By Catherine C. Brooks
Rural men worked long hours all year to pay for their automobiles, homes and support their families. Few married women worked outside the home in the first third of the twentieth century. But they kept the home fires burning-literally. They fed the stoves and fireplaces with wood and prepared the oil or gas lamps for the next night’s use. They prepared meals from scratch, sewed the family’s clothing and part of the bedding plus canned all vegetables and fruits that could not be stored or dried. Desire to travel farther than the nearby cities grew strong among the country folk when the crops began to grow but harvest remained a ways off. Surely one could take a week away from cultivating for pleasure and rest. They hungered to know about our mountains, early history and new landscapes.
As new settlers had come to Virginia, people pushed farther and farther to the western part of the state. The valleys in the area known as the Blue Ridge provided fertile soil for crops. The Indians spent little time there as they pushed westward. However there were a few sites cleared with arrow heads in the surrounding area, proving they stopped near the Shenandoah River for a time on their journey west.
To build their homes and later railroads, the settlers cut trees in the Blue Ridge-where the mountains climbed 3,000 feet above the base. The area became a patchwork quilt of small farms with tomato factories, dried fruits and many other foodstuffs for the consumers beyond the hills. From 1770 until the War Between the States, farmers prospered in the Blue Ridge. After the war things went downward. The factories sat too far from the railroads to justify continuing operation, and poor living conditions prevailed. Many left for the coal mining towns in West Virginia or moved to the cities to find factory work. Those left behind lived on the land with little income.
In the 1920’s President Coolidge and his associates searched in the eastern states for a suitable area for a Federal Park. The Shenandoah region of the Blue Ridge proved the most enticing. However the federal government did not have funds appropriated for purchasing land for parks. This area belonged to individuals whether they still lived on the land or let it stay unattended. Federal Parks had located in land carved out of public domain in Yellowstone, Yosemite and several other locations. Interested citizens began to donate money and raised $1,250,000 and the Virginia legislature approved $1,000,000 to buy the Shenandoah land. After the purchase became complete and the land deeded to the Federal Government, they donated more than $1,000,000 for construction of the park.. They owned 6,000 square miles of land around Skyland, their first building.
The work continued under President Hoover’s administration. Hoover built a house near a stream where he caught the best trout he had ever eaten. In later years he donated the house and land to the Federal Government as part of the park. Today it is known as Camp Hoover .
Waterfalls ran over rocks as water streamed down the mountain sides in warm weather and birds began to return to the region as trees and underbrush grew back. When you reached the sites suitable for camping, tranquility prevailed.
Hoover felt the desire to build a highway across the mountain ridge so that anyone could enjoy the scenery in the valleys below. He called the highway project the “Skyline Drive.” He gave the inhabitants in the valleys work, starting to clear land for the drive as they worked with axes, saws picks and shovels in the beginning.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in the depth of the Great Depression, he initiated work for the unemployed through WPA, NPA and CCC Camps. The latter composed of older teenagers and young men, who lived in camps near the area they worked. Many who attended school when it was in session left for camp the first of June and returned the first of September. Older young men worked through most of the year except when winter weather prevented them.
President Roosevelt felt the Skyline Drive project was prime work for CCC
Camp boys. They began in 1936 and others brought in heavy road-building
machinery to assist the boys in the construction. The President visited
them from time to time, eating with the boys at Skyland where they camped.
They completed the highway in 1939, having cost less than $50,000 per mile
that today would be over a million dollars per mile. President Roosevelt
dedicated the Shenandoah Project after they completed the Skyline Drive.
He stated the country had preserved beauty and scenery of the hills for
generations to come.
In later years my husband and I made several trips over the Skyline Drive with our family. We enjoyed Lurray and other caverns with the museums that have come about during the past years. The most beautiful trip we took to the Blue Ridge occurred in October 1965. We traveled the Blue Ridge Parkway from North Carolina into Virginia toward Natural Bridge. The leaves appeared layered in golds, oranges, reds and evergreen up the mountain sides. We took Kirby’s mother and daddy with our children for the weekend. I’ve always been glad they had the opportunity to see God’s beautiful creation with us before they were too old to make the trip. We ate the Sunday night smorgasbord at Natural Bridge Hotel where Kirby and I had stayed for the better part of a week several times for our business.
If you travel farther south and west, you will reach the Smokey Mountains which includes the Appalachian Trail. They are another place of beauty and tourists flock to the area. I spent a week in the foothills of the Smokeys when I attended Christian Writer’s Conference in 1976. In July I recommend it as the perfect place to visit.
I prefer hotels or motels. But my daughter and her husband enjoy camping. For years they camped in a tents. But today they have a push-up trailer. One of their favorite campsites is in the Blue Ridge.
Whether you enjoy the beach or the mountains as I do, take time off and relax for a week or longer if possible. You will be able to accomplish more work when you return revived.
© 2001 Catherine C. Brooks. All rights reserved.
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