THE TAKING OF VIA MOUNTAIN
By Robert A. Yingst
Copyright 1997 all rights reserved
An eleven-year-old girl named Rosie Via who died in a brush fire in 1901 is buried in a small family cemetery just outside the boundary of the Shenandoah National Park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia
Her brother Robert tried to save her after she got too close to the fire. He carried the scars of these efforts for the rest of his life, and told the story of that awful day to his children and grandchildren, when they asked why his hands looked so knarled and twisted. His love and abiding respect for his father, Christopher Columbus Via, added to the sorrow he felt on April 6, 1901 as he watched his sister die. He knew how much his father loved and doted on her. Five years after Rosie's death, Christopher Columbus Via died, and he too, is buried with Rosie and other members of the Via family on Via Mountain. It fell to Robert to carry on his father's apple growing and brandy business in the Blue Ridge mountains. He was 24 years of age.
Robert Henry Via (Bob Via as he came to be known) was a study in contradictions. At 6'2" and over 200 pounds, he was an imposing figure. This most certianly was an important asset when it came to administering the business which his father had nurtured. Yet, those who remember him speak of his gentleness and warm way with people, offering his Virginia hospitality in rich measure. "Have you had your breakfast yet?", he called out to every single person who walked by his home in the morning. His friendly manner deepened the respect of his business associates and those who worked for him. In bib overalls or a suit, he commanded respect. He was an important asset to the mountain community of Sugar Hollow and the town of Grottoes Virginia where he had set up headquarters for the apple business. With his colleagues in the Mace family and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Mace, he had a lot at stake in the 1920's when a huge park for the Shenandoah Mountains was being promoted throughout Virginia.
As a landowner and businessman, he became more concerned as this talk began to take shape in disturbing ways. Virginia had a new governor, who was anxious to promote the state as an ideal location for industry. Harry Flood Byrd courted industry and was widely praised for doing so. From Byrd's point of view, Virginia was every bit as attractive as New York or any other place in the industrial northeast for the location of new industry. A national park located on land which had always been a barrier between the Atlantic coastal waters and the Shenandoah Valley would draw national attention and would provide a major drawing power to the giants of industry. After all, Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains were as beautiful as any New York had to offer, they just needed to be more accessible. With help from the federal government, a vast park in the Blue Ridge Mountains could be Virginia's greatest advertising opportunity. Approximately 430,000 acres was proposed to be acquired. Projections at the time suggested condemning the land at an average of 6 dollars per acre. Efforts were made to quell notions that villages and people would be displaced or absorbed in order to provide a playground for the stressed bureaucrats of Washington, D.C.
Even though Bob Via lived in the little town of Grottoes, in the Shenandoah valley, north of historic Staunton, his work and the old homeplace where his mother still lived were on Via Mountain just a few miles to the east in the Blue Ridge Mountains. This land located in Albemarle County, Virginia, was a prime target for the proposed park.
VIA PIONEER ROOTS
Amer Via (rhymes with eye) is thought to be the first Via in Virginia. He came to the new country through the Ellis Island of the 17th century, Jamestown, Virginia in the late 1600's. His name was Amer Via and Robert Via was a direct descendant of this French Huguenot who, like others of that time came to the new world to grasp the religious freedom which eluded him in France, where many of his number (over 800,000) were murdered for their faith. Some were tortured in unspeakable ways as they refused to recant the beliefs which the government had determined were blasphemy. Rejection of the divine authority of the papacy could not be tolerated. The French Huguenots as they came to be known, were followers of the teachings of Calvin, and their beliefs had been given broad distribution, enhanced greatly through the widespread circulation of the Bible for the common people. Acceptance of authority saved some who were willing to heed the call of allegiance to France and the Papacy. But for many it was either death or a different country. Would it not be better to give up "some, not all of your beliefs, rather than have your family fatherless?", was the taunt that many heard before their deaths. France lost many of its industrious middle class to systematic purging and a mass exodus. As they left France, some nurtured the dream that one day the French Government would come to its senses, and they would be able to go back home. After the death of Louis the XIV perhaps. It was not to be. Those refugees fortunate enough to come to America brought industriousness and hard work to go along with their zeal and deeply held beliefs in religious and individual freedom.
