Lily “Peachie” Batten, nee Morris, may have been young when her family was evicted from Simmons Gap in 1938 to make way for the Shenandoah National Park, but she still remembers it. And she hopes others will too as momentum builds for a new memorial recognizing the families forced off the mountain nearly 80 years ago.
Peachie was born in 1933 to Luther and Loni Morris.
“They were no kin,” she said. “There were two sets of Morrises. If you went back far enough, maybe.”
The house Peachie was born in was a one-story log home with five rooms, a large rock out the front door and no front porch, though it did have a little back one.
“All of those houses were the same there,” Peachie said. “Some of the foundations to the homes are still up there.
“The only thing I can remember about up there—and ain’t that funny—I remember the big rock at the front door,” she said recently at her home in Dyke. “I can remember when they moved us to the resettlement near Geer, and I guess because I was a kid and it was new, there were many different rooms. That’s the one thing I can remember is going through the rooms from room to room to room.”
Peachie said she never heard her parents say anything really negative about the park.
“Now a lot of people bad-mouth it,” she said. “But I have to say that I never heard my daddy and them really bad-mouth it, except to say they couldn’t understand why they have to have that park to build Skyline Drive, really.”
Life on the Mountain
“The government said they couldn’t make a living in the mountain land, but they raised their own corn patches and gardens, and they canned… and I still can to this day. I learned from mama canning,” Peachie said. “Even when they moved down here she canned. You canned what you could because the only thing they could do is either can it or put it in the salt and the kids laugh at me.”
In the first part of the 20th century Episcopal minister Frederick Neve, who was born in England, visited the Blue Ridge Mountains and designed a network of missions to help educate those who lived in the remote areas of the county. At one time there were 20 mission schools and 10 were located in Greene County, according to the book “Greene County, Virginia: A Brief History.” All the schools closed except Blue Ridge School off Bacon Hollow Road.
St. Anne’s Preventorium, now Faith Mission Home in Greene County, was the first built. Peachie worked there after she graduated high school.
Her father, one of 21 in his family, couldn’t read or write.
“There were three sets of twins, they say. Of those 21 children three of them were girls,” Peachie said.
Loni had a little bit of education from the Episcopal missionaries who taught in the mountains.
“My mother was born in 1895 on that mountain. The only schooling she ever got was at Simmons Gap,” she said. “The missionaries would come up in these mountains and live with the people. One of them lived up there with my aunt; in fact she was the last mission worker who ever taught on the mountain. She lived with my aunt until her husband built her a house up there.”
Peachie noted her mother “never knew what it was in Charlottesville, there was no way of getting there, if they needed a doctor they waited for the doctor to come on the horse through these mountains and they went to Elkton.”
While the homes were remote in the mountains, her family had their own milk cow, hogs and chickens they used for meat and eggs. They ate “all kinds of wild game” and “they had their garden patches,” she said.
“I can remember, even after we moved down to the lowlands, the brothers and sisters trapping. They would get minks and they would skin them and put the pelts up and take them to Orange to sell them.
“Everybody says ‘Oh, I couldn’t eat that, I couldn’t eat that’ [but] when you living in the mountains and you ain’t got nothing else you’re going to eat that,” she continued. “Somebody asked me one time, a long while ago, where did we get our beef from. Beef? The only beef we had was a milk cow. We weren’t about to kill that.”
There was no electricity on the mountain, including refrigerators.
“There was a man who would come around once a week with big blocks of ice. Otherwise there was a spring box at the springs and that’s where your milk and everything was kept. It stayed cool from the water running from the springs,” she said.
While the family had a horse, it was mainly to work the garden patch, she noted. If they needed to haul something to sell in Elkton, or to bring back from the store—such as sugar for moonshine—they would connect a slide to a mule and move it that way.
“They weren’t satisfied moving us once,” Peachie said. “They moved us a second time. Nobody could tell us why.”
First, they moved the Morrises to the resettlement near Rosebrook. Then they moved the family out to where Amicus Road and Route 33 meet in Quinque.
“The first school I can remember going to was there,” Peachie said. “It was a one-room school that everyone went to at that time.”
In Dyke, she attended the Dyke School until seventh grade before going to William Monroe High School for eighth, ninth, tenth and eleventh grades. Peachie graduated from Monroe in 1952. The Dyke school is still standing, though it was made into two apartments.
