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Dedication set for chimney honoring families displaced by park

FRONT ROYAL – The local families who were displaced by the creation of Shenandoah National Park will be honored Saturday with the dedication of a 9-foot-tall memorial brick chimney.

In the 1920s, the properties of 500 families in eight counties – Warren, Green, Albemarle, Augusta, Madison, Rappahannock, Page and Rockingham – were condemned and the owners removed from their land in what is now the Shenandoah National Park.

The chimney was selected by the Blue Ridge Heritage Society — a nonprofit organization aiming to remember the displaced – as a proper commemoration because some of those families’ houses were burned down and all that remains are their chimneys. The chimney will feature a plaque containing the names of 68 local citizens from 30 families who were moved from the park’s land. 

The local chimney at 460 E. Criser Road near the Happy Creek Trail and the Warren County Blue Ridge Heritage Project members will be at the site from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday with the dedication slated for 1 p.m.

Daryl Merchant, Warren County Blue Ridge Heritage Committee Project president, invited citizens to attend, saying the dedication will be a great way to rekindle the memory of the displaced families

The ceremony will include comments by Mayor Hollis Tharpe, Daryl Merchant and Circuit Court Clerk Daryl Funk, who is a descendant of one of the displaced families. The chimney and plaque will then be dedicated to the citizens of Front Royal and Warren County.

Merchant said that each displaced family has a unique story, some of which are positive and some negative.

His paternal great-grandfather H. Edgar Merchant, for example, was relocated from 90 acres near Dickey Ridge to the Fork District, where the state welfare department constructed a house for the family.

However, his maternal grandparents, who lived in Madison County, had split opinions on the matter. Merchant said while his grandfather viewed the resettlement to Flint Hill as positive, his grandmother found being removed from their homeland a disgrace.  

Despite any past negative reactions, Merchant said “time heals a lot of wounds,” and descendants are thankful that the Shenandoah National Park has preserved their heritage. He added that the park had embraced the displaced, and park representatives are scheduled to be in attendance Saturday with displays.

Merchant said he became involved in the project due to frustration with the past narrative that the displaced were considered “primitive people,” “hillbilly” and “less than a normal person because they lived in the mountain.”

“We’ve since discovered that was not true,” he said.

While the chimney is complete and set to be dedicated, Merchant said phase two of construction would see the $9,000 installation of concrete and benches around the chimney. The final $3,000 phase will include information kiosks describing the history of the families. The site is planned to be connected to other counties’ chimneys via a driving tour.

Merchant said Saturday’s dedication would hopefully initiate a tradition of an annual event at the memorial.

Donations for future phases can be made at blueridgeheritageproject.com; through checks made out to Blue Ridge Heritage Project at P.O. Box 1508, Front Royal, 22630; or by calling Merchant at 540-683-6878.

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