Harpers Ferry on list of most endangered battlefields

March 14, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

HARPERS FERRY, W.VA. - Civil War battlefields at Harpers Ferry were listed among the most endangered in the country Tuesday and preservation experts pointed to pressure by developers in the announcement.

In a press conference in Washington, D.C., the Civil War Preservation Trust said a group of developers laid about 2,000 feet of water and sewer lines across Harpers Ferry National Historical Park last August and left "nearly two acres of taxpayer-owned hallowed ground seriously compromised."

The National Parks Conservation Association, which issued a list of the 10 most endangered battlefields in the country, said a $200 million office space and hotel project being proposed on private land near the park would allow incompatible, intensive development in the area and undermine millions of dollars in federal, state and private investments made to preserve the park.

"For decades, leaders from West Virginia and across the country have worked together to protect America's Civil War, civil rights, and industrial history at Harpers Ferry. As a result, nearly 3,745 acres of land is protected in a landscape of remarkable beauty," said Joy Oakes, senior regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association.


"But, Harpers Ferry (National Historical Park) is threatened today by an ill-advised proposal to develop approximately 640 acres of private land virtually surrounded by the park," Oakes said.

A Charles Town attorney representing developers who want to build the $200 million office space and hotel project objected to statements that the proposal is not compatible with the Harpers Ferry area and said about 20 acres along the Shenandoah River is being set aside for public access to the river and boat ramps.

Harpers Ferry was included in a report from the Civil War Preservation Trust titled "History under Siege: A Guide to America's Most Endangered Civil War Battlefields."

Other endangered battlefields listed in the report are in Gettysburg, Pa.; Spring Hill, Tenn.; Cedar Creek, Va.; Fort Morgan, Ala.; Iuka, Miss.; Marietta, Ga.; New Orleans Forts, La.; and the Northern Piedmont in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Harpers Ferry was the site of John Brown's unsuccessful attempt to arm and liberate local slaves. Harpers Ferry is also where Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson oversaw the capture of 12,500 troops in 1862, the largest capture in the Civil War.

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

Office space

Last week, the proposed $200 million office space and hotel project was criticized by some local government officials and residents because they said it was "out of character" for the area and could lead to other problems like traffic congestion.

The project is also under fire because the developers want to annex the 638-acre site into the City of Charles Town.

The project would use properties known as the Old Standard quarry site, Alstadt's Corner and Bugler's Rest, which are south of the intersection of Millville Road and U.S. 340, said Charles Town attorney J. Michael Cassell, who is representing the developers.

The project, which is being proposed by developers Gene Capriotti, Herb Jonkers and Jim Gibson, calls for the construction of office buildings which would be around a lake on the quarry property, Cassell said.

A hotel would also be built along the lake and it would have about 150 rooms and meeting space, Cassell said.

The list of the 10 most endangered Civil War battlefields is compiled in hopes of generating public interest about the issue and to hopefully lead to solutions, said Mary Goundrey, spokeswoman for the Civil War Preservation Trust.

Possible solutions include the Civil War Preservation Trust purchasing private lands to help preserve battlefields and turning the properties over to national parks, Goundrey said.

If the properties cannot be turned over to parks, sometimes the Civil War Preservation Trust can keep the properties, Goundrey said.

Cassell said Tuesday he could not comment on whether the developers would be interested in selling their property to the Civil War Preservation Trust.

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