HARRISONBURG — The final step in the first phase of the creation of a place to remember Rockingham County residents forcibly removed from the Blue Ridge Mountains to create Shenandoah National Park is set to be taken Sunday.
Organizers will hold a ceremony at 2 o’clock that afternoon to dedicate the Blue Ridge Heritage Project monument. Rockingham’s will be the sixth of a proposed eight monuments recognizing displaced families, one in each county affected.
Rockingham County’s monument is on the grounds of the Elkton Area Community Center, 20593 Blue and Gold Drive.
Rhonda Cooper, the county’s deputy director of community development who’s worked on the project, said the ceremony will cap the effort to get the monument erected in Rockingham County.
“It’s the grand finale, so to speak,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean the work is done.”
The ceremony, said Cooper, is expected to feature 10 speakers and two musical performances.
Kenneth Shifflet will be one of those speaking. Cooper said he was 5 years old and remembers the day when his family had to leave their mountain home.
“We hope this brings some goodwill feelings,” said Mike Breeden, the Rockingham District 5 supervisor who has ancestors among those forced to leave from the mountains, “to those folks that are being recognized for the sacrifice the families that got moved off the mountain made.”
Shenandoah National Park was established in 1935. To acquire the land to create it, though, hundreds of families in Rockingham, Page, Augusta, Greene, Madison, Albemarle, Rappahannock and Warren counties either sold their property to the state for the project or lost it through condemnation.
Virginia gave the more than 3,000 parcels to the U.S. National Park Service to create the 199,000-acre park.
A sign at the monument lists the Rockingham County families or property owners who gave up their land or had it taken from them. The roll includes more than 230 people, two schools, two churches and a business.
It appears that, in some cases, whole families were uprooted. The sign includes at least 10 people with the last names Baugher, Breeden, Dean, Hensley, Morris, Williams and some version of Shifflett.
The Blue Ridge Heritage Project was established to preserve the legacy of the people who left their homes, by choice or force, so the park could be built.
The multijurisdictional effort uses a chimney, often the only remnant of a house that was burned or demolished after the state acquired them, to signify the upended homes.
Elkton stoneworker Larry Davis built Rockingham’s monument with chimney stones from a home in Beldor Hollow excluded from the park when its size was reduced because of the Great Depression.
A plaque of the county residents who lost their homes will be attached to the chimney.
So far, Page, Greene, Madison, Albemarle and Rappahannock counties have dedicated their monuments. A location for Warren County’s monument has been approved.
More To Be Done
Breeden, chairman of Rockingham’s Blue Ridge Heritage Project committee, has ties to families who lost their homes on both sides of the mountain. A set of his great-grandparents from Rockingham and another set from Greene County were among those displaced.
Though the monument’s dedication completes the most important part of the process, improvements are planned at the site.
Cooper said the overall heritage project group wants to place a sign at each monument to tie them together. The text will be the same from location to location, but each county will have flexibility in how it’s presented.
Plans also are in the works to have benches at the end of the concrete pad at the site.
There’s also been talk of building a pavilion or shelter at the site, said Cooper, but Elkton Town Council would have to approve that because the town owns the land.
The committee, Breeden said, also has discussed adding an electronic classroom-type display to provide information to school groups that visit the monument.
The panel, said Cooper, will continue to raise money and explore grant opportunities.
For more information about the county’s monument and the project, visit www.blueridgeheritageproject.com/rockingham/.