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Primary and secondary sources about the people and the removals

The Shenandoah National Park Oral History Collection, SdArch SNP, (formerly SC# 4030), consists of 135 interviews of people who were living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia prior to the creation of the Shenandoah National Park. Most of the interviewees resided on land that was claimed by eminent domain by the commonwealth of Virginia and subsequently turned over to the US government in the 1930s. The collection is comprised of 6 Hollinger boxes and 2 1/5 media cabinet drawers of audio, transcripts, and images pertaining to interviews conducted primarily by Dorothy Noble Smith as part of her research for Recollections: The People of the Blue Ridge Remember. Topics discussed by interviewees include mountain folklife, music, food preservation, traditional medicine, agriculture and harvesting, bark peeling, moonshining, chores and family life, and schooling with additional references to the Civilian Conservation Corp, the New Deal, and residents' feelings towards the creation of the Shenandoah National Park.

Good overview with primary source endnotes.

Discussion of the monuments being erected in the counties that were affected by the evictions.

One of many articles published locally in Luray, Virginia about Melanchton Cliser and his property in the Shenandoah. Articles were published all over the country about this incident in 1935. 

Facebook page dedicated to collecting information about the removals.

Descendants of those removed from the Blue Ridge Mountains to make way for the Shenandoah National Park meet to continue family traditions, preserving heritage and culture for future generations with accuracy and love.

In the early 1930s, the Commonwealth of Virginia removed families from their homes in the Blue Ridge Mountains to make way for the new Shenandoah National Park. Graveyards, home foundations, and orchards offer hikers subtle reminders that the land was once called home to thousands of mountain people. This is a brief history of their lives, and displacement, within the current park’s boundaries.

A history of the importance of the chestnut tree in Appalachian commerce and the trees' demise through the blight affected the mountaineers of the SNP.

Shenandoah National Park has had a controversial engagement with depicting the removals. Currently, there is no information on the SNP website. There was a depiction of the people and the removals at the Big Meadows Lodge. Additionally, their archives, which have photos and other artifacts regarding the removals, are difficult to access due to “staffing”. A researcher once sued the SNP through the FOIA because he was denied access. He lost his lawsuit.

Congress authorized the creation of a conservation area in the Shenandoah Valley on May 22, 1926, and that same year the secretary of the interior declared that residents in the region had to leave the new Shenandoah National Park. This essay examines competing perceptions of the relocation of those residents, known as mountain people, in the creation of Shenandoah National Park by comparing the narratives of the Washington Post and the families who were forced to relocate. The editors and writers of the Post characterized the region as isolated, underprivileged, and in need of outside help and federal programs to build habitable homes. However, this discourse reflected trends of modernization within American society at large that differed from mountain people’s vision of their own life; the ideals of “modern” life were reflected in the Post’s discourse about mountain people, who the Post thought represented the antithesis of “modern” life. This narrative of a “modernizing” America versus an “outmoded” mountain way of life serves as important historical context for this conflict. This belief allowed Post writers to tell a narrative that belittled and disregarded the region’s inhabitants as they were removed from the park area. By contrast, relocated mountain people did not think of themselves in that way. Furthermore, despite promises of aid and support, they struggled socially and economically during and after their forced relocation, which proved to be both logistically difficult and emotionally trying for them. Despite these challenges, mountain people were adept at working the land and some learned to navigate and petition the bureaucracy themselves.

Collection of letters by people being evicted, analyzed by academic Katrina Powell.

Newspaper article that contains interviews as well as discussion of the eugenics movement that affected some residents that were being evicted.

This article discusses the multiple rhetoric(s) surrounding the displacement of mountain families in forming the Shenandoah National Park. Past and present representations of that displacement have made for a complex and vexed biography of the landscape of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This project argues that an examination of historical and contemporary representations together will provide further insight into that complexity.

Interview with Richard Knox Robinson, writer and director of the documentary film "Rothstein's First Assignment: a story about documentary truth" recorded May 28, 2011, in Seattle.

StoryCorps in the Valley: Children of Shenandoah

As part of WMRA’s partnership with StoryCorps in the Shenandoah Valley and Central Virginia, we’re sharing a conversation between Lisa Custalow and Bill Henry about the formation of the Children of Shenandoah.

Lisa begins the conversation discussing her family being forced out of the national park.

Overview of the Skyline Drive removals.

When Past is Present: Archaeology of the Displaced in Shenandoah National Park by Audrey J. Horning

The Perdues were the first two academics to look and write about the removals.

An overview as well as links that capture timelines, photos, maps, newspaper accounts, and teaching support.

Sixty years ago they were evicted from the Blue Ridge to make way for Shenandoah National Park. But the refugees haven’t forgotten their lost mountain homes.

Director Richard Robinson retraces Rothstein's steps by interviewing descendants of the mountain people and beautifully weaving them together with a 1964 audio interview of Rothstein, archival newsreel footage, and clips from the specious documentary "Hollow Folk." During the course of his research, Robinson discovered evidence that Rothstein's images were not pure documentation. Instead, they were often staged for the camera. Digging beneath the official story, the film unearths an unsettling link between propaganda and documentary, and raises troubling questions about the photographer's complicity in the displacement of thousands of people for "progress." Robinson's most chilling discovery, though, is the forced institutionalization and sterilization of mountain residents as part of a eugenics program where over 8,000 individuals were sterilized.

From White Hall to Bacon Hollow is an excellent website that captures photos, original song recordings, and history of a small but lively area of the SNP that was visited by famous song catcher George Floss.

Living in Virginia: Iris Still blooms. With the state recovering from the chestnut blight, the stock market crash, and the Great Depression in the early 1930s, it was thought that the creation of a national park would revive the spirit of Virginia. And, of no less importance, it would be a place where Washington's politicians could vacation without having to travel a great distance. As a result, almost 600 families were forced to move from their mountain homes so the Shenandoah National Park could be created. For two centuries these families had inhabited and cultivated the land. Former residents talk about what it was like to leave their mountain homes and how some label it "progress" while others reveal emotions still fresh and stinging.

A through collection of historical information on the removals.
The creation of Shenandoah National Park led to the dispossession of established families, and subsequently created a welfare class. Justification of the removals was based on stereotypes held by outsiders; residents of Shenandoah were portrayed in the media as pioneer squatters and “our eighteenth century counterparts”. The National Park Service has all but wiped out Shenandoah National Park’s human history. The Shenandoah removals remain a sore subject among descendants of the evicted and recent studies have broadened awareness of the selective history the park chooses to present its visitors. Archaeological excavations at homesteads within the park refute notions of Shenandoah families as isolated and backward.

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