Book Review: Darwin Lambert, “The Undying Past of Shenandoah National Park”

This is a delightful book.

I have always loved hiking in Shenandoah National Park, not only because of its natural beauty, breathtaking views, tasty blackberries, and the occasional bear sighting, but also because of the way you can feel the closeness and immediacy of the rich history of the region as you hike along. Old stone walls, crumbling foundations, abandoned mines and moonshine hollows, the outlines of old fields and wild orchards, these are all things the hiker encounters when traveling the trails of Shenandoah National Park.

Unlike most national parks meant to preserve wilderness and natural features on land already owned by the federal government, Shenandoah National Park was established on land that had been inhabited and well-worked for generations. This long history has left its mark on the landscape and is the author’s primary focus in this book.

Within its covers you will not find a long explanation of the geological processes that cast up the Appalachians to heights greater than those of the Himalayas today, nor will you find a detailed administrative history of the park (although the discussion of the haggling and politicking that surrounded the acquisition of lands and funds is quite good).

Instead the author presents us with fascinating portraits of the people who inhabited this land before the park’s establishment: the Native Americans, the explorers and trappers, the settlers and farmers, the speculators and soldiers, the distant well-to-do landholders and the struggling, local “mountain folk” (a term that the author convincingly demonstrates is a grossly misleading generalization applied to what in reality was a very diverse group of families living in these mountains).

After reading this book I now know the stories and the families that lie behind the naming of so many of the key landmarks in Shenandoah National Park, such as the Turks (Turk Mountain), the Nicholsons (Nicholson Hollow), the Comptons (Compton Gap), the Overalls (Overall Run), and many more. My future hikes in the park will be much enriched for having read this book.

As an additional bonus, the book is teeming with fascinating historical photographs, drawings and diagrams. If you are someone who enjoys Shenandoah National Park, this book is highly recommended.

Feature image courtesy of Effie Drew. 

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