Voices of Chatham: A Rural North Carolina Community’s Determination to Cope with Inevitable Change

“We have to understand that everything has to grow and has to change. Anything that doesn’t change is stagnant, and you will die from your own stagnation.”

Robert Alston, Chatham County Native

Like so much of North Carolina, Chatham County’s rural landscape is changing rapidly with the influx of new industry and a close proximity to Research Triangle Park. Long time Chatham residents express an array of opinions regarding these changes. Some show excitement about the development, noting that the growth will bring long overdue services to the area, like widespread internet access or more variety at grocery stores. Others demonstrate concern about the destruction of Chatham’s rural character: “It’s hard to get used to the fact that, well, this road used to not have so much traffic on it. You go to the intersection and used to, there was nobody in sight, and now you wait for the traffic crowds. We’ve had so much more congestion added to our roads. That is the one noticeable thing right now,” says Barbara Pugh, lifelong resident and member of the Chatham Historical Association.

Since 2019, The Voices of Chatham Project has been determined to preserve the stories of Chatham County before it undergoes massive change. At its root, the project is designed to document the linguistic influence of growth and development in Chatham County in real time. To do this, Voices of Chatham researchers collect audio recordings from long-time residents of the County. Fortunately, the topics of these interviews have little impact on the linguistic information extracted from them, so interviewees are encouraged to discuss their lives, memories, and experiences as residents of the County, giving researchers a plethora of informative stories about past and present Chatham.

As a result of collecting nearly 100 unique interviews, Voices of Chatham researchers are developing an online oral history exhibit, an in depth virtual tour of Chatham County, and a documentary film highlighting the views of local residents. In keeping with the mission of the Language & Life Project, Voices of Chatham hopes to thank the community for its participation in the project by offering in depth materials that highlight the beauty and culture of the community.

You can learn more about the project and listen to recordings of participants here, and you can view the online Chatham integration tour here.

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