Rappahannock News delivered to Hoover Library
The Rappahannock News was delighted this year when “Discovering Hoover and his Hidden Jewel in Shenandoah National Park” took first place honors in Feature Story Writing at the Virginia Press Association’s annual competition.
Now, in a sort of roundabout way, an original copy of that story has landed in the archives of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa.
How did it get there?
Robbie Ann Morris is the docent of the George W. Bush Library and Museum in Dallas, Texas. She and her husband also own a farm in Rappahannock County. As Morris tells the story, she recently welcomed board members of the Hoover Library to the Bush Library.
“We were hosting an exhibit on presidential retreats, including the Hoover Camp in Virginia,” Morris explains. During the board’s visit to Dallas she recalled seeing the Rapidan Camp story featured in the News, remembering in particular President and Mrs. Hoovers’ “generosity to the people in this part of Virginia . . . of which few Americans are aware.”
So Morris took it upon herself to deliver the article to H. Eugene Anderson, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Hoover Presidential Foundation, for the library’s archives.
Published July 19, 2018, the story opined that few U.S. presidents were as mischaracterized as Herbert Hoover, a familiar refrain that during the Great Depression the nation’s 31st president ignored common Americans in their most dire time of need.
“Arguably, the opposite is true,” we wrote. “Just ask descendants of the mountain people who lived a century ago above the headwaters of the Rapidan River and in the surrounding communities of Criglersville, Syria, Etlan and Graves Mill.”
Shortly after his election in 1928, Hoover and his nature-loving wife Lou Henry (she ran the Girl Scouts of America, among other outdoors interests) sought a weekend escape from the formality of Washington — away from the “pneumatic hammer of constant personal contacts,” as he referred to it.
They settled on 164 acres at the going rate of $5 per acre above Criglersville, west of Graves Mountain Lodge. The first family agreed that at the end of his presidency they would donate everything they built at the camp to the U.S. government, with the hope it would become a retreat for future presidents.
From that point forward, the Hoovers took an active but discreet interest in their Blue Ridge neighbors. When a local furniture factory burned, Lou Henry made the family-owned business a loan to rebuild. They also provided a bell for a church in nearby Dark Hollow. And the Hoovers built a new school for the local children between Rapidan Camp and today’s Skyline Drive.
It wasn’t until after the first lady’s death that the nation learned Lou Henry had also been financially assisting local students who wished to continue their education beyond grade school.
Rapidan Camp never became the future presidential retreat he envisioned, but as Morris pointed out to Anderson: “Not many know that Herbert Hoover founded the first presidential library, a fact that we at the Bush Library point out to our guests.”
Thanks to the National Park Service, Rapidan Camp — a National Historic Landmark — has been restored to its original splendor and is enjoyed today by countless Shenandoah Park visitors who either take a guided tour of the camp or hike in from Big Meadows or Madison County.