Luke on history’s trail

Mountain residents Rast and Robert Nicholson with Park Ranger Gibbs, circa 1930. Photo courtesy NPS.

Tired of doing the same old predictable hikes in the Shenandoah National Park, like that well-worn trail up Old Rag Mountain, or that busy path along Whiteoak Canyon? On Nov. 14 get off the beaten track during a presentation on finding archaeological treasures that few ever see.

Rappahannock County Commonwealth’s Attorney Peter H. Luke will tell how to locate traces of the mountain people who lived on what is now park land. More than 100 of them resettled in Rappahannock County.

Luke, who has been hiking the Blue Ridge for some 50 years, will describe where to find some of the old graveyards, house ruins and barn remains that are scattered throughout the wildest parts of the park. He will provide the GPS coordinates of some of these places, and explain how to go about finding archaeological treasures.

“Getting to some of these places requires some bushwhacking,” Luke says. Finding them is not for the “casual stroller,” but for “venturous people with a real goal.”

State and federal officials began creating the Shenandoah National Park in the late 1920s, and the acquisition and condemnation of the land for the park continued through the early 1930s. The park was dedicated on July 4, 1936.

If you go

What: Lecture/slideshow by Peter G. Luke on finding homesteads and cemeteries in Shenandoah National Park, sponsored by the Rappahannock Historical Society.

Where: Washington Town Hall, 485 Gay St.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14

Tickets: Admission is free; donations to the historical society are welcome; call 540-675-1163 for more information. Refreshments served.

Many of the families displaced went to resettlement areas, where they rented with the option to buy. “Many of these families had lived in the mountains for generations, were very self sufficient, living off the land and requiring very little money to survive,” said John Tole, president of the Rappahannock Historical Society. “Having to pay rent and start all over was difficult at best. Most were proud, hard -working individuals. Descendants are still bitter.”

Luke says little was done to protect these architectural remains in what is now park land. “There was a concerted effort to destroy them because they didn’t want squatters,” he says. “Some are difficult to find today and some will probably never be found.”

Locating the evidence of early settlers has become the attorney’s hobby. “I’ve hiked in the woods since I was a boy [in the 1960s],” Luke says. “And I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the history of the park.”

Luke’s talk, sponsored by the Rappahannock Historical Society, will include slides and a display of some GPS devices. The lecture is free; donations to the historical society are welcome.