Alleghany Highlands Heritage Day and C&O Railway Heritage Festival 2016 Clifton Forge, VA
We’re gathered in this place today to celebrate the heritage of the Alleghany Highlands. I’ve lived here all of my life, and the reference to our area as the Alleghany Highlands is relatively new. Growing up in Covington, we were all from our own little neighborhoods. I lived in the Rayon Terrace where we had an upper end and a lower end. There were many little communities like Rivermont, Rosedale, Parrish Court, Altamont or Wrightsville. In Clifton Forge, people lived on the heights, in Rose Street Hollow and on Verge Street. Then there was Sharon, Selma, Low Moor, Potts Creek, Falling Spring and Callaghan.
But over the years, we not only witnessed a man walking on the moon but we also began to see the world get smaller because of interstate highways, fast cars and airplanes. The internet and cell phones have made us more connected. Our kids know so much more than we did when we grew up confined to a neighborhood. So today we are in the community of the Alleghany Highlands. Our best hope for prosperity and survival is as one community and we are here to celebrate who we are and where we came from.
If you research your ancestry, be prepared to take the good with the bad. Most of us are not royalty or descendents of George Washington. But we can all be proud of who we are. My cousin’s research confirmed that Joseph Lenggenghager came to Philadelphia in 1750 from Switzerland. Around 1770, his son, Elias married Hannah Streeper and settled in the Springwood area of Botetourt County. Several generations later, my father and mother came to Covington in 1930 from Eagle Rock. He found work at the paper mill.
I didn’t know what to wear today. I could have worn lederhosen because of my German ancestry. But there were Scots-Irish on my mother’s side so perhaps I should have worn a kilt. My forefathers most likely fought in the Revolutionary War but I’m certain they were in the Civil War. So I could have dressed in a Colonial or Confederate uniform. I could have come as a farmer or a factory worker, but I was a teacher. And when I taught school, we wore khaki slacks, a white or blue shirt, and a tie. So here I am. But the next time you see me, I’ll be more comfortable in a blue T-shirt.
Take time today to explore and discover many things about the heritage of the Alleghany Highlands. Listen to the different types of music we have enjoyed over the years. Check out the crafts and the booths which tell you about the settlement of the region and the railroad and industry that drove and still dominate our economy. There is an amazing display of quilts that not only demonstrates the artistic talent and craftsmanship of their makers but many tell a unique story about an individual, an event or a place. And while my best friend, Horton Beirne, and I enjoyed playing with model trains, his mother had taught him the fine art or needlepoint. Check out the late newspaper editor’s hidden talent.
Be sure to sample the different foods and beverages. And while I don’t have exact details to share at this time, I’m certain that moonshine was once produced in the nearby hills and valleys. So find the local still and perhaps take a nip. Enjoy the animals and games. Check out the events at the nearly completed Masonic Theater and be sure you take the kids to the C&O Railway Heritage Center to celebrate railroad days.
Let me conclude by emphasizing that we have a rich heritage in the Alleghany Highlands and many people are discovering the region and finding out what those of us who have always lived here have long known, you are standing in the midst of a unique and beautiful spot in God’s creation.
Also remember this about our ancestors, many of them immigrated to America from England, Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Italy and other European countries. But they didn’t come here to be English, Germans, Scots, Irish or Italians living in America. They came here to be Americans. And while most Africans did not choose to come here, with freedom, perseverance and constant struggles, they have assumed significant roles in making America great.
My high school football coach was a Lebanese American Catholic as was my family doctor. As kids, we ate hot dogs, hamburgers and hand cut French fries at the Sandwich Shop by the theater which was run by Mrs. Pasomodicas, who was Greek. The physician who cared for me during most of my adult life came here from the Philippines. My wife worked for an anesthesiologist who was Armenian. One of my good friends was born in India. And when I went to Iraq, my Battle Buddies and constant companions were ISG Brown who was black and from Baltimore and Sergeant Major Blanco whose family came to New York from Cuba to escape the rule of Fidel Castro.
We are a nation of immigrants and people continue to come to our land of freedom and opportunity. And while there are those who seek to do us harm, let us resolve, in the community of the Alleghany Highlands, to be good neighbors, standing together and supporting one another in making this a great place to live. Embrace our diversity but reject divisiveness. Let us all be Americans first and pledge our allegiance to one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Now go out and have a good time and a day of fun.