In the late 1600's Amer Via married and lived near Manikintown, a French Huguenot settlement northwest of what is now Richmond. The early Vias (sometimes Viar or Viare) were mostly farmers in the new world and migrated along the James River north westward toward the Charlottesville area in the 1700's. A third generation descendent of Amer Via, William Via III, served in the war of Revolution and his pension papers indicate that he fought at the siege of Yorktown in 1781. William's brother, Micajah Via purchased land in the area near a pioneer crossing through the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Shenandoah Valley. His son Clifton had a son named Ira Via who was the father of Christopher Columbus Via, Bob Via's father. These roots coupled with growing investment in the land of the Blue Ridge Mountains, created deep attachments to the people and culture some have called the only truly unique American culture. Whatever it was, to Bob Via, it was worth saving.
Today the Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park is a north/south two lane highway which provides dramatic views of Virginia's Shenandoah mountains and valley.
Yet, there are older ribbons of highway which at times are just beneath the surface of the roadbed created in the 1930's by Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corp. These earlier trails tied together the people who lived in these mountains even before the settlement of Jamestown.
Though Skyline Drive reveals great vistas, in an odd way, it seems to hide the treausre of the cultures which inhabited its mountainous terrain for hundreds of years. With effort, evidence of the implements of the hunt and the fight to cultivate the soil, even implements of war can still be found in this area now set aside as a National Park. Ghostly reminders of peoples long since gone from these mountains appear in the form of foundations where homes once stood and forgotten gravestones barely accessible except to the most determined.
But, there is nothing more certain than change, and dynamic change is something which has come to these mountains many times since the first Americans were their custodian. The change which came to these mountains has at times been resisted with courage. It took courage to create a revolution. Resistance to change can also involve highly principled people fighting for cherished beliefs. The Blue Ridge Mountains have witnessed these things.
For example, Stonewall Jackson traversed this mountainous terrain many times as he sought with daring skill to foil the Union Army as it struggled to overpower the Confederacy. Through Brown's Gap, which crosses Skyline Drive at mile marker 83.0, he brought his "foot cavalry" over and over again to surprise and torment the Union Army. He coaxed and pushed his army over the same land that found Thomas Jefferson fleeing for his life less than 100 years before, when his beloved Monticello fell to the lightening raid of Lieutenant Colonel Banestre "Butcher" Tarleton. The Great Seal of Virginia is said to be concealed in a cave near Brown's Gap where it is thought to have been taken after Charlottesville fell to Tarleton. Even though Governor Jefferson was able to escape to Staunton where the Virginia Government could continue in its duties, albeit interrupted by the audaciousness of Tarleton, the embarrassment of this event would haunt Mr. Jefferson for years to come. Accused of cowardice and later cleared, Jefferson owes his escape from capture or worse to a Virginian of French descent, Captain John "Jack" Jouett, Jr., of the 16th Virginia State Regiment who made a daring nighttime horseback ride in the foothills of these mountains. Everyone knows of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, but few are aware of this man who warned Governor Jefferson at 4 a.m. in June of 1781 that the "Butcher" Tarleton was bearing down on Monticello.
A less known struggle over change occurred near Brown's Gap at a place called Via Mountain. Rather than surrender his land to the park which was yet to be, Bob Via took on the State of Virginia and ultimately the United States of America to try to prevent the takeover of Via Mountain. His resistance came in the form of a court challenge which wound up in the United States Supreme Court.
Via Mountain lies just to the southeast of Brown's Gap near mile marker 83.0 of Skyline Drive. One way of access to it is down an old road which is now designated as a fire lane in Shenandoah National Park at mile marker 84.7. This road has pioneer roots. It eventually leads into Sugar Hollow, and follows along a stream which flows out of the mountain eastward to the Moormans River. Most of the time there is only the sound of birds and the movement of an occasional deer to interrupt the soothing sound of the stream that tumbles through the rocks and crevices down the mountain side. The mountain people who once explored and settled these mountains, raising their families and creating a simple productive community, are gone. This spot is only a few miles from Brown's Gap. But the terrain makes the distance seem much farther. When armies of the Revolution and of the Civil War labored through this rocky and colorful landscape they had little time to contemplate its beauty. They struggled through these stones and trees in search of the next field of glory, fighting either for or against change in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Christopher Columbus Via explored these mountain ridges and valleys in the 1800's. He settled in the Blue Ridge mountains with his young wife, Malinda Marshall. She was a sturdy raw boned woman. Her family also owned land along the Moormans River, so it was probably inevitable that they would meet. They fell in love and were married on August 29, 1872. They built their home on what would later be called Via Mountain. A huge apple orchard on the mountain and its valleys and ridges was part of their dream. The fruit and brandy produced in this orchard were sold as far away as England. The orchard along with the gardens planted to grow corn, beans and other staples, more than provided for the needs of their growing family. Malinda would give more than love and 15 children to their endeavor. She would give her skills of orgnization to make their mountain home a mansion. To the many who were family and friends throughout the mountain she was known as aunt Lindy. Her strong attractive face always surrendered a smile to the children. But when it came to feeding an army of hungry people who worked in the orchard, she was all business. Canning, for the winter, keeping fresh goods in the "springhouse", milking cows, directing the daily feeding of 20-40 people, stenciling of barrels and much more were required of aunt Lindy to make this venture a success.
