The front porch of a home of the extended Nicholson family of Nicholson Hollow (top three images) in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia, October 1935.*
The Shenandoah National Park is a narrow strip of supremely lovely wilderness along the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. It begins at Front Royal, about 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., and ends west of Charlottesville.
The park was authorized by Congress in 1926 and fully established by the end of 1935 — two months after these pictures were taken by Arthur Rothstein for the U.S. Resettlement Administration (later the Farm Security Administration).
In order to create a fully “natural” environment, over 450 families were moved out of the park area under the process of eminent domain. Most were small farmers who had been portrayed in a widely publicized 1933 sociological study as desperately poor, primitive, and cut off from 20th century society.
In the mid 1990s, the National Park Service sponsored an archaeological survey of 88 pre-park human settlements in Nicholson, Corbin, and Weakley Hollows.**
The findings of the study strongly refuted the earlier claims that the families (who were indeed often poor) were cut off the modern world. Researchers found china plates, mail order toys, 78 RPM record fragments, pharmaceutical bottles, and automobile parts.
The Corbins were very hard hit by the Depression-years decline of the nearby Skyland Resort, which had previously given them employment and a market for their crafts.
*All the photos here by Arthur Rothstein, in 1935, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
**In 2000, not long after the study was completed, a forest fire destroyed all but two of the remaining above-ground buildings.