Superintendent Mike Smith – The Founding of Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park
We caught up with Mike Smith, the Superintendent at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park shortly before he retired and talked about his pending retirement, which we aired earlier in August. We also talked about the battle itself, Ghostly events at the park, which we will include in our annual Halloween story, and the CCC camp at Droop Park, all of which we will cover in future stories.
Today, Mike will talk about the founding of Droop Mountain State Park. Mike.
“The Park at Droop Mountain is one of the earliest in the state, in fact the first Park with that name” said Mike. “They had bought other areas that later became Parks like Watoga and Tu-Endie-Wei down at the mouth of the Kanawha River. Several others were purchased fairly early but there were no actual State Parks until the formation of Droop Mountain Battlefield in 1928 by veterans of the battle.
Mike tells us how these Civil War Veterans accomplished that.
“They started gathering here in the early (nineteen) twenties, and having picnics around the Fourth of July” said Mike. “They were fearful after World War 1 that they were going to be forgotten in the aftermath of that more recent war. Their Civil War experience was the highlight of their life, so they started gathering here, and having picnics, pushing for a memorial. One of their members, John D. Sutton –Company F of the 10th West Virginia- private in the battle whose cousin, John Baxter was mortally wounded and died here in the battle. And he had never forgotten it.
Mike explains that although Sutton and Baxter were cousins, they were more like two brothers. They had grown up together and even married two sisters and lived in side by side homes.
“And so it was very close to him when Baxter was killed in battle here” Mike went on. “Sutton never forgot it, and so he was one of the prime movers. In the late 20’s, he was a Delegate in the West Virginia Legislature and introduced a bill in 1927 to purchase property here and set it aside as a memorial. The Park dedicated July 4, 1928, but no funds were appropriated, there were no personnel here. It was up to the veterans. And they continued to have Fourth of July picnics here. They had the Governor and Senators and Judges and everybody that was anybody here for the big picnic here at Droop Mountain, which was at that time, basically the State’s only State Park.”
Mike pointed out a photograph taken on July 4th, 1929, one year after the dedication of the park which was hanging on the wall of his office.
“That photo behind you there on the wall, one of those, the next year (after the dedication), July 4, 1929” Mike said. “You can see, there is 3 or 4 hundred cars –which I didn’t know they had that many cars back then.”
Well, shortly afterward those great days began to dwindle as the veterans died off and the Great Depression began in 1929. Mike talks about what happened to the Park then.
“But then in the early 30’s, Chestnut Blight had come in the late 20’s” said Mike. “They tried to salvage a lot. The virgin timber had already been cut 10 years before. Fires burned the place over. It was pretty rough there in the early 30’s and many of the veterans had by that time died off. So the Park didn’t get much developed until 1935 when the CCC set up a camp here.”
Stay tuned to Allegheny Mountain Radio later this fall to hear Mike talk about the history of both the Battle and the CCC Camp at Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park.