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Preservation group hopes to buy land at School House Ridge

April 23, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - The country's largest nonprofit battlefield preservation group has launched an effort to purchase 232 acres on School House Ridge, considered to be the most significant Civil War battlefield in West Virginia.

The Civil War Preservation Trust announced over the weekend a fund-raising campaign to raise $200,000 toward the purchase of the land.

If the organization is able to raise the money, it will trigger awards of $1.5 million in state and federal money to buy the property, said Dennis Frye, a Sharpsburg resident and a member of the Civil War Preservation Trust's national advisory board.

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School House Ridge, a stretch of rolling farmland on either side of U.S. 340 between Shipley Elementary School and Bakerton Road, is where Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson oversaw the capture of 12,500 troops in 1862, the largest capture of the Civil War.

It remained the largest military capture until World War II, trust officials said.

Frye said School House Ridge is considered to be the most significant battlefield in West Virginia because 37,000 troops were involved in Jackson's siege.

"There's no other battlefield in West Virginia that comes close to that," Frye said. "Finally, Confederate veterans can rest in peace knowing the most significant battlefield in Jefferson County and West Virginia is about to be saved."

The land used to be owned by Dixie Kilham, a landowner in Harpers Ferry who died about four years ago.

The property is about a half-mile northwest of Murphy's Farm, a 99-acre site that preservationists also want to purchase.

Murphy's Farm is being proposed for a controversial development called Murphy's Landing, which has been delayed because of concerns federal regulators have about the project.

In the meantime, officials with other preservation groups have been involved in negotiations with the owners of Murphy's Farm - Josephine Murphy Curtis and Karen Fuller - to purchase the land, Frye said.

Curtis and Fuller could not be reached for comment Monday.

If the Civil War preservation group is successful in purchasing the Kilham property, it hopes to donate the land to the adjacent Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

The 232 acres is within a 1,200-acre expansion that is being considered for the park.

The expansion must be approved by Congress before lands like those being sought by the Civil War Preservation Trust can be turned over to the park.

Frye and Civil War Preservation Trust spokesman Jim Campi expressed confidence the organization would raise the $200,000 in private and public funds.

Campi estimates it will take between 90 and 120 days to raise the money.

The remaining $1.5 million in federal and state funds should be awarded quickly after the $200,000 is raised because the School House Ridge area is considered to be a "priority battlefield," Campi said.

In February, the Civil War Preservation Trust identified Harpers Ferry as one of the 10 most endangered battlefields in the nation.

"School House Ridge is a national treasure," said James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust. "If this property was allowed to fall prey to development, one of the most beautiful and historic landscapes in America will be marred forever."

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