Cedar Creek Battlefield / Belle Grove threatened
Background post: One-tank trips: Belle Grove Plantation.
Recently, author and blogger Eric J. Wittenberg posted an article about a sell-out by a previously well respected historical preservation group that traded the rights to mine historical property in exchange for a token piece of land that abuts their holdings (the original article follows). The sad tale reminded me of the ill-fated and illogical swap the National Park Service did with Gettysburg College a few years ago that forever ruined a key portion of the first day’s battlefield at Gettysburg. Short-sighted, short-term thinking often clouds longer-term judgement, and we are left with a scarred landscape that can never be restored properly.
Here in York County, similar preservation efforts have been underway for years to try to save the Camp Security prisoner-of-war site from the American Revolution. Recently, the skirmish field at Wrightsville has been compromised by new construction, and other sites of interest to the historian are long gone in the name of “progress.” I was in Kernstown, Virginia, last weekend and heartily applaud the efforts of the locals there in the last five years to band together to save, preserve, and interpret a key part of the three Kernstown battlefields, although much has already been lost.
Drastic Expansion of Mining Operations Threatens Belle Grove Plantation and Cedar Creek Civil War Battlefield
Blasting, Quarry Truck Traffic, Noise and Multi-Story High Waste Piles Will Alter Historic and Rural Gem of the Shenandoah Valley
Washington, DC – June 18, 2008 – The National Trust for Historic Preservation today reaffirmed its strong opposition to radically expanded mining operations proposed in and around Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park. Cedar Creek and Belle Grove are situated in a rural landscape whose centuries of historical and cultural significance include 18th century Shenandoah Valley settlements, 18th-19th century plantation lands and Civil War battle grounds. The Belgian mining conglomerate Carmeuse Lime & Stone has recently won county approval to move ahead with mining activities, including blasting and increased quarry truck traffic, which could destroy the character of the visitor experience at Belle Grove Plantation, a National Trust Historic Site and National Historic Landmark, and the Cedar Creek Civil War battlefield.
“The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has owned Belle Grove Plantation for 44 years, is dismayed that intrusive mining activities could destroy the character of sites of tremendous national and regional significance,” said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Preservation of these irreplaceable cultural landscapes and buildings, rich in our nation’s history, is one of the highest priorities of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and we will do everything we can to protect them from irreparable harm.”
Recently, the Frederick County Board of Supervisors, by a vote of 4-3, approved Carmeuse’s destructive proposal despite opposition from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Belle Grove Inc., (which manages the plantation site), and a broad coalition of partners and local residents, alarmed that the quarry operations will destroy the tourism industry and their way of life. Experts agree expansion of the quarry will harm Belle Grove, which dates to the late 18th century, and the Cedar Creek battlefield, the region’s most significant Civil War site. Already, multi-story high mounds of mining waste are intruding on the site’s world-class vistas. Each year tens of thousands of visitors come to the area because of its history. Proposed blasting would damage historic structures, bulldozers would destroy acres of core battlefield land adjacent to the National Historical Park, and dust clouds, noise, and increased quarry truck traffic would diminish the visitor’s experience.
The threat is so severe, the Civil War Preservation Trust in 2007 and again in 2008 listed the Cedar Creek battlefield as one of America’s most-endangered Civil War battlefields. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Belle Grove, Inc., longtime stewards of the 18th-19th century plantation and the Cedar Creek Civil War battlefield, fully intend to pursue avenues that will mitigate, reduce and avoid harm to Belle Grove, and the cultural and historic resources within and adjacent to the National Historical Park, but hope that congressional action can halt the mining expansion altogether.
As one signal of their opposition, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Belle Grove, Inc. are suspending any involvement with the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation and prohibiting their use of Belle Grove for their annual Civil War re-enactment. Although the two non-profits recognize the value of Civil War commemorative activities, including re-enactments, as dynamic educational and tourism programming, they are suspending their relationship with the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation because of the Foundation’s sudden reversal on the mining issue. On April 17, the president and executive director of the Foundation assured the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Belle Grove of their opposition to quarry owner Carmeuse’s mining proposals. Yet on April 23, without notifying the National Trust for Historic Preservation or Belle Grove, the foundation publicly testified before the Frederick County Board of Supervisors they “took no exception” to the quarry expansion, essentially approving the proposal. On the same day, the Foundation struck a deal to accept a gift of 8 acres of land from the quarry owner. The Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation’s conduct has undermined generations of work to protect the historic plantation and battlefield and has strained the public – private partnership that was established by Congress in 2002 to plan the future management of the National Historical Park.
“We certainly respect the Cedar Creek Battlefield Foundation’s past contributions to the stewardship of the battlefield. But we cannot silently and passively overlook the Foundation’s recent actions, which were taken unilaterally and without the prior knowledge of its partners in the overall preservation effort,” said Anne Buettner, president of Belle Grove, Inc.’s Board of Directors. “As a result, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Belle Grove, Inc. cannot host the Foundation’s October 2008 re-enactment on Belle Grove lands, when they have taken actions that tend to undermine the efforts of their partners and that jeopardize the region’s treasured historic sites and Civil War heritage. Belle Grove and the National Trust will, as always, commemorate the anniversary of the 1864 Battle of Belle Grove or Cedar Creek with a weekend of special events, speakers and interpretive programs in the historic Manor House and on its lawns and surrounding fields, hosted separately from any other events.”
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a non-profit membership organization bringing people together to protect, enhance and enjoy the places that matter to them… By saving the places where great moments from history – and the important moments of everyday life – took place, the National Trust for Historic Preservation helps revitalize neighborhoods and communities, spark economic development and promote environmental sustainability. With headquarters in Washington, DC, 9 regional and field offices, 29 historic sites, and partner organizations in all 50 states, the National Trust for Historic Preservation provides leadership, education, advocacy and resources to a national network of people, organizations and local communities committed to saving places, connecting us to our history and collectively shaping the future of America’s stories. For more information, visit www.PreservationNation.org.