The setting for the Via mountain home lies to the north of the lake which now provides drinking water for the City of Charlottesville, Virginia. It is difficult to imagine that just four miles into the mountains, the source of the Moormans River which feeds this reservoir is a bare trickle. From Skyline Drive, this body of water is easily observed from mile marker 92.0 at Moormans overlook. From the headwaters of the Moormans looking to the southeast is a comforting misty bluish rolling landscape. This view most surely was inspiring to Christopher Columbus Via as he surveyed its beauty and tasted the icy water endlessly flowing out of the mountain. The honeysuckle, moss, chestnut trees and earthy mountain smells mixed together in his mind and would draw him permanently into this frontier. Via decided to build his home near the headwaters of the Moormans river. He knew that his ancestors had migrated from the Jamestown, Virginia, settlement region westward, toward the enticing beauty of the Shenandoah Mountains. He knew that the first American Via had come to this new country so that he could practice the religious beliefs held deeply enough that many of his number in far away France would be tortured and die. Their flight to freedom in the new world helped nourish the new land with ideas and energy. They also brought to bear their independent spirit as they endured the frontier hardships and carved out a unique American culture in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
An ocean away from the guillotine and the rack and other means of torture and death gave new life to those who sought their freedom in this new land. They gave much of themselves to what would become the United States of America.
When Rosie got caught in the brush fire on Via Mountain she was burned so badly that she died before a doctor was able to get help to her. Everyone knew how Christopher Columbus Via loved Rosie. She was a delightful child who seemed to emulate the optimism, cheerfulness, and steadiness of Malinda. She was to him like the sunshine that came softly through the trees in the mornings on the mountain. She was only 11 years old when she died, and most in the family think the impact of her death was so great on Christopher Columbus Via that he "grieved" himself to death. He died five years after her tragic death, at age 56.
Her death was not his fault. Yet he blamed himself for letting her get too close to the fire. He is the one who asked her to bring water and food to her brothers tending the fire. He blamed himself, for starting the fire in the first place, even though an occasional brush fire was a necessary part of managing the land and its resources. Still the apple orchard thrived and grew through the efforts of his children, especially Bob Via. The community in the mountain and the orchard of Albemarle Pippins and other luscious fruit grew and flourished as Bob Via worked to carry on his parents' dream. The dream involved what to some is only dirt farming. But farmers were called by Jefferson the "cultivators of the earth". He referred to them as the country's most valuable citizens. They are the "most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous", he said in a letter to John Jay in 1785. Jefferson praised the farmer for his deep ties to the country which he described as "wedded to its liberty and interests, by the most lasting bonds". Bob Via was a "cultivator of the earth" who did more than anyone else in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountain to commit his resources and energies to the liberty which came from these lasting bonds to the land cultivated by his family.
After Rosie's death, it must have been for Bob Via especially difficult to give up one of his own children to a childhood death. His daughter, Alberta was 2 years old when she died. No one really knew why she could not recover from what seemed like a bad cold. Old Doc Whistler could not prevent the onset of pneumonia which took her life. The death of Alberta was a blow to Bob Via but the family had to survive. At age 28 years Robert Via had other children who counted on him too. His children as well as other descendants of his father relied on him. He would not let them down.
NURTURING THE APPLE
There are several hundred varieties of apples. They all come from the crab apple tree, and as they have developed over the years into the delightful variations which find their way into everything from pies to apple brandy, it has not been by accident. Much is required to cultivate and nurture the apple to produce the prized and valuable commodity that found its way out of Via Mountain.
