The Mountain Laurel
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The Undying Past Of Shenandoah National Park

By Shenandoah Natural History Association

Issue: November, 1989

The human story of Shenandoah National Park, ranging from the life of ancient spear-hunters to the celebration of the Park's 50th anniversary in July 1986, is now available in a 330 page paperback book. It is available at the Park's visitors centers, elsewhere in Virginia counties and throughout the country. Clothbound books are also available.

The new work, resulting from many years of research and interviewing by Darwin Lambert, is entitled "The Undying Past of Shenandoah National Park." It deals authoritatively with the dramatic confrontation of the 1920's and 1930's between Virginia leaders wanting the Park and resisting owners and residents of the private land that the Park, as envisioned by Congress, would require.

Harry F. Byrd, Jr., U.S. Senator 1965-83, wrote the book's foreword. He has been involved with the Park all his life. His father, along with Will Carson of Riverton-Front Royal, George Pollock of Skyland, L. Ferdinand Zerkel of Luray, Col. H.J. Benchoff of Woodstock, and others, was a major influence in establishing the Park. Byrd Jr. said "this book is a definitive history." It celebrates the early explorers, the plantation people who once owned and used the mountain land, the mountain residents, the miners and processors of iron, copper and manganese, the valley cattlemen who owned and used extensive pastures in the Blue Ridge, and the people responsible for the Park's operation.

Byrd said Shenandoah "was the first national park ever to be formed entirely from land that had all been lived on and used by private owners." In narrating that process, the author presents many mountain characters, such as Aaron Nicholson, "King of Free State Hollow"; "Alexander the Great" who owned the largest tract, 24,000 acres at Park purchase time, but was confined in state prison; Isaac Overall who bought and held 28,000 acres of the Park land; and Bob Via who took the case against condemnation of the Park land all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and came close to winning. It tells of two Presidents' crucial contributions to the Park's establishment and development, taking personal action in these mountains.

Appended features of special interest include a list of a hundred cemeteries in the Park with directions on how to hunt for them, the names of all the landowners with acreages and dollar values decided by the courts, and the names of heads of households living in the Park. Officers and directors of organizations promoting the Park are also listed, as are more than two hundred people who helped the author learn the history.

The book has 180 illustrations, photos of mountain residents (six generations of one family are represented), old tintype and glass-plate photos of mountain plantation folk and buildings, pictures of three generations of valley and Blue Ridge cattlemen, drawings of Indian dwellings, tools and activities, photos of nationally known Park experts inspecting this site, old and new maps, and war drawings including one of only two portraits from the life of Stonewall Jackson.

Author Lambert was the first National Park Service employee sworn in when the official Park staff was started at Luray on March 1, 1936. He soon resigned to write and sell the first Park guidebook, "Beautiful Shenandoah." Among his other books are "Herbert Hoover's Hideaway" and "The Earth-Man Story." He and his wife Eileen live in their old log house just outside the park boundary. Both have written for "Reader's Digest" and nationally circulated conservation, travel, and nature magazines.

You may order your paperback copy from the Shenandoah Natural History Association, Route 4, Box 348, Luray, Virginia 22835 for $14.95 plus 4.5% sales tax and $2.50 shipping and handling charges.