The Blue Ridge Heritage Project, a campaign to erect memorial stone chimneys in the eight counties surrounding the Shenandoah National Park to commemorate the sacrifices made by families forced to move from their homes when the park was created, formed an Albemarle chapter at a meeting at Crozet Library March 16.
BRHP founder Bill Henry told the group, “We hope each county’s chimney will be different. We want to keep the history of these families alive and to keep their culture alive.” He gave mountain music, storytelling and basket making as examples of the culture to carry on.
“We don’t want each county to reinvent the process,” Henry said. A memorial has been constructed in Madison County and its dedication last November drew a crowd of 300, including many descendants of the resettled families.
“This is a grassroots project,” said Henry. “People are making it happen and we’re seeing movement on it.” The project has only two requirement of its chapters, he said, one that they build a chimney, and two, that the family names of the displaced be on a plaque on it.
“The memorial should be on this side of the county. It happened here. Displaced people often settled at the foot of the mountain they left. We want it locally driven.”
He pointed out Paul Cantrell of Afton who had agreed to chair the Albemarle chapter.
Three things need to be done, Henry said. First is get a complete list of the names of the displaced families, second is to find a location for the memorial and third to raise money for the plaque. He estimated the project would require a budget of $10,000. The BRHP is a tax-exempt 503(c)(3) organization and will handle money for the local chapter.
“We don’t want the memorial to be just for the descendants, but for the story of the park to be told. It makes people’s enjoyment of the park so much richer. It’s also for visitors. We need to tell the truth unemotionally.”
Cantrell raised the possibility of a shelter being nearby.
“Many families have reunions and it would be nice if it could be a place for that,” Henry agreed. He said SNP Superintendent Jim Northup “is 100 percent behind us.”
Ann Mallek suggested that one of two county parks, Mint Springs Valley Park and Byrom Park north of Crozet, could be sites. Mint Springs has the air crash memorial and two picnic pavilions and would be easy for visitors to find. It also has a ruined cabin chimney still standing beside one of its main trails. “If the families and the committee want it, I think we can find a way to make it happen and overcome obstacles,” Mallek said.
Local historian Phil James volunteered to help with identifying family names.
The chapter formed with Lisa Custalow, Mary and Edgar Keaton (himself a descendant), Norm Addington, David Stoner, Ann Mallek, Larry Lamb, Phil and Sally James and Paul Cantrell volunteering.
If you are interested in joining, email Paul Cantrell at [email protected]