ED- Are there people you know in the Konnarock area with these Christmas tree plantations?
JG – Yes, we have a little Christmas tree plantation here, too. We planted them ourselves and sold them for several years. They are getting pretty big now, but we’ve got some small ones that are 5 to 6 feet tall and they are still there. Those are frazier firs. They are born and raised in the Whitetop area, and we bought them and planted them, just little sprigs.
ED – Do you think a fair amount of money is made in Konnarock?
JG – Oh, yes. Over there in the Helton area there are some rich people because of the land and the trees that they own. Of course they got froze out, but the government was able to pay them something for the freeze problem.
ED – How did they get the government to do that?
JG – Some of them are on government land. I don’t know just how that come about that they got paid for their trees.
ED – There are some people growing Christmas trees on government land?
Christmas tree farm in adjoining Grayson County, 1987
JG – I think so. I think some of it is owned land or leased land from the government, either leased from the government or other people. There are several landowners. J. Baldwin is one who sells Christmas trees every year. You have to be at least 3,000 feet high before you can start a frazier fir farm so it’s only in the mountains that you can raise these frazier firs.
ED – Can people buy them and grow them elsewhere?
JG – They seem to; some do. I think maybe it’s because they give them special care. People would buy the Christmas trees from us and then planted them and they would grow. They dig them up by the roots. The reason they don’t grow when they are young is because it gets too warm in the wintertime. They begin to bud out too soon and then the buds get killed by frost.
ED – That’s a major change from the ’30s. There was nothing like that in the ’30s.
JG – Except that they lashorned firs.
ED – Back in the ’30s, were there tree plantations at all?
JG – They were just naturally formed.
ED – So people who owned land back in the ’30s wouldn’t have had that option for making money?
JG – I don’t think so. If they sold their land to the lumber
company . . .
ED – Even though you saw mostly stumps when you came in the ’30s, were there still people selling off lumber from their land?
JG – There was new lumber beginning right away from trees that had been planted immediately. They had grown up to pretty good size, but nothing like it is today where there are trees everywhere. Some are of a size that can be turned into lumber but some are not. We have some trees on our place that can be sold for lumbering purposes.
ED – People would not have seen much value in their land back in the ’30s?
JG- Probably not.
ED – Because you couldn’t make much money off of only land, could you?
JG – Well, they would set up small sawmills out in the woods and saw wood and sell it for lumber, sell it for firewood. They would saw rough lumber and people would use that to build barns.
ED – There were some local people making money off their land back then. Were there major landowners back in the ’30s, families that owned most of the land?
JG – I think most of the families had small plots of land.
—excerpt from oral history with John Gable, (b. 1910 Superior, WI, moved to Konnarock, VA 1936)
Interviewed in 1995 by Edward H. Davis, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy, Charlottesville, VA, now in Appalachian Studies collection, Kelly Library, Emory & Henry College; online at http://library.ehc.edu/konnarock.html
Many thanks to Jacob Stump for his assistance on this article.