The apple came to America not long before Amer Via came looking for religious freedom. It was to become not just in America, but in the entire world, probably the most important fruit grown. When Christopher Columbus Via was planting apple trees on Via Mountain, he knew from family history that the English in particular loved the apples. He also knew that they demanded its export to England long before the war of Revolution.
When Christopher Columbus Via was a young man planting apple trees in the mountain, he came to see that the slope of the mountain terrain and the plentiful water supply provided large yields of apples, both in size of the fruit produced and the numbers of bushels obtained.
Today, only seedlings from the original orchard evidence the apple trees planted by Christopher Columbus Via. They look twisted and deformed. Since 1935 much has intervened. The people who lived on the mountain are gone. Some other trees have replaced and crowded out the apple trees which once grew in abundance. Only the fireplace chimney, a portion of the stone foundation of the old homeplace and the foundations of other homes can be seen today. But memories of those who worked the orchard like Mable Shifflet still reveal vivid descriptions of meals at the old "homeplace" when the afternoon sun bathed Via Gap and work took its noontime reprieve. The old homplace was to her, a mansion with hand carved chestnut wood interior and victorian oak banister leading from the spacious living room to the bedrooms on the upper level. A huge kitchen and dining area was the center of much activity remembered still by Robert jr., Lyle, Paul and Kathleen. Bob Via's surviving children. The value of this large home was described in the park's appraisal papers as High. Even by today's standards it was imposing. A nine room two story home with a kitchen dining area 27 x 24 ft. and a living room area 18 x 32 ft focused on its large stone fireplace. The entire home was surrounded by a large wrap around porch which was often a gathering place for family and friends at the end of a work day. From its vantage point on the southeast side of the home could be heard the comforting sound of the Moorman River just to the east at the base of Cedar Mountain.
LEAVING VIA MOUNTAIN
The risks in Virginia seemed to be mounting as the park promotion developed momentum. The political and legal ramifications of all that was going on were thoughtfully considered by Bob Via. He was determined to save Via Mountain. But the long term investment in the orchard was a major concern when at anytime the land was subject to being taken. The orchard was a success providing income for Bob Via and his family as well as others in the mountain community. The park was now more than talk. And nothing in the promotion seemed to be taking into account what was to happen to those who owned homes and businesses in the land to be taken. The natural beauty of the land was being sold. The people who had pioneered the mountain seemed to be of no importance.
So in 1927 Bob Via decided to leave Virginia. He rented a large farm at the foot of the Blue Mountain near Hershey Pennsylvania. He would work this farm for a time while he marshalled his efforts to save the orchard. It was a conflict of major importance which was brewing for him and for his family.
At the time it seemed to him somewhat ironic that 64 years before leaving it was his father-in-law, Grandpap Mace, who left his beloved Virginia at the age of 16 to join a Pennsylvania regiment and fight to preserve the Union in the war between the States. When Bob Via married Lizzy, the story of her father, and his bravery was well known. Bob Via left Virginia to fight a different kind of war. Virginia became a defendant in a lawsuit. A simple farmer, "cultivator of the land" took on the government.
Bob Via loved the mountain. He loved his "ground", and above all his family. For his family, friends and the Albemarle Pippin, he hedged his bet by moving to Pennsylvania. But memories of the dreams that came from old Virginia fired his determination to save Via Mountain from something coming which was in his mind dead wrong. Bob Via would grow and harvest apples for years to come, but the last bite of the Albemarle Pippin was for him bittersweet.
As he worked the Pennsylvania farm while continuing to tend the Virginia orchard, tragedy struck the Via family again. This time it was his youngest daughter Kathleen. She was barely 7 years of age as she carried water to the field for her brother Frank who was mowing hay behind the steady pace of Nan, one of the mules brought on the train from Virginia. The high timothy grass concealed her short frame from Frank's attention, and she like Rosie the aunt she never knew, got too close to danger. A sudden thud as the mower struck her small ankle brought her instantly to the ground. Luckily Frank had steady Nan rather than the more frisky team he preferred to use that day. His call brought her immediately to a stop and he gathered up his little sister in his arms running for the house. Her foot hung, barely, as she bled profusely. Reattaching fingers or limbs was unheard of in 1928 and Kathleen was destined to get by on crutches and later an artificial limb. Her first trip to Virginia with her father on crutches must have been a challenge. Negotiating the rocks and streams in the mountain is a chore at times even without crutches. But Kathleen enjoyed the time with her father and particularly her younger brother Johnnie, as they played together in the trees and mountain streams and visited with aunt Minnie who now lived in the old homeplace on Via Mountain. These visits to the mountain were important to Kathleen. As her father tended the orchard and played with her near the old homeplace she began to understand what it was that he was fighting to preserve.
