An entire week of Shenandoah National Park! Have you set a date to visit yet??
Part of my family comes from Shenandoah. They called that land home before it was a park. They worked the land, built schoolhouses and homes. The very place my ancestors shed sweat, tears, gave birth and lost lives is such a huge part of history. To visit the park honestly feels like home.
I am glad that the park is now a protected piece of land that I can go back to, time and again, and enjoy. I wish they had left the homes alone so I could visit more than what remains of the foundation.
I know that the how and why of Shenandoah National Park is lectured on, written about and taught near and far but I also know that this is laregly the governments version. I don’t think everything they teach is inaccurate but I know that the journey between discovery and making it a park was a long and twisted one. It is taught that the people who made their home on the mountain and in the valley were uneducated, poor and lived in shacks. In reality they had schoolhouses and built regular homes (such as they were back then, like old farmhouses) and they worked the land and had medicine men/women. The well-groomed city folk showed up and started a fund to remove the poor heathens from the land and bring them into the city so they could become, well, “civilized”. Government housing was set-up and the people who agreed to move were offered to buy the homes with no down payment. My ancestors lived in the housing and attempted to purchase the home as others in that situation were doing only to have the company who built the homes give them eviction notices and come to take them apart and move them across the country for another development (the story goes that these homes were uprooted and taken all the way to California where they would make more money from them). So they were uprooted twice, and though the government would pay a little to each family who moved from the mountains the families were never re-reimbursed for what they paid or put into the homes that they were moved into and then taken away.
A few companies tried to make money off the mountain, employing many of the people who had become displaced because they had no where else to work or didn’t have the necessary skills. My great-great-grandfather and his son, my great-grandfather, worked together on this project after being moved out. Initially my great-great grandfather took a job in the mines in West Virginia as it was the only work he could find. He was only able to go home to visit his wife and children once a month for a weekend. When he was offered an opportunity to work closer to home he took it with the stipulation that his son would be employeed as bookkeeper, and the company agreed. After putting in all the work to make this happen and funding as much of the effort as they could the companies eventually went bankrupt. At that point the Government took over the project, retaining most of the employees. The homes and schoolhouses were demolished and it is popular opinion of those who came from the mountain that it was to cover up any homes that weren’t shacks and so no one would know of the schoolhouses that taught the children from the area. Of course it could be so squatters couldn’t find themselves a little piece of land on what would become a National Park. There are also stories of a few people who were allowed to remain in their homes until they passed away. I wonder if those homes are still standing.
This turned out to be a much longer post than I set out to write, and I know that almost none of what I have shared can be backed up but this is the story I know. My family is not bitter about what happened, this is just the way it is.
There is much history surrounding this beautiful place and I hope you will take the time to check it out, and as I have read more and more about it it seems people are dispelling some of the myths surrounding the mountain people of that time.
The only remaining place in Shenandoah National Park that belongs to my family is the Dean Cemetery. Descendants may be buried in the lot until there is no more room and the family must maintain it otherwise it will become property of the park. There is only one other active cemetery within the park, Tanner’s ridge Cemetery. The park says they will maintain cemeteries once they revert to their ownership, however based on the many other cemeteries that have been taken over by Nature I don’t think that will be the case.