A monument to families’ sacrifice

Page News and Courier

STANLEY, April 8 — Snippets about family lineage and who might be related to whom floated in and out of conversations on a sunny Saturday at Ed Good Memorial Park. The occasion was the groundbreaking ceremony for the Blue Ridge Heritage Project Chimney Monument.

Local officials and donors from as far away as New York helped celebrate the culmination of a year's worth of meeting, researching and fundraising to help bring to life a vivid reminder of how the state of Virginia's creation of Shenandoah National Park affected Page County families.

John Graves, representing Luray Caverns Corp., said the Caverns "donated to honor those that were removed from the park." Graves said the family has found papers handwritten in 1901 by his great-grandfather, T.C. Northcott, expressing that he "agreed with the park concept but had concerns about the people."

As for the present day, Graves said, "We have a great relationship with the park. My generation supports this project."

Luray council member Jerry Dofflemyer, who worked for the park for many years and whose grandfather had a mountain cabin with a concrete swimming pool, said, "It's important that we never forget."

Indeed, on this clear-blue-sky day, it was all about the stories that are the reason for the chimney monument that will serve as a 21-foot-tall centerpiece of the interpretive display planned for the Stanley park.

"History and stories excite people," said Rose Ann Smythe, chair of the Page County BRHP committee. "It is important to tell the story. But it was a painful story. It was a complicated story," she said in opening remarks to the more than 100 people gathered for the kickoff — most of whom, by a show of hands, were related in some way to displaced families.

"I am confident the attendees enjoyed getting a glimpse into the research scope of our Page project as they were able to see the family boards that our committee has worked so hard on," Smythe said.

Those story boards were the subject of much attention before and after the ceremony, as folks paused to study family photos and point out familiar faces to others.

So that committee members can see the display created by Stacy Montgomery, the BRHP committee will hold its May 2 meeting at the Page County Library. Also on hand for the 6:30 p.m. meeting will be Shenandoah National Park Ranger Claire Comer, who will speak about the complicated history of the park's creation. Comer, who serves as the park's BRHP liaison, spent "10 years of my life developing" the Byrd Visitors Center exhibit about the park's establishment and its impact on families who called the land home.

Since her first ranger-led walk, "Gaps and Hollows," in 1986, Comer said she has taken "hundreds and hundreds" of park visitors down paths exploring the park's beginnings.

"I like to remind people what a gift the park is and what a gift the sacrifice that made the park is," Comer said after the groundbreaking ceremony.

Dedication of the completed monument project is expected to take place in early September.

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