Melanchthon Cliser, a 62-year-old Blue Ridge native, was the most stubborn mountaineer of all. Cliser ran a filling station and roadside diner called Blue Ridge Lunch on his property, which sat along the old Lee Highway (Route 211) at the top of Panorama Gap at the north end of the park. He lived with his wife of 35 years in a house his father had built.The government offered Cliser $4,855 for his 46-acre plot—an offer Cliser refused over and over. Instead of making way for the park juggernaut, Cliser wrote letters to the secretary of the interior and other high-ranking government officials. He even tried to call the president. Cliser had a simple message for the authorities: He wasn't moving. Lawmen nabbed Cliser right in front of his store; he had come out thinking the sheriff and his deputies were merely dropping by as regular customers. They cuffed the stunned Cliser and prepared to haul him in. "You've got me, boys, but I ain't a-goin' nowhere from now 'til Christmas," he said. As the deputies waited patiently, Cliser stood proudly in handcuffs and delivered a "quavering" rendition of the entire "Star-Spangled Banner." He then gave a minispeech of sorts, declaring himself a free man simply defending his constitutional rights.
Even then Cliser refused to leave his mountain perch without further protest. It took four deputies to wrestle him into the sheriff's car, which whisked him down the mountain to a jail in nearby Luray. Meanwhile, his wife and the couple's dog, Boodgy, sat defiantly on the front porch, even after authorities removed the couple's furniture and boarded up the house to prevent re-entry.For two days in the autumn of 1935 the incident made the front page of the Washington Evening Star, complete with banner headlines and numerous photos. Cliser and his wife moved in with relatives in the lowlands, and he was still tirelessly appealing his eviction more than a decade later, when he died at 75.There were other ugly altercations. John Mace owned a place near Madison Run. From a spring on his property, he bottled his own quite lucrative brand of "Health Mineral Water," which he recommended "to all suffering from Eczema, Pimples, Tettor, or other skin diseases, Stomach Trouble, Kidney Trouble, Nervousness, or Loss of Appetite." Like Cliser, he refused all offers for his property.
Photograph above by Arthur Rothstein