I did not set out to write a multi-part series on the Blue Ridge Mountain evictions, but as the original post became longer and longer, I decided to split it into parts, all of which I will post in upcoming days. You can see Part One here.
My Blue Ridge Mountain Home Eviction: Part 2
Other states claim the Blue Ridge, especially North Carolina, but to me they belong to Virginia, and particularly to the Shenandoah Valley, and specifically to that section that lies between Massanutten and the Blue Ridge, the Page Valley. That’s mine. I own not a bit of it, but it is in my blood. More accurately, then, I am it’s.
A view of the Valley’s softly rolling hills, farms dotting the landscape, river glistening like a slow waving sparkler down the Massanutten side, a low sun casting long shadows from its woodlands, that endless green like a carpet of rumpled velvet, and those blue-tinged mountains beyond, brings a tear to my eye for such beauty.
My family came into the Blue Ridge hundreds of years ago, some from the Virginia Colony, some along the Great Wagon Road that carried Scots-Irish and German immigrants to their promised lands from Pennsylvania to Virginia and beyond.
I could write of so many ancestors who lived in those mountains, like my fourth great grandfather, John Dietz; or my third great grandfathers, Johannes Markey, Ellis Turner, and Zachariah McDaniel; or my second great grandfathers, Mitchell Meadows and David Turner. But I’ll follow the trail of Francis Meadows, my fifth great grandfather, who came from Orange County, Virginia and was in the Blue Ridge by 1743, one of the earliest settlers, and built his home on the side of Hightop Mountain, near Swift Run Gap.
Francis was the fifth generation of Meadows’ born in the Colony, the first being Thomas Meador, born in Virginia Colony in 1638. Somewhere along the line the Meadors became the Meadows, and it stuck.
The mountains stuck, too. Francis’s great grandfather owned something like 5,000 acres near the Rappahannock River out on the coastal plains, but I get the impression that Francis came to the Blue Ridge with scant wealth. He owned his property, bought from the original land patent holder, and married a woman who was said to have fought off a bear with a broom. Their family grew up, got married, and stayed in the mountains, as did their children, and their children’s children.
Five generations later, the Meadows were still in the Blue Ridge. It was in their blood, as it is still in mine, though greatly diluted.
It was undoubtedly a hard life, and theirs was a poor family, living on a small farm attached to the side of a mountain. I don’t know why they stayed there. The soil quality was far inferior to the valley below, the weather more extreme, more changeable. Crops didn’t grow well in the rocky soil. Seasons were shorter because of their elevation and the 5.5 degrees that temperatures drop per 1,000 feet in the Blue Ridge. For better or worse, town was several miles away, making it hard to bring in supplies. If they had a cow at all they were lucky, and if their children got a new pair of shoes a year they were fortunate.
Mary Meadows, daughter of Mitchell Meadows and great great granddaughter of Francis Meadows, was born in 1864 in the Blue Ridge, just up from Jollett Hollow, which sits on the eastern edge of the great Valley of Virginia, the Shenandoah. There she grew up, and there she married William Durrett Collier, whose people also came to the mountains early.
They could have left the mountains. After the marriage, Durrett (as he was called) could have grabbed Mary’s hand, looked over to her with a gleam in his eye, said, “Come on,” and run with her down the mountain, through the hollow, along Naked Creek and into Elkton or Shenandoah. They could have found a train to Richmond, or Newport News, or Chicago, or San Francisco.
They could have gone to the booming industrial centers of the North and found factory jobs, or followed the Oklahoma land rush to make a new start out West. They could have left that place forever. People did. But they didn’t. They stayed.
I don’t know why they stayed, if it was for love of the spectacular scenery, love of community with mountain people like them, love of communion with the mountains and forest, or was just all they knew how to do. Or maybe it was that inability to make change that befalls families who must work so hard that they don’t have the time or energy to even think of anything else. They are trapped by hardship into further hardship, an endless cycle that feels hopeless, and so you lose any hope you once had for a better life.
I think that plenty of outsiders believe that’s the case, that to see a family living in a log house chunked with mud, children barefoot, clothes stained, beds of hard pallet, that family must be unhappy. But they would be wrong. Money can indeed buy episodes of happiness, but it can’t buy contentment or belonging.
From all indications, Durrett and Mary kept their hope and kept their humor. They worked hard, played some, brought home the bacon, paid their bills, had their ups and downs, and went about their days like their parents and their grandparents and really, like you and me, a version of the American life, if not the American dream. They raised five girls and a boy, all hard-working but fun-loving youngsters who, my mother quotes her mother, Durrett and Mary’s youngest, as saying, “hoed corn all day and danced all night.”
So there they lived, and there they stayed, five generations into a Blue Ridge dynasty, until one day they walked down from the mountain with all their belongings, chased off by the powers of eminent domain when Franklin Roosevelt wanted to create a national park of the Blue Ridge.
Thanks to Jan Hensley for her photos of the Francis Meadows homestead.
You can read Part Three of My Blue Ridge Mountain Home Eviction here. Or access the whole series here. To make sure you don’t miss any installments, go to the “subscribe” form at the top of this page.