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Groundbreaking set for memorial to families displaced by park

Work will soon begin on a memorial to the families who were displaced from their land in the 1920s to make way for the Shenandoah National Park.

The Warren County Blue Ridge Heritage Project will hold a 10 a.m. Saturday groundbreaking for a 9-foot-tall memorial brick chimney off Criser Road on Happy Creek Trail.

Town Manager Joe Waltz noted that while the town is not involved with the project, it did grant an easement for the memorial to be constructed at that location.

Darryl Merchant, Warren County Blue Ridge Heritage Committee Project president, said the chimney is a proper memorial because many of the displaced peoples’ houses were burnt down and all that remains are chimneys.

Included on the chimney will be a bronze plaque containing the surnames of the Warren County citizens who resided in the park, many of whom were forcibly removed with little compensation, Merchant said.

Merchant previously explained that the families were removed when town resident William Carson, working with the Conservation and Development Commission, used blanket condemnation laws to seize the land.

Merchant said the displaced citizens, from whom he descends, are “basically a forgotten part of history.” He said the park is a wonderful place, and the committee is not attempting to impugn its creation. Instead, the chimneys are aiming to honor those families’ sacrifices.

Daryl Funk, Warren County Circuit Court Clerk, also a descendant of a displaced family, agreed that it is important to remember when something beautiful is created it can often affect people negatively and at great cost.

In all, Merchant said, about 550 families were displaced in the eight counties that span the park – Albemarle, Green, Page, Augusta, Rockingham, Rappahannock and Madison – and chimneys similar to Warren County’s will be erected in those localities. 

When all of the chimneys are constructed, he said the nonprofit Blue Ridge Heritage Project plans to arrange a driving tour of all the sites.

He said Warren County’s project would consist of three construction phases, the first being the chimney memorial and plaque, which will cost about $12,000.

Phase two will cost about $10,000 and include the installation of a concrete pad adjacent to the chimney. The third and final phase will cost about $3,000 and include benches, a flagpole and an informational kiosk.

Merchant said the committee hopes to complete the chimney by the Festival of Leaves in October, and so far has raised about $3,500. He said the best way to donate is through a check made out to the Warren Blue Ridge Heritage Project and sent to the heritage project at P.O. Box 1508, Front Royal, 22630. Donations can also be made at www.blueridgeheritageproject.com.

Merchant noted that all donors of $100 or more would be recognized by having their names emblazoned on a plaque to be placed on the informational kiosk.

Construction updates and photos can be found on the committee’s Facebook page titled Front Royal-Warren County Blue Ridge Heritage Project. 

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