Editor’s Note: The following item, written by B.I. Bickers, the Greene County Clerk at the time, appeared in the Thursday, Aug. 26, 1926, edition of the Greene County Record.
Through the courtesy of Hon. Thomas W. Harrison there is on file for public inspection in the clerk’s office of Greene county, and I presume in each county clerk’s office adjacent to the park, a map which was accepted by the commission and the Department of the Interior and adopted by Congress setting forth the boundary lines of the park. So whether they begin on the crest of the mountain or the boundary lines it is no different to the land owners within the park, for the very things that some of the proponents advocate make it more damaging to the land owners within the park area.
That is, the longer they are building the park from center to circumference or vise versa; or in other words, for already the land within the park area has depreciated 40 or 50 per cent as there is no market for the land as no one wishes to buy not knowing what the park people are doing to do; so these people have already been despoiled to that amount.
Why do I say this? Because there are land owners within the area like land owners in the Great Valley and other parts of Virginia who owe money on the lands, secured by trust deed and the beneficiaries in those trusts are calling for their money, not knowing how much further downward this depreciation will go. No one will loan them money, hence the land is being sold under trust sale and only bringing 50 cents on the dollar of its real worth if there was no park talk; and for lack of funds themselves and no one to borrow from, they cannot protect their homes.
And the longer the time is in extending the park or rather condemning and taking these lands over, the further depreciation there will be. If this continues on, as it seems it will, then there is nothing more or less in prospect than a freeze-out for these people.
Whether or not the commissioners and park advocates had this in mind, I am not able to say, but I do know in my dealing for a long time with Virginians they are all times able to take care of themselves and especially when they have the law to back them up, as in this case.
Why, in my county, and I dare say in each county adjacent or within the park area, the court has appointed commissioners to sell certain real estate within the park limits under decree, and these commissioners are staying the hand of the court, trying to protect, as they thought, the interest of all parties. But as one of them said the other day, “I just as well sell snow, for the longer the day the park is in acquiring these lands under the present conditions, the more depreciation there is.”
So anyone can see that these people already have been despoiled when they cannot protect themselves; and since the supreme court which recently handed down an opinion that defendants in condemnation proceedings are barred from trial by jury, these people are bottled up good and proper.
And under these laws passed by our legislators in Virginia, the yellow yound dog that climb over your backyard fence and laps the milk and slops from your jars is better protected than these people.
It is all very nice to sit within the confines of your home enjoying the sunshine and fruits of your labor, but looking across your gateway you can see one of the emissaries of loyal body of Virginians going with quick step up to your neighbor’s home, where he had worked these for many years, that he and his family may enjoy as you are doing, and which they had thought and expected for the remainder of their lives, holding in one hand what he calls a fair consideration, and in the other the law of commendation, saying to the owner, “I have come to off you either of these propositions; take one or the other; but you have got to get out, for we want this land for a playground for money lovers and pleasure seekers.” This is what they call making way for progress.
That reminds me of the kind-hearted judge passing sentence on the prisoner at the bar, “I want to be fair and reasonable with you, but I sentence you to die. Sheriff, take charge of the prisoner.”
And so that is what this commission will say: “We want to be fair and reasonable with you, but sheriff take charge of these 30,000 people and put them out. Make way for progress, for we must have these lands for pleasure seekers; but we are going to make the process slow, the longer we are acquiring these lands the more depreciation there will be; and the more these people suffer the better the terms we can make, and we will eventually get their lands for a song. In other words, we will make them anxious to let us have it and get out.”
To prove this: Prior to the convening of the last legislature the Park association sent its representatives into the counties taking options on the large tracts of land, that is 100 acres and more within the park area. I asked the agent who came into my office to get from me the large tracts, why it was that he did not take the smaller ones also (for there are in my county a great many more small homes under the 100 acres than over that amount).
As I said before, our mountain section is thickly settled with good small homes. “Why,” he said, “we will look after these little fellows in a different way.” He said to these fellows, the government wanted to be fair to the land owners and have the land owners to be fair with the government. Now, he well knew that the government was not buying this land, but the people of Virginia: but the options on the larger tracts were too much for the association; and so they recalled their agents, because the price was too high.
Then they went to the legislature of Virginia and asked for a law of condemnation and the legislators jumped at it like a hungry wolf after a lamb; hence the commissioners of conservation appointed by the governor, and any agreement that is to be made between the land owners is to be made with this commission and not with the United States government; as one critic says, it is plain they are trying to tell these people the government is doing this and not our own people.
They are also talking reasonable consideration and the tenderest care of the constitutional rights of these people; that they will not be despoiled when they know that their lands have already depreciated, and the piece-meal proposition they have in mind will further reduce the value of their land, and yet thy holler out in the tones of thunder, they will not be despoiled. God have mercy on such; for these people are now in the hands of the gods.
But they say this is the greatest innovation and progress Virginia has ever had, and these lands we must and will have for the pleasure seekers, and these 30,000 people must be deprived of their homes that they had prepared for their wives and children to satisfy the money lovers and pleasure seekers.
But let’s turn to another page of Virginia history, and see if this is true that this is the greatest innovation and progress that has come to Virginia.
The great railway systems which traverse the whole state bought millions into the state, employ thousands and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in taxes to the state; the great shipyards, manufactories of all kinds, cotton mills, electric power companies, shoe and tobacco factories, and the coal mines that dip in the bowels of the earth and bring forth millions of tons of coal to keep these factories running and warm the people, all employ thousands of people as employees and pay thousands of dollars annually in taxes to the state and counties; the great highway system that is now going on, spending 12 millions of dollars annually – none of these have despoiled or condemned a single home, but on the other hand have built thousands of homes and made happy people.
But this greatest innovation, this playground, must despoil and take the homes of 30,000 people, which will pay not a dollar in taxes to the state; and if you enter the gateway you will have got to pay. It will cause higher taxes to the people of the counties adjacent to the area.
No sane man wishes to stop the wheels of progress, unless they are clogged with human rights and human liberties, that will deprive women and the little children of their homes. Then, indeed, it would be a heartless creature of circumstances that would not rise and assert his full manhood to protect them.
So let’s watch and pray, for the gates of hell are still open.