Shenandoah sacrifices: Blue Ridge Heritage Project to honor displaced families

A stone chimney is often the only evidence that families once lived in the Shenandoah National Park. Courtesy of Albemarle Blue Ridge Heritage Project A stone chimney is often the only evidence that families once lived in the Shenandoah National Park. Courtesy of Albemarle Blue Ridge Heritage Project

The uninhabited acreage that houses the Shenandoah National Park used to house something more than historic valleys amid the Blue Ridge Mountains: homes with permanent residents. That is, until eminent domain removed those residents more than 70 years ago.

Many years later, these sacrifices have been formally recognized with the creation of the Blue Ridge Heritage Project, a grassroots organization with an initiative to honor those who lost their homes and preserve Virginian ancestry with chimneys, the most obvious evidence of homes that once were in the park.

All of the eight counties bordering the park that had residents booted off their land—Albemarle, Augusta, Greene, Madison, Page, Rappahannock, Rockingham and Warren—are creating chimney monuments that will be different in each county.

The Albemarle chimney will be taller than the Madison monument and will more closely resemble the full size of a typical chimney found in mountain homes. It will be located in Patricia Ann Byrom Forest Preserve, which borders the park.

So far the Albemarle Blue Ridge Heritage Project has raised 20 percent of its $25,000 budget.

Paul Cantrell, Albemarle Steering Committee chair, sees two components of the group’s agenda: development of a monument site in Albemarle County “to honor those from our county who were displaced for the creation of Shenandoah National Park,” and to educate visitors “about the lives and culture of the people who lived in these mountains through living history and cultural presentations, exhibits and demonstrations.”

To make this project a reality, it’s pivotal to identify as many displaced families as possible, fundraise, spread the word and recruit volunteers, he says.

“Eighty years is long enough, in fact too long, for these families to wait to be honored for their sacrifices,” says Cantrell. “We can’t go back in time, but we can do this now.”

The Albemarle plan is to construct a memorial chimney with a plaque, along with an open-air shelter roughly the size of a modest residence once in the area before the creation of the park to house living history and cultural exhibits and events.

The chimney from Zermie and Addie Shiflett’s home in Blackwell’s Hollow will be repurposed for the monument. For safety reasons, the chimney will lack a firebox or flue.

More than 50 families will be recognized on the plaque.

The dedication date has been set for November 5 and will take place in Byrom Park.

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