the beauty of the mountainous districts, rhododendron and kalmia often forming impenetrable thickets. Bears, mountain lions (pumas), wild cats (lynx) and wolves haunt the more remote fastnesses of the mountains; foxes abound; deer are found in many districts and moose in the north.

Influence on History.—For a century the Appalachians were a barrier to the westward expansion of the English colonies; the continuity of the system, the bewildering multiplicity of its succeeding ridges, the tortuous courses and roughness of its transverse passes, a heavy forest and dense undergrowth all conspired to hold the settlers on the seaward-sloping plateaus and coastal plains. Only by way of the Hudson and Mohawk valleys, and round about the southern termination of the system were there easy routes to the interior of the country, and these were long closed by hostile aborigines and jealous French or Spanish colonists. In eastern Pennsylvania the Great Valley was accessible by reason of a broad gateway between the end of South Mountain and the Highlands, and here in the Lebanon Valley settled German Moravians, whose descendants even now retain the peculiar patois known as “Pennsylvania Dutch.” These were late comers to the New World forced to the frontier to find unclaimed lands. With their followers of both German and Scotch-Irish origin, they worked their way southward and soon occupied all of the Virginia Valley and the upper reaches of the Great Valley tributaries of the Tennessee. By 1755 the obstacle to westward expansion had been thus reduced by half; outposts of the English colonists had penetrated the Allegheny and Cumberland plateaus, threatening French monopoly in the transmontane region, and a conflict became inevitable. Making common cause against the French to determine the control of the Ohio valley, the unsuspected strength of the colonists was revealed, and the successful ending of the French and Indian War extended England’s territory to the Mississippi. To this strength the geographic isolation enforced by the Appalachian mountains had been a prime contributor. The confinement of the colonies between an ocean and a mountain wall led to the fullest occupation of the coastal border of the continent, which was possible under existing conditions of agriculture, conducing to a community of purpose, a political and commercial solidarity, which would not otherwise have been developed. As early as 1700 it was possible to ride from Portland, Maine, to southern Virginia, sleeping each night at some considerable village. In contrast to this complete industrial occupation, the French territory was held by a small and very scattered population, its extent and openness adding materially to the difficulties of a disputed tenure. Bearing the brunt of this contest as they did, the colonies were undergoing preparation for the subsequent struggle with the home government. Unsupported by shipping, the American armies fought toward the sea with the mountains at their back protecting them against Indians leagued with the British. The few settlements beyond the Great Valley were free for self-defence because debarred from general participation in the conflict by reason of their position.

See the separate articles on the states, and also the following references:—Topographic maps and Geologic Folios of the United States Geological Survey; Bailey Willis, “The Northern Appalachians,” and C. W. Hayes, “The Southern Appalachians,” both in National Geographic Monographs, vol. i.; and chaps, iii., iv. and v. of Miss E. C. Semple’s American History and its Geographic Conditions (Boston, 1903). (A. C. Sp.)