Groveton High School Oral Histories Get Online Twist
In the 1970s, two Groveton High School English teachers published student interviews with local residents.
Paul Risley grew up in the Groveton community and now lives half a world away in Bangkok, Thailand. A few months ago, thanks to technology and efforts by Fairfax County Public Library, Risley read a thirty-five year old oral history of his late father Edward Risley online.
For three years in the 1970s, close to 150 Groveton High School English students taught by teachers Bev Byrne and the late Marian Mohr interviewed dozens of the Groveton community’s long-time and most knowledgeable residents to preserve local history.
Compiled and published in three volumes called Snake Hill to Spring Bank, this work is available on-line thanks to volunteers and the staff of the Virginia Room of the Fairfax County Public Library.
Steve Majerus-Collins, Groveton High school Class of 1979, wrote for Volume 2. He says he barely remembers his interview with one Route One old-timer, but he recalls with great fondness the thrill of tracking down people to speak with and the excitement of the students’ collective enterprise to record local history.
“Mrs. Mohr managed to teach us all an awful lot while leaving a permanent legacy for the community,” Majerus-Collins recounts in an email message.
Suzanne Levy, a 29-year veteran Fairfax County Public Library’s Virginia Room librarian, spearheaded bringing the project on-line.
Looking for a “manageably-sized” project, she chose the Groveton High School oral history work and assigned it to dedicated volunteers. They received assistance, too, she reports, from the library technical staffers.
This project, she says, preserves an important connection with people who lived in the Groveton community decades ago.
“It brings to light ‘what it was like’ sixty, seventy years ago,” she says. “It’s local history from everyday citizens that would otherwise be lost.”
Volume One consists of 46 interviews with the Groveton community’s “most knowledgeable members.” The students transcribed the taped interviews and wrote in the introduction that they “tried to be true to the character of the narrator even though we couldn’t’ print every word.”
Volume two focused on the changing attitudes, traditions, jobs, wildlife and landmarks of the community.
Volume Three, written in 1979, focused on children, the sixties, real estate, generations and neighborhood historians.
Bev Byrne worked on the first volume before taking a teaching sabbatical. She wrote the on-line introduction recapping the excitement of the project.
Marian Mohr, she recounts, was familiar with the Foxfire (magazine), student-written oral history of Appalachian customs and lore. Byrne had just sent her journalism students to interview old Mrs. Popkins, owner of a former dairy farm adjacent to the old Groveton High School
“Unlike Foxfire’s recording of folk magic, “haints”, hog-dressings, snake-handlings and other lore, we could record memories of our own place, with historic land turned to new uses—homes, stores, roads and much more,” wrote Byrne.
Byrne, 85, who moved to the area “60 years ago” says she hopes a lot of new people in the community will read up on the local history.
“You got to stir them up,” Byrne says.
When asked if current students might get this type of assignment, Majerus-Collins, President of the group Youth Journalism International says that the assignment was rare then and even more so now, but he’s sure there are teachers out there assigning creative projects such as this one.
“Making the original volumes accessible online was a brilliant, wonderful move,” he wrote in an email.
In an emailed comment to the library website, Risley writes, “Thank you so much for putting the Groveton High School Oral History Vols. 1-3 Snake Hill to Spring Bank on line-that is truly a remarkable and wonderful resource you are providing for your residents far and wide!”