PREPARING FOR THE CHALLENGE
Thomas Jefferson the philosopher, statesman, architect, considered himself foremost a farmer. He would have understood the private property war which Robert H. Via was about to wage in the courts of the United States of America. The father of the Declaration of Independence and 3rd President of the United States lies buried just 30 miles away from the apple orchards which were nurtured and loved by Bob Via and his father Christopher Columbus Via. Thomas Jefferson would have understood more than anyone the fight for land, for family and for Virginia. Bob Via's distant uncle, was one of those farmers who fought in the American Revolution for the principles of Jefferson and others we call our founding fathers. The Constitution of the United States of America which grew out of this war of Revolution was to be part of the ammunition for his civilized war with Virginia and the Congress of the United States. The Constitution was supposed to make the seizure of private property impossible unless public necessity demanded it: and then only after due process and "just compensation" were provided to the landowner. But there was a powerful public relations effort at work which caused Bob Via to fear that what was coming to the mountain would make people and the culture of the mountain expendible. The United States Congress had not yet created a national park in Virginia. It was only talk, but Virginia was selling bonds and enlisting support for buying up private land on the mere talk that the federal government might designate portions of the state a national park. Condemning private property on what might be made a law seemed basically unfair. Bob Via thought it was. He was convinced that the approach being used violated the Constitution. He wondered what would happen if Virginia took the land and the law creating a park was never adopted by Congress. Surely the founding fathers could not have intended such an unfair use of power against the private property owner.
SELLING THE IDEA OF A PARK
George Freeman Pollock is said to have been more instrumental in the creation of Shenandoah Park than anyone else. His view of the people who lived in the mountain was more than paternalistic. It was condescending, and to some it was an effort at annihilation of a people and a culture. Eradication of the people seemed to be necessary to make a pristine park and playground for the high society types with whom Pollock loved to associate. Consequently for him, it was necessary to describe the mountain people as more than backward. In films he used to promote the park, he depicted the mountain people as malnourished. They were photographed wearing "hillbilly" attire. He preferred to show them as quaint and backward. It was not his only misrepresentation. He suggested to his rich visitors such as the editor of the New York Times that they were seeing miles and miles of primeval forest. This he displayed to him and others as he took them on horseback over the logging roads.
Yet through all the films, some of them produced by Sinclair Oil Company and other private industries attempting to promote this "playground for the rich", come through the smiles and determination of a people who were doing more than just surviving. This culture and these people gave much to the American frontier. What is now described in the National Archives as "century old mountain homes" and a people who, with their friends and family, including "Negroes", sang and worked the land, are now gone.
When Pollock and others who helped him survey and measure the task of dispossessing these mountain people, it was easy to underestimate their true grit. As the world measured education and societal accomplishments, these people did not appear to have much. In the 1930's the country was suffering a major depression. These mountain people were doing more than eking out an existence on their own. Although some did become part of the governmental effort, joining the Civilian Conservation Corp., many felt deep down that what was taking place was on the whole, wrong. True, one can look back today and see the idyllic beauty of the mountain, bereft of mountain people who initially settled what was at that time the frontier of the United States of America. Yet, an occasional chimney and rotted foundation of the homes, churches and schools cause wonder at what the true values really were, at that time.
To many who pushed this "playground for the rich", it was better to force the land to swallow up this people. The truly unique American culture grown out of the mountain and the pioneer spirit produced music and a way of independent thinking which has lived on. It was not the government who did for these people.
When Shenandoah National Park was being debated in power centers by the governor of Virginia and committees, a driving force was the location of Allied Chemical to the State of Virginia. Advertisements announcing the $100 million being invested by Allied Chemical in its new business, fueled the fires for those who thought to exploit the notion of conservation by "buying" the land. The proposed park was promoted as a showplace for the nation and something which would bring more money into Virginia. It was to bring "material progress" and to provide a "providential endowment within a day's ride of 40 million of our inhabitants." On the eve of the Great Depression this must have sounded like manna from heaven.
"Mountain people" to some, at the time of the takeover, was a derisive term. Many books written and things said by people over the years fail to mention that bluegrass music came out of this culture. As part of the sales pitch for Shenandoah Park, the government implied that it was doing a favor for the families it was dispossessing.
