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Looking back at West Virginia’s back-to-landers

Editor’s note: In the mid to late 1970s, people poured into West Virginia seeking a simpler and more meaningful way of life. Called the “back-to-the-land” or “homesteader” movement, upward of 400 people from outside the state moved into Lincoln County alone. Bill Ragette thought he was going to change the world. In 1975, he and his partner, Maggie Hennessy, left a commune in Tivoli, New York, to join one of the biggest back-to-the-land migrations in the nation’s history.

By SUSAN MATTHIS JOHNSON

Charleston Gazette-Mail

Bill and Patti Ragette pose, American Gothic-style, at their Lincoln County home, not far from the homestead Bill first moved to with Maggie Hennessy in the 1970s.
(Gazette-Mail photo by F. Brian Ferguson)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — For many of them, like Ragette and Hennessy, Lincoln County became their new home.

“I was 20,” said Hennessy, whose grandmother, Dorothy Day, founded the Catholic Worker movement in New York City, as well as several communal farms in the region. “I was living and working in Tivoli, not sure what I wanted to do with my life.”

Ragette had learned about the Catholic Worker movement from his college roommate. He decided to work there during a college break.

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