By Andrea Oakes
Councilwoman, Staunton City Council
On a recent May afternoon, the members of Staunton’s city council drove to the top of Betsy Bell Mountain, a 70-acre public park located within the city limits, to fulfill a promise. Four-wheeling up the rough gravel road, they climbed out at the top (elevation 1,959 feet) and walked to the observation platform to take in the breath-taking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the east, the Shenandoah Valley, and the city of Staunton that has built up around the mountain’s base.
Originally owned by John Lewis who founded Staunton, the mountain was passed down through the family over the years. In 1941, owner Charles Catlett left the 50-acre summit to the city with a few stipulations:
“The City of Staunton shall as far as is reasonably practicable and in its considered opinion advisable, and for the common benefit of its citizens and inhabitants, keep and maintain the crest of the mountain as a perpetual memorial …” of events in the past life of the community and in memory of its citizens who have given their lives in protecting the nation.
Catlett further specified that the site be maintained in its natural state, that a “cross” cut out of the woods along the crest be maintained, and that City Council visit the crest of Betsy Bell once each Spring in remembrance of the gift. These requirements have been honored since the bequest. An additional 20 acres was acquired by the City through a donation from CSC Associates in 1995.
As council members gathered on the deck overlooking the Valley, I was honored to offer the invocation in that majestic setting and, pursuant to the Supreme Court of the United States of America’s recent ruling, I was able to offer a prayer to my Lord Jesus Christ. Per the Supreme Court ruling, I extended an invitation for my fellow council members to join in prayer to their own deity, or not participate at all. Regardless of their choice, I am grateful to live a country where I can freely worship my God.