The Mountain Memories Project

Posted by | November 12, 2014

craig lamPlease welcome guest author Craig Lam. Craig is a 28 year old father of two with a passion for history & genealogy. Craig currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley with family ties into the Blue Ridge mountains that run along the Valley. Craig’s passion for history has fed a desire to make a difference in terms of the preservation of his own history.

 

From a young age I’ve always had a passion for history; in particular, my own. I’ve always wondered, “Where do I come from?” or “Who carried my last name before it was given to me?” That love for my own roots led me to create the Facebook page, Blue Ridge Genealogy in 2012. At first the page took off as a way to rally local family members so that we might have a better outlet for sharing photos and stories. Then a few short months later the page exploded into what it is has become today—a gathering of different faces, names, and backgrounds with the common interest of family ties in the Blue Ridge.

With the growing traffic on Blue Ridge Genealogy it became evident that most of the members had some type of tie into the mountainous regions of Shenandoah National Park. Many of today’s visitors to the park have no idea that the lands within the boundaries of the Park were once privately owned property.

Mrs. Walker Jenkins evicted from her property by authorities while still sitting in her rocking chair. Credit-Neil Mowbray Collection.

Mrs. Walker Jenkins evicted from her property by authorities while still sitting in her rocking chair. Credit-Neil Mowbray Collection.

Those mountains once contained homesteads, farms, mills, stores, and other buildings required for each community. The planning for such a park began in the 1924 and in 1926 President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill to move forward with Shenandoah National Park. In 1928 Virginia passed the Public Park Condemnation Act allowing the government to bypass much of the negotiations with landowners in this region. During the next 10 years many of the residents would leave their land either by force, or voluntarily.

My personal belief has always been that we can’t erase the past and we can’t always fix the wrongs. What we can do, as a society, is never forget what was done to these people in the name of the “common good”. We can’t go back and give the land back to these families but what we can do is record these stories so that future generations may also learn from them. We need to preserve and cherish these stories because one day we may not have the opportunity to talk to these folks one on one. Our aim within the Mountain Memories Project is to individually film every pre-displacement mountain resident that we can locate.

Our current plans are to release 2 individual phases from this project. If everything goes as planned we hope to release the first phase of the project in Fall, 2015. The first phase will include a main film edited from the more interesting points of the interview collection. We also plan on releasing a second phase; a box set of all the interviews together. There will be little editing involved in the box set so that you may be able to view the interviews in their entirety. We now face an aging generation of pre-displacement mountain residents. This generation is slowly leaving us and taking with them the stories of a life lived in the hills and hollows.

Many of the former mountain residents still with us today have to dig back deep into their childhood to tell their story. During a recent interview, I asked Willard Dean (a former resident of the Lydia & Saddleback regions) how his parents felt during the displacement. His response echoed the feelings of many others: “Well they didn’t like it, they didn’t want to go but back then you had to do what the government said to do.” In the end these people had no choice but to pack up everything they owned and move from their home.

Roadside apple vendor in what is now Shenandoah National Park. Credit-Arthur Rothstein Collection

Roadside apple vendor in what is now Shenandoah National Park. Credit-Arthur Rothstein Collection.

 

While this project has always been and always will be about the displaced mountain residents, their culture just naturally seems to take a leading role in the interviews. Whether it be moonshine or apple butter, chestnuts or gardening, their memories always recall a better time and way of life. Some say that this way of life almost separated these self-reliant mountaineers from those who greatly depended on others for their daily goods. While interviewing Irvin Jenkins (a former resident of Tanners Ridge), I asked him about growing up during the Depression. He replied, “We didn’t know it, we had plenty to eat – simple stuff but it was good, ya know? We didn’t know nothing about a depression or nothing. We never heard of the Depression until later.”

Being moved from their homeland would have quite an effect on these residents. Many of them were moved into what were known as “resettlement communities”. These communities weren’t anything like what they had moved from and many residents had a hard time transitioning into this way of life. Many, who gardened, now gave most of it up due to lack of space. Farmers could no longer keep livestock. The gatherers could no long pick berries or anything else the mountains once offered them. When asked about these activities, many former mountain residents have a change of tone in their voice and a certain look on their face. It brings back memories of a life they loved. A life filled with hard work but also with the satisfaction of a self-reliant lifestyle.

In 2013 I began planning a video project to preserve these stories of future generations to enjoy. My aim with the Mountain Memories Project is to film and document as many as possible of the pre-displacement mountain residents (or direct descendants) who are still with us today. I am filming, editing, and producing this entire production with my own hands and on my own time. There are no fancy editing booths, no high end equipment, and no endless budgets. This is a grassroots effort to save what otherwise might one day be forgotten.

Clark Taylor home at Ida Resettlement. Credit-Neil Mowbray Collection

Clark Taylor home at Ida Resettlement. Credit-Neil Mowbray Collection.

 

The Mountain Memories Project officially kicked off in October, 2014. It hasn’t taken long for this project to gain steam in the local communities and we are currently conducting interviews in multiple counties dealing with numerous regions within the Blue Ridge. We have conducted 4 face to face interviews to date with numerous others planned. The stories are all precious but we are looking for more. If you, or someone you know, was directly affected by the Park displacement, please contact me at BlueRidgeRambling@gmail.com.

You may also contact me on my blog: http://blueridgegenealogy.wordpress.com/

The Mountain Memories site: https://www.facebook.com/MountainMemoriesProject

Facebook page, Blue Ridge Genealogy: https://www.facebook.com/groups/292341594158153/

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