Mountain Folk Want Truth Told About Park Area

Group Plans To Honor Displaced Families

Posted: July 29, 2013

HARRISONBURG — Margaret Lawson used to say that the misconceptions surrounding the “mountain people” who grew up where Shenandoah National Park now lies bothered her more than the manner in which they were stripped of their homes to make way for the attraction. 

That’s according to Jim Lawson, her son and an Elkton resident who’s trying to make sure his mother and ancestors, as well as the rest of the former residents of the park area, are remembered as they really were.

“Most visitors are totally clueless of the original settlers and their true stories,” Lawson said, noting that many of the residents were educated and had four-room stick-built homes, not shacklike log cabins. They had wood stoves and vehicles and could call doctors when needed.

In other words, many of the residents didn’t live terribly differently than people living in Harrisonburg or in other parts of the country, he said.

Park Offers Help

Lawson is part of an organization formed this spring with the goal of creating informational memorials to place near, but outside, Shenandoah National Park.

The park isn’t officially involved in the planning, although staff has offered Lawson assistance, according to park spokeswoman Karen Beck-Herzog.

Park staff members have completed “vast amounts of research on the history of the park,” much of which is featured in an exhibit on the life and times of those who lived on the grounds that became the park. The exhibit can be seen at the Harry F. Byrd, Sr. Visitor Center, Beck-Herzog added.

Eight Memorials Planned

The Blue Ridge Heritage Association is still in the early planning stages of the project.

The group hopes to place eight memorials near the foot of the mountains in the counties surrounding the park, Lawson said. The memorials would contain framed maps of the park area complete with QR codes that, with the swipe of a smartphone, would allow visitors to learn about former residents.

The association has met in Greene County and plans to work on erecting a memorial there first. Other proposed sites include Rockingham, Page, Augusta, Warren, Rappahannock, Madison and Albemarle counties.
Eventually, the association would like to form a separate committee for each of the counties in the plan, although only a Greene County group has been established so far.

 Lawson said the group eventually hopes to link the memorials via a Blue Ridge Heritage Trail.

Emotional Situation’

According to the park’s website, Shenandoah National Park was formed starting in 1926 using more than 3,000 individual tracts of land either bought or condemned by the state. At least 500 families were displaced in the process and many were evicted from their homes against their will.

Lawson’s ancestors were among those displaced families. 

“The fact that a lot of people had to watch their houses …  burned down was a very emotional situation,” he said, adding that many of the former park area residents “went to their graves very upset over this.”

His project’s ultimate goal is to honor those families by telling their real stories.

“All we want to do is to tell the truth,” he said.

For more information, contact Lawson at 298-0582.

Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or

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