Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park represents one of the largest land seizures obtained through eminent domain in Virginia's history. During the 1920s and early 1930s the state purchased land for the park and donated approximately 190,000 acres to the federal government, which opened the park in July 1936. The state used eminent domain to condemn and acquire the homes and farms of more than 450 families. Many residents sold their land and voluntarily relocated, and some elderly residents received a lifetime right to remain, but other Virginians refused to sell and abandon their homes. The state also used eminent domain to acquire land for Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway.

"They have nothing to lose."

Melancthon Cliser was one resident who wanted to stay. Owner of a general store and 46 acres in Page County, he complained to newspapers, state and federal officials, and reportedly even to the president. Cliser refused an offer of almost $5,000 for his land, and believed that under the Constitution he was entitled to keep his home. He reportedly barricaded himself in his kitchen, and when the sheriff arrived to arrest him in October 1935, Cliser sang "The Star Spangled Banner" as he was handcuffed and led away. Civilian Conservation Corps workers removed his family's belongings and placed them on the road.

Robert H. Via, a prominent farmer in Albemarle County, owned 154 acres of land and fought for years to keep his property. In November 1934 he filed suit in federal district court on the grounds that seizure of his land violated the Fourteenth Amendment's due-process clause. A three-judge panel ruled against Via in January 1935. He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear but then dismissed the case in November 1935.

That was the law. Was it justice?


Related Links:

Video from President Roosevelt's visit to CCC workers at Shenandoah National Park