History of Shenandoah National Park

On July 3, 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated Shenandoah National Park. Addressing several hundred spectators, Roosevelt declared: “We seek to pass on to our children a richer land, a stronger nation. I, therefore, dedicate Shenandoah National Park to this and succeeding generations of Americans for the recreation and for the re-creation which we shall find here.”

Stories of Shenandoah

The following stories from NPS touch on different aspects of Shenandoah’s complex past. While not a complete history, the work continues with visitor education, intern research, and personal reflection on how these histories inform our present.

From Idea To Reality

The president’s vision for Shenandoah National Park is fulfilled every day of the year. Over a million people visit Shenandoah every year seeking a break from their day-to-day lives. Visitors take in panoramic vistas from Skyline Drive; share picnics with family members; saddle horses for trail rides; hike mountains; wade under waterfalls; and find physical, emotional and spiritual respite.

Our 200,000-acre park that spans the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains harbors significant biological diversity. Large mammals like black bear, whitetail deer, and bobcat are iconic, but our park is replete with birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, including the globally rare Shenandoah salamander—found on three ridge tops in our park and nowhere else on the planet.

Shenandoah’s plant communities are also diverse and ecologically important, from milkweed that supports monarch butterflies to ancient ferns to mixed hardwood forests that help clean our air, cool our mountain streams and support myriad wildlife species.

Original construction of the Skyline Drive in 1931.
President Roosevelt dedicating Shenandoah National Park, 1936.

Shenandoah National Park is also a keeper of America’s history. Native Americans passed through these mountains from the Virginia Piedmont on their way to higher elevations during cyclic migrations. Later, post-settlement families made these mountains their homes. When Congress established Shenandoah National Park in 1926, over 400 families were displaced to create the park. Family cemeteries and artifacts from their homesteads remain in the park today.

Courtesy of tylerareber.photography
Courtesy of tylerareber.photography

Shenandoah’s history also boasts the first national park to host the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The 10,000 CCC boys who lived and worked in Shenandoah National Park from 1933 – 1942 built visitor centers, picnic grounds, trails and much of the infrastructure visitors still rely on. Civil Rights is also part of Shenandoah’s history. Lewis Mountain in the park’s Central District was the segregated area of the park from 1935 to 1950. The “Negro Area” sign from Lewis Mountain is now part of an exhibition honoring the history of the park at Byrd Visitor Center.

Wildlife photos courtesy of Tyler Reber

Historical photos courtesy of National Park Service