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Kepler farm protected

September 09, 2000

Kepler farm protected



By DON WORTHINGTON / Staff Writer


When the Civil War came raging to South Mountain in September 1862, farmers along the mountain such as the ancestors of Daniel and Helen Kepler hid their horses in the meat house to keep them hidden from marauding soldiers.

During the battle, Union artillery occupied the Kepler farm's high ground, directing their fire at Rebel troops. It is also believed that Union Gen. Jesse Reno was mortally wounded on the Kepler property while reconnoitering in front of his troops.

Saturday, the Kepler farm was again in the forefront of Civil War history.

Considered one of the critical areas to maintain the view of the Sept. 14, 1862, battle, the Keplers and state officials announced a protective easement that will keep the farm undeveloped.

The farmland represented what Civil War preservations called the "hole in the donut." Land to the three sides of the farm was under protective easement.

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Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources Sarah J. Taylor-Rogers announced the protective easement on the 132 acres of Kepler farmland at a press conference following the Saturday re-enactment of the fighting at Fox's Gap.

Joining Taylor-Rogers and the Keplers for the announcement was Del. Louise Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington, who was dressed in period clothing.

Snodgrass called Saturday a red-letter day that marked the outcome of political fighting in Annapolis to get the area declared the state's first Civil War battlefield park.

The easement will allow the Kepler to build another house on the property and sell the remaining property. The land has been in the Kepler family for six generations.

"We're happy to see it not grow into houses," Helen Kepler, 61, said of the protective easement.

She said she and her husband, Daniel, 61, initially had some concerns.

Yet, she said it was always their intention to try and preserve the land where they occasionally find live Civl War shells.

"We've said all along we wanted to see it preserved," she said.

Maryland paid about $330,000 for the easement, said Grant DeHart, director of policy for new capital grants and loans of the state Department of Natural Resources.

Taylor-Rogers noted the state has made a $21 million investment in protecting Civil War battlefields in the state. The funds have primarily come from the federal government.

She said the state has recently added $4.8 million to that total, which will be used to acquire easements or buy another 27 parcels representing 1,000 acres near the battlefields of South Mountain, Monocacy and Antietam.

For area legislators, their efforts regarding South Mountain will likely be focused on getting more operational dollars for the park. The current state budget recognizes the battlefield, but does not provide operational funds.

Taylor-Rogers said her No.1 priority will be to increase the state budget for the park system. She said such funds could be used not only to help manage South Mountain but to build interpretative resources as well.

With the addition of the Kepler farm, about 6,000 acres of the battlefield are either owned by the state or protected by easements, officials said.

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