Skyline Drive History
The Skyline Drive is an area of more than 180,000 acres in the famous Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and Shenandoah National Park, through which runs the 97-mile Skyline Drive. The Shenandoah National Park is approximately 75 miles long, lying on the backbone of the Blue Ridge and embracing some of its highest and most beautiful sections. The altitude varies from 600 feet at the north entrance to 4,049 at the summit of Hawksbill Mountain. But it is for the far-reaching views from the Skyline Drive that the park is most widely known. The Skyline Drive with easy gradient and wide sweeping curves, unfolds to view innumerable panoramas of lofty peaks, forested ravines and the patchwork patterns of valley farms.
History of the Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park lies astride a beautiful section of the Blue Ridge, which forms the eastern rampart of the Appalachian Mountains between Pennsylvania and Georgia. In the valley to the west is the Shenandoah River, from which some feel the Park gets its name, and between the north and south forks of the river is Massanutten, a 40 mile long mountain. To the east is the rolling Piedmont country. Providing vistas of the spectacular landscape is Skyline Drive, a winding road that runs along the crest of this portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains through the length of the Park.
Most of the rocks that form the Blue Ridge are ancient granite and metamorphosed volcanic formations, some exceeding 1 billion years in age. By comparison, humans have been associated with this land for about 11,000 years. Native Americans used this land for centuries but left little of the evidence of their presence. European settlement of the Shenandoah Valley began soon after the first expedition crossed the Blue Ridge in 1716.
Many of the settlers came “up river”, north and south, from Pennsylvania. By 1800, the lowlands had been settled by farmers, while the rugged mountains were relatively untouched. Later, as valley farmland became scarce, settlements spread into the mountains. The mountain farmers cleared land, hunted wildlife, and grazed sheep and cattle. By the 20th century, these people had developed cultural traits of their own, born from the harshness and isolation of mountain living. However, the forests were shrinking, game animals were disappearing, the thin mountain soil was wearing out, and people were beginning to leave.
In 1926 Congress authorized the establishment of Shenandoah National Park. The Commonwealth of Virginia purchased nearly 280 square miles of land to be donated to the Federal Government. More than half of the population had left the mountain area, and the remaining residents sold their land or were relocated, with government assistance. In dedicating the park in 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated a novel experiment in allowing an over used area to return to a natural state. The Civilian Conservation Corps built recreational facilities, and in 1939 Skyline Drive was completed. Corpsland and pastures soon became over grown with shrubs, locusts, and pine; these in turn were replaced by oak, hickory and other trees that make up a mature deciduous forest. Now, more than 95 percent of the park is covered by forests with about 100 species of trees. The vegetative regeneration has been so complete that in 1976 Congress designated two-fifths of the park as a wilderness. Today the park faces many new challenges, as air quality declines, forest pests invade, and land use patterns around the area change. The largest remaining open area is Big Meadows, which is kept in its historically open condition. Here, wildflowers, strawberries, and blueberries attract wildlife and humans.
Shenandoah Pre-historic History
For at least 10,000 years people have lived on the Blue Ridge Mountains. Prehistoric humans have hunted and gathered game, fruit, nuts, and berries on the upland slopes, and some may have constructed permanent villages at the lowest elevations near the Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley.
The earliest European settlers moved into the lower areas of the mountain range by the mid-18th century, ever moving upward in search of land for farming, grazing, and orchards. Later, some owners purchased mountain land for the extraction of resources: copper, lumber, bark for tanning of leather, and water power for the operation of mills. Others early saw the beauty of the Blue Ridge as a commercial product in itself, and built catering to visitors from the cities.
Stony Man Camp
Stony Man Camp, later renamed Skyland, became a destination and summer residence for Baltimore, Washington, Richmond, and Philadelphia politicians, educators, artists, and Federal employees. Pollock’s “events”: medieval jousts, “Indian Pow-Wows”, cakewalks, bonfires, and costume balls, provided the focus of a seasonal society that reflected the radical changes in the larger society.
Pollock’s Skyland and his guests accurately reflect the changes in American society: the changes in fashion, the changes in taste, the changes in morals, and the changes in a women’s “place” in society.
Blue Ridge Mountains High as the Rockies
Can you imagine the Blue Ridge Mountains being as high as the Rocky Mountains or the Himalayas? Geologists think that the mountains making up Shenandoah National Park are among the oldest in the world, having been worn and eroded to their current top elevation of 4,049 ft.
The oldest rocks in Shenandoah National Park were formed between 1 and 1.2 billion years ago. These granitic rocks can be seen at Old Rag Mountain and Mary’s Rock Tunnel. Two other major rock types you can see in the park include basalts, made from individual lava flows, each 30 to 90 feet deep, formed about 570 million years ago; and sedimentary rocks (including sandstone, quartzite and phyllite) formed later.
Cliffs and rock cuts along Skyline Drive give travelers an opportunity to examine rock formations closely. To get a view of the park’s rock history from your car, stop at the overlooks at Mary’s Rock Tunnel (Mile 32.4), Crescent Rock (Mile 44.4), or Franklin Cliffs (Milepost 49). Good hikes for rock lovers include Mary’s Rock, Stony Man Nature Trail, Little Stony Man Cliffs, Bearfence rock scramble, and Old Rag boulder scramble.