It is the usual practive in public condemnation proceedings to appraise the land on the theory that a fair and accurate determination can be made as to value of the property being "taken" for public purpose. The Constitution specifically prohibits the seizing of private property unless just compensation is given and due process is followed. The seizure of land to create a proposed park involved the seizure of thousands of acres throughout the Shenandoah Mountains. It was not just the logistical task of determining the boundaries for the property and seizing the property. This project involved a massive public relations effort on the part of Virginia and eventually the federal government.
The Via apple business and property was officially taken on December 14, 1933 when pursuant to a previous Order of the court a check in the amount of $3230 was issued to Robert H. Via. But Bob Via would not cash the check. Ever. After years of planning and analysis with his lawyers, a dirt farmer, cultivator of the earth, took on the government. On November 10, 1934, ROBERT H. VIA vs. THE STATE COMMISSION ON CONSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE STATE OF VIRGINIA, EQUITY NO. 91-N.C. was filed in federal court in Harrisonburg Virginia.
As Bob Via went to federal court to save Via Mountain, he continued to spray, cultivate and nurture his Albemarle Pippins. He kept the lines of business and commerce open for a while longer even as the government used its power to condemn the pioneer "wagon road" of access to Sugar Hollow. By seizing a road used for years in and out Via Mountain to the nearest railway line and "correct the irregular park boundary", the government claimed a road it said was "necessary for park administration". Over this road, Christopher Columbus Via had moved his apples out of Via Mountain to Harriston Va., in the Shenandoah Valley for shipment by rail. It was a route used by Bob Via as well. It was a vital route in and out of Sugar Hollow. Along side its picturesque crossing at the Moormans river sat the Wayside Brethern Church where people in the mountain worshiped.
Bob Via's lawsuit was assigned to a federal three judge panel. The move to Pennsylvania gave him the additional advantage of diversity of citizenship as a basis for jurisdiction and was probably no accident. But the primary issue was the constitutional claim. Simply put, Virginia should not be allowed to take his property on the mere promise that it would then turn around and give it to the federal government. Especially if the federal government had not as yet actually voted to create such a park. It was a compelling argument. He cited a Michigan case where the state condemned land for a lighthouse where the federal government then refused to take the property. Lives and fortunes should not be subjected to such speculation and uncertainty. To do so, he claimed violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment because it allows the taking of property without giving due process.
On January 10, 1935 a federal three judge panel comprised of John J. Parker, William O. Coleman, and John Paul decided in favor of the State of Virginia and against Bob Via. The Park Archives, refer to this case as ROB'T H. VIA vs. PARK. This file contains numerous letters from the lawyers assigned to the case getting the word out to other judges throughout Virginia that they were fighting this constitutional challenge brought by Bob Via. From their view a lot was at stake too as they were trying to get favorable attention from the U.S. Congress for the park. Word that Bob Via was going to the Supreme Court was probably not greeted with enthusiasm by these movers and shakers in the park movement.
Before the year of 1935 was over the Supreme Court decided against Bob Via. One lawyer who had been following the case wrote a personal letter to Bob Via expressing his disappointment over the ruling. It was a sad day for many who had come to depend on the orchard for work and a connection to the land. In December of 1935 Shenandoah National Park was created by federal law. Via Mountain was officially cutoff.
In 1997 there stands a chimney protruding as a defiant reminder on Via Mountain. Christopher Columbus Via gathered the stone and laid the foundation for this house over 100 years ago. He and Malinda as well as many of his children are buried in the cemetery on Via Mountain. Other relatives have been laid to rest looking eastward from the top of that ridge. The cemetery cut off by the creation of the Park, symbolizes in many ways the efforts of the government to eradicate this people. The government took only part of the Via homes and apple orchards. But it did it in such a way as to make it impossible for the Via family to transport the apples off the mountain to Harriston, Virginia for shipment as they had done for many years. By taking only part of the land and making the remainder of the land unusable and unreachable it managed to punish Bob Via for his challenge to the State of Virginia and to the government of the United States of America.
Remnants of seedlings of the apple trees both inside and outside the park boundaries give mute testimony to the efforts required to work the land and make it both beautiful and productive. The rustling waters that bubble out of the springs of Via Mountain and find their way to the Moormans River are more than beautiful.
