Author explores forced relocation of mountain families in ’30s

The Shenandoah National Park is breathtaking with its wide vistas and rolling scenery that comes to life in an instant for the millions of visitors who take in our natural wonder every year. But there’s another side to the story of the park that is overlooked even by locals who probably don’t know how the park came into being. Think at the point of a bayonet.

“The questions resonate still today. Progress – is it good? Was it good to relocate all those people, some who did not want to go, and some who weren’t sure?” said Duane Hahn, the author of Shenandoah Moon, a work of historical fiction that examines the forced relocation of thousands of Blue Ridge Mountains residents in the 1930s to allow for the development of the Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.

Hahn will be at the Waynesboro Public Library Friday at 7 p.m. to sign copies of the book. The event will take place in Room A downstairs and is open to the public.

The work on the book coincided with the work on a play that had Hahn and local authors Elizabeth Massie and Barbara Spilman Lawson teaming up to explore the subject that is so little talked about here locally that Hahn, a Staunton native, didn’t know really anything about the topic when it was suggested to him that the park story would make a good story to tell. “It didn’t excite me, because I thought, Well, I was born in Staunton and have been here my entire life, went to school here, graduated from here, came back here and taught for all those years here, and I thought, it’s just a park. I really didn’t understand or have any idea of the history, because we weren’t taught anything about it in school,” Hahn said.

The times were similar in many respects to what we’re seeing today. The backdrop to the telling in Shenandoah Moon is the Great Depression, which was forcing policymakers in Richmond and Washington to think creatively to try to get the economy moving again. The idea to create a national park in the Blue Ridge had been on the table since the 1920s, and things to that end got a jumpstart with the internal-improvements initiatives of Franklin D. Roosevelt in his New Deal.

Laws were passed in Virginia and in Congress that mandated the forced selling of mountain acreage to the state government for later donation to the federal government to allow for the development of the national park, igniting a controversy that lives to this day among descendants of the families that have to give up their homesteads for pennies on the dollar.

“All of that – is progress good? The park today, hundreds of thousands of people enjoy it. But there are people today who are still very angry about their land being taken. Cemeteries are still up there still. Is progress good, bad? Those questions are still being asked,” Hahn said.

That’s a key point made in Shenandoah Moon – along with personalizing the story by giving the story a human face.

“I think it’s just an awareness thing, an awareness of your own history that you didn’t know about,” Hahn said. “It’s part of my growing up. I played in those mountains and everything, and I didn’t know that at one time they were mostly agricultural. Every now and then being there running around with my brothers and sisters as kids, you’d wonder into some area, and you’d think, How did that flower get here? Way out here? And I never thought about it. But when I did all this research, that’s how that happened. That was somebody’s life here,” Hahn said.

 

– Story by Chris Graham

 


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