A chimney that memorializes the Albemarle families who were displaced from their mountain homes to create the Shenandoah National Park was dedicated in splendid autumn weather at a ceremony Nov. 5 that drew 200 people to Patricia Ann Byrom Forest Preserve Park in northwest Albemarle.
The chimney is a project of the Blue Ridge Heritage Project and the ceremony marked the culmination of phase one in the Albemarle chapter’s ambitions. Phase two will be construction of a visitors shelter at the site.
About 50 hands were raised when BRHP Albemarle chapter chair Paul Cantrell asked the crowd who among them was a direct descendent of a name that was on the chimney’s plaque. The farthest had come from Pennsylvania.
An invocation offered by retired Episcopal Church minister David Wayland recalled the missionary efforts in the Blue Ridge under Archbishop Frederick Neve in the early 20th century, which were essentially stopped by the creation of the national park, Wayland said.
The chimney “commemorates the work of the Holy Spirit among our ancestors,” he said, thanking God for “the families we commemorate, their grit and endurance, their faith and courage. They were indeed the salt of the earth and they formed many of us. We form their heritage. . . . Today our hearts are filled with gratitude for the people we remember.”
Cantrell praised the local committee that has worked since March to create the memorial. He mentioned Lisa Custillo as “a voice in the wilderness” calling attention to the lingering wounds of the displaced families.
Keith and Mary Ellen Ford of Blackwells Hollow were also praised for getting a lot of the work done, such as finding a suitable chimney to dismantle and then getting it moved to the park.
“It’s been a great thing to be part of it,” said Keith Ford, “and I want to thank Larry Lamb for getting me involved.”
Albemarle Supervisor Ann Mallek, who served on the project committee, said the memorial and the occasion had “a true home feeling.”
“This is a wonderful day,” said BRHP president Bill Henry of Greene County. The organization is trying to get a memorial chimney in each of the eight counties surrounding the park where families were forced from their homes. The Albemarle chimney is the second to go up. The first, dedicated last year, is in Madison County. Efforts are under way in the other six counties, too. The BRHP also imagines a driving tour around the monuments some day.
“It gives me a great feeling of pride to see all of you here. I’m not a descendent. I’m not from around here. I hiked in the park and saw the signs of the people who were here. As I hiked more, I learned more. I understood why people were angry about what happened to their families. It came to me that we could have a place where the families were honored. We understand history is important. It won’t be around unless we keep it,” Henry said.
“They burned the houses when the families moved out so they would not be used again. Some families watched their homes be burned. I can’t imagine what that felt like,” he said.
Theresa Lamb offered a “descendant’s thoughts.” Her grandparents had been moved off Frazier Mountain, now known as Loft Mountain. “I believe our ancestors truly did sow the truest seed,” she said. “When I touch the memorial, I can feel their blood flowing.”
The crowd joined in singing a chorus of The Hills of Home, accompanied by Pete and Ellen Vigour.
Larry Lamb introduced the builders of the chimney, Darrell and Jackie Whitby of Madison. “Darrell has an artist’s eye,” he said, complimenting the dry-laid stonework. “And they are humble and kind.” He presented them with framed photos of the memorial.
He also thanked Mallek “for jumping in with both feet. We couldn’t have done it without her.”
County trails planner Dan Mahon said the county is honored to be the host of the memorial. He brought a laugh from the crowd when he said, “This park was a gift! We didn’t take it!
“Our parks are a place where we can preserve local identity,” he said.
The crowd loitered over refreshments as the ceremony ended. Families visited and took photographs of the memorial.