Mike Smith, Superintendent at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park Retires
Mike Smith, the long-time Superintendent of Droop Mountain State Park, is retiring at the end of July. Mike talks about his career.
“I began working for the Department of Natural Resources at Bluestone Public Hunting and Fishing Area in March of 1983” said Mike. “Worked there not quite 2 years, and then in December of 1984 moved here to Droop Mountain, been here ever since. This December would be 32 years at Droop so I’ll be just short of that. Total time is a little bit longer. It’s been wonderful.”
I asked Mike about any particular memories he has had after 32 years here at the park.
“Ah..so many things happened during that time” Mike recollected. “One of the things that stands out is that I just never imagined that I would enjoy so much what I do here at the Park. I mean I knew I would like my work, that’s why I was interested in it, but I met so many interesting people, and the work itself was really interesting and continues to be. When I came there were no historical files at all at the Park, and one of my charges when I was hired. At the interview they wanted to see if I had any interest in history because they were concerned that the basis of the park here had never been properly emphasized. I had studied Civil War history and West Virginia History in High School but I was not a historian. But I had always read widely and was very interested in it. Well, when I came to Droop, of course I jumped right into it and started gathering materials.”
I asked Mike if any of those historical records stand out in his memory.
“One of those that I am sure you are familiar with is George Bernie Chapman of Chapman’s Battery” Mike said. “He was one of the early ones that I started finding some information on. Just a young fellow, I think he was 24 years old with the Confederate artillery, and did very well with it, came to have his own battery. So I’d find tidbits here and there about him, you know the little things, and just got real interested in the guy. And then I came across something one day that he was killed, he didn’t survive the war. And it was, I don’t know, I had kind of got attached to him by reading a letter or two and different things about him and this wonderful fellow and all at once it was like he was gone, you know. And so, I don’t know, I never expected to be as affected by those kind of things as it turned out that I was.”
Mike knew the story of the Battle of Droop Mountain needed to be documented and told so he convinced eminent West Virginia Civil War Historian Terry Lowry to write a book about it. Together they gathered materials for 13 years and finally in 1996, Terry’s book The Last Sleep was published about the battle of Droop Mountain. Mike considers this one of the great accomplishments of his career.
As for his future plans, Mike is figuring on spending a lot of time getting his new house completed before winter sets in, then he and his wife want to travel.
“And so there is places we want to see” said Mike. “One of the things I particularly want to see is some of the Inca stuff in South America. Kind of like to see some of the big stone Cathedrals in Europe. And there is trees I’d like to see. As a group one of them I haven’t seen and really want to, is the temperate rain forest of the Pacific North West. Probably take a couple of months just to drive and travel and camp and hike in Washington, Montana and British Columbia. “
Mike had a message to the people of Pocahontas County.
The main thing I want to say is that it has been a privilege and an honor to be entrusted to serve here at Droop for the time that I have” Mike says. “It’s just been a wonderful experience for me, and I thank all the people of Pocahontas for the support they have given me, people coming out to help with reenactments and finding letters and stuff, artifacts for the museum. I’ve just felt like what I was doing here really met with people’s approval and I appreciate that. I feel honored to have been able to take care of Droop and Beartown during the time I’ve been here.
Everyone here at AMR and I am sure in the entire listening area thank Mike for his service and wish him the best in his retirement.