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Civil War battlefields on endangered list

February 27, 2002|BY ANDREW SCHOTZ

Harpers Ferry, W.Va. - The Harpers Ferry Civil War battlefield is one of the 10 most endangered in the nation, according to a watchdog group's list released Tuesday.

The Civil War Preservation Trust named battlefields in Harpers Ferry, Gettysburg, Pa., and six other states as the most threatened by development.

The Trust also named 15 other battlefields as "at-risk," one step below the top 10. None of the other 15 are in the Tri-State region.

The Trust, a nonprofit battlefield preservation organization, said that 2,729 of the 7,199 acres in the Harpers Ferry battlefield area are protected.

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Harpers Ferry National Historical Park spokeswoman Marsha Starkey said 2,300 acres are within the park boundaries. She said she didn't know how the other 429 acres are protected.

Starkey said "it's an honor" for the battlefield to be on the Civil War Preservation Trust list because of the attention it draws.

At the same time, "Our hope is (that) sometime in the future we won't make the list," she said.

In 1993, the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission identified 384 U.S. battlefields and rated their historical significance and likelihood of preservation, Civil War Preservation Trust spokesman Jim Campi said.

The Harpers Ferry battlefield is ranked Priority I (highest possibility of preservation) and Class B (second-highest historical significance).

At a battle in Harpers Ferry in September 1862, more than 12,000 Union soldiers surrendered to Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's Confederate force.

Developers are considering building 188 houses and a 130-foot water tower on 99 acres near the park. The parcel, west of the park, is known as Murphy's Farm.

Opponents have said the project would mar the landscape and desecrate a historically important piece of Civil War and civil rights history. The property was once home to abolitionist John Brown's fort.

After convening the Niagara Movement at Harpers Ferry in 1906, W.E.B. DuBois went on to help found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Park Service has been mentioned as a possible buyer for Murphy's Farm.

Under a mandate from Congress, the Park Service will hold four public meetings in March about expanding the park. Starkey said up to 500 acres are being considered, "a good percentage of it" to the west.

Another 280 acres on Schoolhouse Ridge, outside the national park, also are vulnerable to development, Campi said.

The Trust started compiling its annual list last year. Harpers Ferry was on that list, too.

At its Web site, the Trust says its goal is "to preserve historical battlefield land through outright purchases, conservation easements, and partnerships with federal, state, and local governments."

The Trust says it has helped protect more than 14,000 acres in 18 states.

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