(Original post date November 25, 2009)
In the few weeks since we saw the first copy of our book and began showing it to people, it has led us to several stories from people whose family experience with the coming of the Parkway was similar to that of the family in our book. The most recent story we encountered is that of my old friend Whit Sizemore, a farmer and an excellent fiddler whose band (the Shady Mountain Ramblers) used to play for monthly square dances I attended at a local schoolhouse up near the Parkway.
Whit’s own story about the coming of the Parkway (quoted here from Blue Ridge Country, Feb. 2009) could have been the central narrative of our book:
When 70-year-old Whit Sizemore was a little boy, he climbed an apple tree to watch something amazing – the building of the Blue Ridge Parkway. He’d never seen the like of the bulldozers and steam shovels construction crews brought to build the road through his grandfather’s farm, where he lived with his parents, grandparents, an aunt and uncle, and two of his granny’s brother’s boys.
“It was a daily occupation for me,” he says of his apple tree observations. Sizemore . . . points to the spot at the bottom of a sloping field where the family drew cold spring water, and the place near the barn where they ground corn, wheat and buckwheat for themselves and neighbors with mills powered by the motor of an old ’29 Model A Ford. He waves a hand toward the all-but-obscured contours of a railroad grade, softened by time and the luxuriant growth of waist-high grass. The railroad ran to Galax, Va., seven miles distant, and was already gone when he was a boy, though his granny remembered it.
The farmhouse where he and his parents lived in a closed off bedroom at the end of the porch – ”We had to wade snow to get to the main house,” he says – is gone now too, a victim of Hurricane Hugo. But the red chestnut barn, a granary and a chicken coop are still standing and in good trim. They’re just barely visible from the roadway – part of an agricultural scene parkway officials are striving to maintain in the face of an advancing army of development.
To keep developers from turning his 23-acre farm into an “exclusive gated community,” faux “Alpine Village,” or some other “just off the Parkway” eyesore, Whit sold it to the Parkway and leased it back for his lifetime. Now the Parkway gets to protect it from development, and another treasured vista will be there for everyone to enjoy.