“In the Draft,” the Facebook page dedicated to Stuarts Draft in the southern part of Augusta County, had such interesting historical information this week that I decided to post it here as a reference for future years.
Shenandoah Acres has been a popular tourist destination in the central Shenandoah Valley as well as well known and loved by local residents. Here is what “In the Draft” wrote about this local treasure:
Good morning Stuarts Draft! It’s time for a new ITD Person Of The Week. Actually, this week we have “Persons” of the week. This is long overdue – these 2 guys (brothers) should have been the 1st people I featured on this page. I have no excuse, except that even though I’ve known who they were basically all of my life, I had never been introduced to them. They didn’t know me and I just kept thinking I would run into them someday and take advantage of that opportunity. I was seriously intimidated about calling them. I mean, in my opinion, this family is responsible for putting Stuarts Draft on the map and making our community what it is today.
I know most of you already know these guys, but if not, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Jack & Harold Blacka. I have some pictures of Jack that I got from his daughter Cindi. Harold told me the 1st time I spoke to him that I couldn’t take his picture, he might’ve been joking, because he has a great sense of humor, but I certainly didn’t ask a 2nd time – I was so excited to actually sit down and talk to them that I would have agreed to anything!
So, you know who they are, right? The Blacka family owned and operated Shenandoah Acres for 70 years. I say that they “put us on the map” because you can travel anywhere and when someone asks where you’re from and you say things like “The Shenandoah Valley Of Virginia”, “about 30 miles west of Charlottesville, VA”, “3 hours south of DC”, etc – it is not uncommon for the person you’re talking to to ask “Is that near Shenandoah Acres?”
It was not at all unusual for Shenandoah Acres to have visitors from every state (and some other countries as well) in any given summer. They once received a postcard from overseas that was simply addressed “Shenandoah Acres, Virginia, USA”.
Let me give you a little history. Rupert A. Blacka was a traveling salesman from Scottdale, PA. He sold a line of pots & pans that were designed to retain the vitamins in cooking. He had studied medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and dreamed of one day having a health resort.
In his travels, he came across Dodge Pond on a farm that had been owned by Dr William Dodge. Dr Dodge had charged folks 10 cents to swim and picnic on the property.
In 1935 Rupert Blacka returned to Pennsylvania and mortgaged everything he owned to buy the 312 acre apple farm from the Dodge estate. He brought his family – his wife Helen and, I think there were 2 children at that time, to Stuarts Draft, Va. Five more kids would be born in the next few years.
Jack showed me a picture of the small cabin where they lived in those 1st few years. He said the kids slept in sleeping bags on the floor. It was right where the state road ended at that time and Jack says they had to keep the ditches cleaned out, or when it rained it would flood into the cabin and get the sleeping bags wet.
Mr Blacka immediately went to work transforming the muddy spring-fed lake into a clean, clear swimming area and water park. (Rupert Blacka was obviously way far ahead of his time!). Jack & Harold told me that in the winter their dad would return to traveling sales as the lake was a very seasonal business.
The Blacka family continued to develop the property, soon offering an awesome beach house, horseback riding, miniature golf, tennis courts, shuffle board, bike rentals, volleyball & a softball field. I believe they told me that it was in the late 40’s when the diving tower and zip-line type cable was added (again, way ahead of their time). Jack said that the power company actually came over and set the poles for the platform.
According to Harold, the camping started in the 40’s when folks would stay all day and ask Rupert if they could just pitch a tent across the road in the picnic area. Shenandoah Acres had cabins available to rent, but in the early 60’s started developing campsites back in the woods behind the lake. Jack & Harold say that camping really took off in the mid 60’s and at that time they doubled the size of the bath house.
The brothers grew up on the lake – they say that they could swim before they walked. Harold says he learned to dive when Jack dropped him off of the platform into the lake.
Everything was so clean and well maintained – the lake was drained & cleaned every Spring. If you lost a ring or something while swimming, they would take your number and usually found it for you the following Spring. When folks asked Mr Blacka how he kept everything in such pristine shape, he would tell them that his kids did it – most people probably thought 2 or 3 – not realizing there were 7 Blacka children.
So, Jack & Harold Blacka grew up at Shenandoah Acres and graduated from Wilson Memorial High School. (Jack was in the first graduating class of kids who attended Wilson for 4 years. It had previously been an Army hospital.) After high school both of these wonderful guys enlisted in the Marines. Jack was sent to Camp Pendleton, CA for basic training and later was stationed in Okinawa. Harold went first to Parris Island and was later stationed in Yuma, AZ. (There were other stations, but talking to these two gentlemen is so interesting, that I occasionally forgot to take notes – y’all know how flighty I am.)
Of the 7 siblings, Jack and Harold were the 2 that returned to Stuarts Draft. They followed in Rupert’s footsteps – devoting their lives to their families and the Stuarts Draft community – working the lake during the summer, providing a super fun experience for all of us, and picking up other work in the off season.
They stayed busy. Both were involved in and served as Presidents of every travel/tourist association that existed. All of this in addition to raising their children, with their lovely wives, of course. Harold & Elise’s daughter Aaron was quite the athlete and Harold coached her & many other local young ladies in softball for years. Jack & Kay had Brian, Cindi & Kevin.
If you are a younger member of our community, you may not remember Kay. Sadly she passed away in 1981. If you’re my age, you most likely think of Elisa “Lisa” Kenney Blacka when you think of Jack’s wife – she was always working around the Acres. They were married for almost 27 years before she passed away unexpectedly in May of 2017 of a suspected pulmonary embolism.
The Blacka family sold Shenandoah Acres in 2005, after 70 years of serving our community. After a couple of ownership changes, in 2014, the husband & wife team of Garland Eutsler and Carolynn Rubino purchased and reopened the resort.
They have done wonderful things over there and brought back a place that is so special to our community. Garland has said that they are “building on the Blacka legacy”.
Last Spring they opened the “Blacka Pond” on the property in honor of the Blacka family. (The guys told me that their father had always wanted a fishing pond).
Jack and Harold still live on Lake road, both homes are within walking distance of Shenandoah Acres. They still stay super busy. Jack has season tickets to UVA men’s basketball, women’s basketball, football & baseball and he NEVER misses a home game.
Both guys are super close to their families. Harold & Elise’s daughter and her family are down in the Blacksburg area and they are often down there. Jack’s kids and grandkids are here and they keep him busy too – as you can see from these pictures.
I so appreciate Jack and Harold’s graciousness, for welcoming me into Jack’s home and taking time to talk to me. I heard some REALLY good stories and enjoyed my time with them so much. When you see Harold or Jack around the Draft, stop to introduce yourself and thank them all they have done for our community throughout the years. If you’re lucky, you might get to hear a good story too.
And now you know the rest of the story.
Visit the website for more information about Shenandoah Acres.