This is the second in a series of diaries on Shenandoah National Park. The first was "Moving Water". Today we visit Fox Hollow trail. The trail head is less than 5 miles from the north entrance and the trail is only 1.2 miles long, so it's a perfect trail for an unplanned afternoon jaunt, which is how we found ourselves revisiting it this weekend.
Fox Hollow is so named because the area was once home to the Fox family, one of at least 450 families displaced during the establishment of Shenandoah National Park in the 1930's. Join me over the jump to hear more about their story.
The view from Dickey Ridge Visitor Center, just across Skyline Drive from the Fox Hollow Trail. The family would have been able to stroll to this viewpoint from their homes in just a few minutes.
Planning for Shenandoah National Park began in 1924. Originally planned at 521,000 acres, the park was later reduced by Congress to 160,000 (the current park is just under 200,000 acres). One key obstacle to the creation of the park was the thousands of land-owners and residents from whom property had to be acquired, many of whom did not have proper title to their land.
So in 1928, at the behest of William Carson, Chairman of the Virginia Commission on Conservation and Development, the Virginia State Legislature passed the Public Park Condemnation Act, which allowed the state to exercise the right of eminent domain in the purchase of the land at valuations set by the government.
Some land-owners and residents willingly sold their land to the government; life in the hollows was hard for many families. Others, however, had to be forcibly evicted. One landowner, Robert Via, appealed the condemnation law all the way to the Supreme Court.
The family springbox along Fox Hollow Trail. Located where the creek emerges from underground, the springbox is still filled with water nearly year-round. Unfortunately, acid precipitation has lowered pH in many streams in the park, and the waters from this spring are likely no longer potable.
Thomas and Martha Fox arrived in their hollow in 1856. Four generations lived on this mountain side before great-grandson Lemuel Fox, Jr. and his wife Martha left in 1935. I've found no record of whether the Fox family left willingly or under duress.
In 1976, Lemuel returned to the park and reminisced about life in the hollow:
"About the best thing I like to do, I like to plow corn, up here on the hillside. We used to climb hills, plow it both ways, you know. Plow across it, keep the weeds out. Lord a'mercy, I wish...I wish I could crawl back that young."
"I picked many a cherry off of that tree (the cherry tree that once stood in the corner of the family cemetery) Blackheart Cherries...be plowing corn, and I'd get up there and eat cherries, rest the horse. I'd set up in the tree and eat cherries."
One of several rock piles along the trail. Lemuel Fox, Jr. told park officials these were rocks pulled from the ground as the family plowed cornfields over the generations.
Many considered the relocation of the mountain residents to be a public service. The residents, living without electricity or indoor plumbing and often with little formal education, were considered "backward hillbillies" by those tasked with establishing the park. Miriam Sizer, a teacher hired by the Commonwealth of Virginia to study the mountain people, wrote this in her letter of application:
Descendants of the original settlers, cut off from civilization by environment, neglected by the State - the population of the proposed park area, several thousand in number, represents a static social order. These mountaineers have aptly been called "our contemporary ancestors." They are a modern Robinson Crusoe, without his knowledge of civilization. Steeped in ignorance, wrapped in self-satisfaction and complacency, possessed of little or no ambition, little sense of citizenship, little comprehension of law, or respect for law, these people present a problem that demands and challenges the attention of thinking men and women....
There's more at the link above, but this quote gives a sense of it. Here's another, from the 1933 article Hollow Folk by sociologist Mandel Sherman and journalist Thomas Henry as cited by the National Park Service (I've been unable to locate the original publication):
...families of unlettered folk, of almost pure Anglo-Saxon stock, sheltered in tiny, mud-plastered log cabins and supported by a primitive agriculture...(they had)...no community government, no organized religion, little social organization wider than that of the family and clan, and only traces of organized industry.
The Fox family cemetery. At least 100 cemeteries are documented within the park borders.
The gravestones of Lemuel F. Fox, son of the original Fox settlers in the hollow and grandfather of the Lemuel Fox, Jr. quoted above; and Gertrude Fox, family relationship undocumented. The quality and cost of these headstones belies the picture of the hollow residents as uncivilized hillbillies living in abject poverty.
Recent archeological work also contradicts the traditional images of the former park residents:
Intensive surface collection of 15 sites in the hollows has provided a wealth of information which refutes the caricature of isolated and primitive mountain lifeways.
Blue Ridge residents did, in fact, wear shoes, cured their sore throats not only with cherry tree bark but with patent medicines, were as likely to purchase bonded liquor as homegrown products, ate their meals off of a variety of imported and domestic ceramics, listened to records on the phonograph, slept in fancy brass beds as well as on cheap metal cots, and served beverages in containers ranging from enameled tinware cups to fancy pressed glass pitchers.
Reality, as always, was complex. Some residents were quite poor, lived in modest homes and depended on subsistence farming for their livelihood. Others were much more prosperous, with substantial farm homes, orchards and businesses. Most fell in between these two extremes.
A fence to nowhere stands, 70 years later, as testimony to the pride and hard work of the Fox family. These poignant unplanned memorials can be found along trails throughout the park.
By the late 1930's most families, including the Fox's, had left the park. Only 43 families, given special exceptions by the Park Service, were allowed to remain in their homes the remainder of their lives. The last of these, Annie Lee Bradley Shenk, died at age 92 in 1979.
There are positive stories to be told about the creation of Shenandoah National Park - the efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corp come immediately to mind. I'll present these stories in future diaries. But the loss of land and home by the mountain residents, compensated at Depression-reduced valuations; and especially the disrespect, even contempt, so often shown to them in the process, remain a stain upon the history of one of my favorite places. This diary is dedicated to their memory.
A view from Skyline Drive shows the thickly forested landscape. In 1935, however, more than 1/3 of the land in the present day park was cleared by farming, grazing and logging, and much of the remainder was covered with brush.
Diarist's Note: The families I describe here were not the first to call these hills home. There is evidence of at least seasonal Native American occupation dating back thousands of years. There's no way to clearly identify these earlier residents, but it seems likely they were of Shawnee-Algonquian extraction like so many of the first peoples in the nearby valley. Most had left or been driven from the area by the late 1600's.
These first inhabitants left behind no incidental memorials like the stone fences of the Fox family. Instead their legacy is found in place names: Massanuten Mountain, the Allegheny, Opequon and Shawnee rivers. And of course Shenandoah, the name that graces the valley I call home, the river that gives her life, and most recently Shenandoah National Park, the place where I so often seek refuge from the noise of life.
Amberson, Joanne, et al. . Shenandoah National Park Association, 2001.
Gilliam, George H. and William G. Thomas, III. "Shenandoah National Park." . 1999-2001. http://www.vahistory.org/....
. May 12, 2009. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. May 24, 2009. http://www.nps.gov/....