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The Ragged Mountain Natural Area has a Fascinating History


The Poe Connection

"During the fall of the year 1827, while residing near Charlottesville, Virginia...." Thus begins "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains" written in 1844 by Edgar Allan Poe, fourteen years after abruptly leaving the Univeristy of Virginia.

In March 1825, the University of Virginia opened its doors to the first 123 students. During that first year Thomas Jefferson routinely hosted Sunday dinners at Monticello for faculty and students, among whom was Edgar Allan Poe, a 17-year old student who arrived at the new University in February 1826.

In the early years, most University of Virginia students came from Southern plantations. Independent and cocksure, these students were known as a rowdy bunch. Gambling during the first two or three sessions of the University was prevalent. Poe was particularly fond of playing and betting on cards - seven up and loo being his favorite games.

But gambling was something in an institution like Mr. Jefferson's University that could not go unchecked. The Board of Visitors, in those first months led by Jefferson himself, began articulating laws limiting student behavior—an action Jefferson regretted, revering instead the ideal of student self-government. However, after much deliberation Jefferson made an arrangement with the civil authorities to ferret out the most noted of the young gamesters, Edgar Allan Poe among them, and have them brought before the next grand jury.

One day the county Sheriff, with a posse in tow, appeared at the doorway of a lecture room just as the morning roll was about to be called, ready to serve writs on the targeted young men as they answered to their names. The mere glimpse of the Sheriff's shadow in the doorway was more than enough warning. The students bolted; some through the open windows and others through an opposite door. A hot pursuit ensued. They escaped, not to their rooms where they would not have been safe; but off to the Ragged Mountains. Their flight was along an unfrequented bypath, but one well known to Poe, and over which he had often traveled.

Their place of retreat was a beautiful dell high up in the mountains and very inaccessible; a spot that was a favorite haunt with Poe. Three days they spent in the Ragged Mountains, stealing home late at night only to return the next morning for another day of cards and stories upon the dell. It is said, that when they returned to their lectures they were greeted with such friendly smiles as to believe that nothing had happened.

Shortly afterward, Poe was among the students who made the journey up "the mountain" to pay their respects at Jefferson's funeral. Poe left the University in December, having spent a mere nine months in Charlottesville. Years later he wrote his haunting tale describing the landscape called the Ragged Mountains with a marked resemblance to the landscape we know as the Ragged Mountain Natural Area. Yet the influence of his experiences both at the University and particularly in his ramblings in the Ragged Mountains lived on in Poe's writings, as evidenced most notably in A Tale of the Ragged Mountains written 20 years later.

Read excerpts from Poe's "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains"