Efforts to preserve ancestry and honor sacrifice continue in Madison County, as the Blue Ridge Heritage Project (BRHP) takes steps to establish a memorial to recognize families who were displaced in the creation of Shenandoah National Park [SNP].
According to BRHP advisor and representative for Madison County Jim Lillard, the project took wings approximately two years ago, originating in Greene County.
“[BRHP advisor and representative for Greene County] Bill Henry was thinking of creating one memorial for all eight counties [that were home to families displaced by the creation of SNP],” Lillard said, noting this original concept transcended into a plan to erect eight separate monuments, one in each county—Madison, Greene, Rappahannock, Warren, Augusta, Albemarle, Rockingham and Page—recognizing the names of families who were affected.
“What we are trying to do is develop recognition for those who were displaced from the park,” Henry said, noting many people see a beautiful and preserved SNP, and don’t realize what was there prior. “There is not much in the way of tangible recognition and no appreciation for [the families’] sacrifices. We want to provide that appreciation for those families and their descendants.”
Henry said the project also aims to benefit park visitors.
“We want to give visitors to the park the opportunity to understand there was something there before it became a national park,” he said. “These families lived their lives there, raised families and ran businesses. We want to give [these visitors] the full picture.”
Henry added that currently, there are no monuments depicting the lifestyle of the families who lived in the park.
“There was a lot of misinformation about those families that was given out,” he said. “The government made it look like they were in dire circumstances and that it was doing these families a favor by moving them out. We want to break those stereotypes. We want to show visitors the way the mountains were before the park, adding to their appreciation for the park experience they have today.”
“My mother was 13 years old when she was displaced from the park and remembers it all,” he said. “There was so much misrepresentation of the early days—[portraying] them as poor and ignorant to get them off the land. I try to show the other side of it [via my Mountain Memories project]. Many of the people living there were productive and made decent livings, with nice homes and farms—just living off of the land.”
Both Lillard and Henry stressed that SNP superintendent Jim Northup and the park as a whole have been very supportive and receptive to the BRHP and its goals. Lillard said the project steers away from any negativity toward the park, instead focusing on the positive and the appreciation and recognition.
“The park has actually assigned an employee to assist the BRHP since its inception,” SNP Public Affairs Officer and Land Coordinator Karen Beck-Herzog said. “Our employee is available as a resource to give background information and history on SNP’s creation. We have known about the BRHP and are willing to help.”
“People are still bitter—and that’s fine but the park gets blamed,” Henry said last month at his presentation to the Greene County Board of Supervisors, noting in the past, the park appeared to not want anything to do with the descendants of the displaced families. “Now they have a dual mission—not only to preserve the natural beauty of the park, but also protect and preserve its cultural history. The park is now charged with doing this and Northup has been very supportive of what we are trying to do.”
Lillard and Henry said the end goal for the project involves eight memorials in each county connected with a driving tour. However, none of the memorials will reside within park limits.
“We are not going to be able to ask the park for land or money,” Henry said. “If we did get land then the park is going to manage it. We want this to be a grassroots effort where the people who are going be involved and meant to be honored will be at the steering wheel.”
Henry pushed for counties to form committees to spearhead the fundraising, design and creation of these individual monuments, incorporating as much input from displaced families and descendants as possible.
“We want to have some sort of consistency among the sites, while still being unique to each county,” he said. “There will be some fundraising for the overall project to some degree, but much of the fundraising will be done in the separate counties, through donations, grant writing and local government contributions.”
Lillard said Madison County has raised more than $1,000 toward what he thinks will be a $4,000-$5,000 monument at minimum.
“The memorial is still open to what people want to do, but I’m leaning toward a bronze plaque on a boulder listing all 122 surnames of the families displaced by SNP,” he said, noting he has tried to reach out to as many displaced families and descendants as possible for input, sharing his Mountain Memories presentation. “Location-wise, we are looking at a site near the trail head for Old Rag Mountain, Graves Mill and on the Blue Ridge Turnpike near the Criglersville School.
Lillard gave a presentation on behalf of the BRHP to the Madison County Board of Supervisors last month, who he said was very receptive to the idea.
“We have sent [the board of supervisors] a letter as well, asking that whatever they do [with Criglersville School], to please leave us a spot for a memorial,” he said. “The big thing now, of course, is what they are going to end up doing with Criglersville School.”
Henry said the BHRP plans to have a presence at the Mountain Heritage Event hosted by the Piedmont Environmental Council in Sperryville April 11, as well as at the Mountain Heritage and Antique Festival April 11 and 12 in Stanardsville. For more information on the BRHP, visit its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/BlueRidgeHeritageProject/?ref=br_tf.