When the park service decided to provide a travelogue, it is no wonder that the filming of bubbling springs, brooks and rivers out of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains form a backdrop for many of the scenes filmed. Yet the pioneers who saw this beauty and attempted to incoporate its beauty into a productive Shangrila were scorned and removed in vast numbers for the sake of this playground.
Looking for middle ground on this government taking is not an easy task. Sure, there are those who would much rather see a winding trail and delightful picnic scene along the ridge of these mountains for their weekend retreat from Washington D.C. Certainly there are others who enjoy a bicycle ride through the quiet beauty of these mountains. Camping in dramatic scenic beauty is also part of what America has to offer its people. But would it be so easy to move a government project into Vail Colorado and declare that natural beauty should be preserved and the raucous beauty of the vast ski resorts removed or allowed to fall into disrepair and be absorbed into the earth? Would the condominiums which now populate the Shenandoah Mountains be subjected to the same absorption concept as the mountain people? Even Walt Disney Co. could find not enough power to force the absorption of historic battlegrounds into yet another Disneyland type park in Manassas, Virginia, the heart of the first battle of the Civil War.
Yet how many truly understand the historic significance of Brown's Gap, which has been absorbed into Shenandoah National Park with only the faintest evidence of the historic route of Thomas Jefferson from Monticello to Staunton, Virginia during the war of Revolution. These people in this mountain were intricately involved in the creation of this country and its culture. But they are gone. Bones, gravestones, remnants of foundations of homes, businesses, churches and schools have, according to Pollock's dream been absorbed into the earth.
Ancestors of these pioneers fought with the Virginia militia and in the Revolutionary Army. Their descendants migrated to what was then the American frontier and settled in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia. That much of what was given and much of what was received by this country, was not recognized or understood fully, is one way of giving the benefit of the doubt to Pollock. But it lessens in no way the shame he visited on the people of the mountain who were forced to leave the land and the heritage of their families.
Shenandoah National Park is truly beautiful, but its focus on nature not the people who once lived there leaves an emply feeling for some. With time, the hot projects of the day get historical context. The passions which drive the creation of the day often look different over time. The fact that the culture of the mountain people was absorbed so that the mountain could be returned to nature was to trade some things which should not have been traded. Bob Via never returned to Virginia after theSupreme Court confirmed that the taking of Via Mountain was within the power of the government. His last batch of apples was sold to Glover Hill & Co., of Liverpool, England for the sum of $9919.35. They were mostly Albemarle Pippins.
The check issued by the government for $3230 as just compensation was not cashed. Bob Via never considered it just or even close to a fair compensation for the taking of Via Mountain.
The Manada Creek winds its way through the Pennsylvania farmland bought by Bob Via after the taking of Via Mountain. From the large two story stone farmhouse which had been built in the 1700's he and his family had a commanding view of its meandering presence which was in some ways similar to the Moormans River in Sugar Hollow. He and Lizzy had one more child, Paul, who would know of Virginia through the stories of his father and siblings. He would be drawn by periodic visits to the mountain to understand the roots of his ancestors. He heard often the stories of his father's efforts to preserve the mountain heritage and it inspired him.
Lyle, Blanch, Buelah, and Frank all built homes on portions of the Pennsylvania farm conveyed to them by their parents. After the death of Bob Via and later Lizzy, the surviving children made provision for Charlie to own land and have his own place on a portion of the family farm, as he had always lived at home. Unlike all of the other children he never married. Kathleen, Robert Jr., Johnnie, Anna, Chris and Paul made lives for themselves and their families nearby. In the 40's and 50' they made the rounds to each others homes at Christmas time, exchanging stories, gifts and music. These visits seemed to inevitably end up "over home" as the Pennsylvania farmhouse was known to the children.
It was not entirely the way Bob Via intended for it to be. But Pennsylvania was now home and the bitterness, if it existed at all, did not show. At least not from Papa and Mama as they were known by children and granchildren alike. Like Amer Via who made a new life in a new country, Bob Via accepted those things which could not be changed. He challenged the Constitutionality of the actions of the government and the overall notion that policy for the taking of private lands should be dictated by giants of industry.
He succeeded when he called national attention to these important things. Most of all, he and Mary Elizabeth Mace succeeded by raising children of integrity and hard work. They taught their children love, self-sufficiency and determination in practical ways which will inspire many generations to come.
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Woods, Edgar History of Albemarle County Virginia Published by Heritage Books, Inc, Copyright 1901, Shelf No. F232.A3W8, Library of Virginia
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