“In ’52, the year I graduated, was the first time they ever put electricity in a house for us,” Peachie said.
After she started working at the St. Anne’s Preventorium, Peachie bought a little place for her parents on Bacon Hollow Road, where they remained until they died, her father in 1963 and her mother in 1969.
Her parents did miss living on the mountain.
“That was one thing that my daddy, which back then they called it hardening of the arteries but now it’s Alzheimer’s, we know what it is, my daddy got that,” Peachie said. “And he would beg to go back home. Mama would get someone to take him back on the mountain but it’s just not the same. When they moved them off the mountain, a lot of them went to Maryland, a lot of them went to West Virginia, a lot of them went to Pennsylvania to find jobs. You have to live so you just made do the best you can.”
In 1957, Peachie married Herbert Batten, who lived in Albemarle County.
“His family wasn’t rich, but he worked with all those rich horse people down there and they’d say, ‘you mean you married someone from Greene County?’” she said. “Oh, that used to make me so mad.”
She started working at Blue Ridge School in 1972.
“I always tell the kids, never be ashamed of where you’re from or how you were raised. Never be ashamed of where you’re from. If they say you’re poor you may be poor, but at least you have food on your table, clothes on your back and a shelter over your head. I don’t feel you’re poor then.”
Greene Then and Now
“Anybody living back then and who came back here wouldn’t even know it’s Greene County now,” Peachie said. “The way it’s grown up.”
“It was all farmland on 33 coming out in Ruckersville,” she said. “There was a garage on one corner, that’s gone now. Where the antique place is it was a store. There was nothing else except that garage and that store. There was a filling station at the corner across the street. The man had a house there behind the filling station where he lived.”
Quinque had a store back then, she said, and “Old Dyke Store has been here as long as I can remember, as they say a coon’s age.”
Peachie recalls walking house to house along the roads through Greene County. She lives off Dyke Road now and said she can’t imagine having children walking the curvy two-lane road now.
“You could run from house to house and you were not afraid. The houses were never that close back then. People fly on this road now believe you me,” she said. “Nowadays you’re scared to let the young kids down on the road like that.”
In fact, while living near Evergreen Church in Dyke, Peachie and friends would walk up Bacon Hollow Mountain to the overlook on Skyline Drive.
“I’ve always gone back up on this mountain,” Peachie said. “I’ve walked that mountain so many times. I’d love to go back, I really would just to go back and live for a while.
Peachie spoke to the Greene County Board of Supervisors in mid-June requesting support for the Blue Ridge Heritage Project’s memorial to be built in Stanardsville.
“The first thought that came to me [for location] is where we were moved to, but some were moved onto 33, a lot were moved in Shifflett Hollow, but the first place that hit my mind is the old resettlement,” she said. “But I think that Stanardsville will be the ideal place.”
The current plans calls for the stone chimney that will hold the plaque of the surnames of those moved off the mountains in Greene County. There will be two educational kiosks on either side. The favored site is next to the county administration building off Celt Road in town. The second preferred site is near Blue Ridge Pottery off Route 33 on the way to the park.
“Schools are right there, [Stanardsville]’s the only city we have,” Peachie said. “That is Greene County. I hope and pray we can get the memorial built there, so people can come and see that it did happen. We did at one time live up there.”
Peachie said she hopes everybody in the community will support it.
“I think it will be good for the county, not just for us, that somebody else knows that the families did come off the mountains,” she said. “Oh, I think that it’s going to be brought to light that people could have survived there and that it is recognized and they celebrate Skyline Drive, they celebrate the park, let them know that people did sacrifice their homes, really.”
Peachie has heard from numerous people throughout her life that there is no way the government could have done that to the homeowners in the eight counties that were used to make Shenandoah National Park.
She laughs when she’s told that, but she said she knows it’s hasn’t really been talked about in history classes, especially the why it happened.
“That’s the only thing I ever heard my daddy say. My mother didn’t bad-mouth it or anything. They used to say they didn’t understand why the government did like they did and didn’t supply nothing or furnish nothing to anybody. When they moved them off that was it,” Peachie said. “What aggravated me was they called us displaced people. Discarded people is what we was. I love the park and to drive Skyline Drive, it’s beautiful; I don’t love how it got here.”
The Greene County Historical Society will accept donations for the memorial. Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to GCHS Memorial, PO Box 185Stanardsville22973 with checks made payable to Greene County Memorial Project.