Why not Skyland?

Posted by | July 2, 2013

She was the only woman to take part in the negotiations that brought about the creation of Shenandoah National Park in 1935.

Addie Nairn Hunter, an accomplished, independent divorcee from Washington, exercised an enormous impact on the direction of George Pollock’s Skyland resort in Stony Mountain, VA from the moment she swept into Pollock’s life. She provided the first solid financial advice, backing and direction that her trumpet-blaring husband had ever seen.

Not long after meeting in 1910, the two married. Pollock’s memoir, Skyland, does not mention her previous marriage, perhaps out of respect for his wife’s privacy, and refers to her only as Addie Nairn. Several of her first husband’s relatives owned lots and cabins at Skyland.

Addie Nairn PollockAddie shared with George a sense of obligation to the land. She once bought 100 old-growth hemlock trees near Skyland, in an area she named the “Limberlost,” after the novel Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter, at $10 a pop to save them from the logger’s ax. The biggest trees may be 350-400 years old.

Addie immediately built the most impressive and imposing of all of the Skyland cabins from the Pollock era, Massanutten Lodge, designed by the noted Washington, DC architect Victor Mindeleff and constructed in 1911.

George Pollock had worked at Glen Echo, originally a summer chautauqua just outside Washington DC, 20 years prior, and had met Victor Mindeleff there. Mindeleff also designed a cabin for himself at Skyland with the telling name of Tryst-of-the-Wind.

In his 1923 Annual Report to the Secretary of the Interior, Stephen T. Mather, Director of the National Park Service, suggested that a national park be established in the eastern United States, possibly in a “typical section” of the Appalachian Mountains.

The following year, Secretary of the Interior Hubert Work acted on Mather’s idea and appointed the Southern Appalachian National Park Committee to study and recommend potential sites for a park. After reading a Washington Star article regarding the committee’s search, Harold Allen, a frequent guest at Skyland, sent the newspaper clipping to Pollock with the words “Why not Skyland?” written on the page.

Massanutten Lodge at SkylandMassanutten Lodge shortly after its completion.

Although Pollock did not respond, Allen remained persistent. When he learned that the committee believed that there were no appropriate sites north of the Smoky Mountains, he obtained a copy of the committee’s site selection questionnaire, and with the help of Pollock and George Judd, completed the form during a visit to Skyland during 1924. He then returned the questionnaire to the committee in Washington.

Pollock subsequently focused his energy on improving the areas in and around Skyland in an effort to boost the appeal of his Blue Ridge location. Pollock was also concerned that government intervention was necessary due to the extensive chestnut blight that decimated the trees at Skyland, resulting in a serious fire hazard.

Unbeknownst to the Skyland boosters, 13 county organizations from around the Shenandoah area had formed Shenandoah Valley, Inc. (SVI), to promote Massanutten Mountain as the site for the new park. However, Pollock and Allen were able to persuade the group to change their allegiance and recommend the Skyland site.

FDR visits CCC camp in Shenandoah National Park, 1933President Roosevelt and visiting dignitaries at Big Meadows Civilian Conservation Corps camp in Shenandoah National Park. August 12, 1933.

With $10,000 from SVI, Pollock built new trails and observation towers, and offered up his resort as a place where organizations promoting the Blue Ridge could entertain–and hopefully impress–key decision makers in the park designation process.

L. Ferdinand Zerkel, an active member of SVI, was able to influence the selection committee, resulting in their recommendation in December 1924 that the “Blue Ridge of Virginia [was] the outstanding and logical place for the establishment of the first new national park in the eastern section of the United States.”

The Shenandoah National Park Association was created in the summer of 1925 to lobby for the passage of park legislation and to raise funds for land acquisition by the Commonwealth of Virginia. Later, in 1927, a plan that would allow Virginia to condemn and purchase land that would then be donated to the United States government for the park was proposed.

Zerkel was chosen to coordinate with local residents and assist in their relocation. This proved to be an exceedingly slow process, with many families not relocated until 1935. It was to Zerkel’s advantage to portray them as squatters, illiterate, immoral and backward to stir up sentiment against them and thereby get complete approval to establish the Park and displace all the hundreds of people who had lived in the area since the early 1800’s.

skiers in Shenandoah National Park 1940Recreational skiers at the new park, 1940.

In December of that year, Virginia turned the land over to the Federal government, and Shenandoah National Park was formally dedicated on July 3, 1936, with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt speaking before a crowd of 5,000 at Big Meadows.

Pollock’s property–as well as others at Skyland– had been condemned by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1930. Pollock was forced to hand the operation of Skyland over to the Virginia Sky-Line Company, Inc., the park’s new concessionaire, in January 1937. However, the Pollocks retained life tenancy and continued to live at Skyland until their deaths, Addie in 1944 and George in 1949.

Sources: www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Counties/Page/NR_Greene_SkylineDriveMPD_xxx-xxxx.pdf

http://wfls.com/News/FLS/2007/102007/10302007/329123/printer_friendly

http://shenandoah.com/stories/?id=1968

www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/shen/massanutten_hfr.pdf

http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~dianesmith/

75 Hikes in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, by Russ Manning, The Mountaineers Books, 2000

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