Wal-Mart Superstore Threatens Wilderness Battlefield

Posted on: December 22nd, 2008 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 8 Comments

Virginia’s irreplaceable historic landscapes, from the Piedmont to the Tidewater, are at the heart of our national heritage and their preservation is an issue that should concern all Virginians.

So, it is shocking to learn that commercial real estate speculators are now pressuring elected officials in rural Orange County to approve plans for a bland but mammoth 145,000-square-foot Wal-Mart, a sea of parking, and a 900-acre business park and retail center with three more big-box stores. This cookie-cutter behemoth will sit just one-quarter mile from the main entrance to a unique treasure, the Wilderness Battlefield, which honors the sacrifice of the 29,000 Americans who were killed, wounded or captured there in one of the largest and most strategically important battles of the Civil War.

The heart of the battlefield sits within the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, a key destination in the “Journey Through Hallowed Ground,” named one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2005, and this year designated a National Heritage Area by Congress. The National Trust for Historic Preservation and a growing coalition led by the Civil War Preservation Trust and Piedmont Environmental Council strongly oppose intensive commercial development at this historic place, the intersection of Route 20 and Route 3.

These incompatible new commercial developments would irreparably harm the battlefield and the National Park – and the bulldozers are poised to start construction.

The so-called “Wilderness Wal-Mart” would severely degrade the wooded setting for the Civil War battlefield, promote commercial sprawl and drastically increase traffic through the heart of the park. Moreover, the resulting big-box traffic congestion is likely to resurrect VDOT’s flawed plan to widen Route 20 from two to four lanes, paving over a swath of the battlefield and the National Park – a fatal mistake strongly opposed by preservationists because the historic Orange Turnpike, now Route 20, was the scene of fierce fighting during the 1864 battle.

Beyond destroying the historic integrity of the area and creating a situation that might call for the destruction of part of the historic battlefield itself, the development also would undermine local efforts to generate much-needed revenue from tourism.

When visitors stand today on Civil War battleground at Gettysburg, Cedar Creek, Antietam, or the Wilderness, and are able to see the same fields and hills that soldiers fought across nearly 150 years ago, their understanding of the history that happened there is greatly enhanced. When those heritage tourists are inspired to extend their visits or return for a future visit to the National Park and Wilderness Battlefield, Orange County’s local businesses benefit economically. Over-sized commercial growth adjacent to a unique and irreplaceable preserved landscape risks the authenticity of the battlefield viewshed and erodes the experience of those visiting the historic site.

Recently, 253 eminent historians – including David McCullough, James McPherson, Edwin Bearss and Ken Burns – joined the chorus of Americans imploring Wal-Mart to abandon its destructive proposal.

To its credit, Orange County’s comprehensive plan embraces the importance of conserving the county’s rural character by limiting sprawling growth and promoting the preservation of historic areas. In fact, in 2007 the comprehensive plan was revised to “discourage development that would necessitate the construction of a four-lane highway over any portion of Route 20 in Orange County.” Accordingly, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and its allies believe that Orange County’s elected officials should reject current plans for the Wal-Mart and business park at the gateway to the historic battlefield.

Experts agree that the Wilderness Battlefield is one of our nation’s most significant Civil War battlefields. More than 2,700 acres of the battlefield are permanently preserved for the public’s benefit within the boundaries of the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. However, it’s up to the leaders and citizens of Orange County and the Commonwealth of Virginia today to conserve the battlefield’s rural setting against ill-conceived growth and transportation planning.

Preservationists certainly are not opposed to commercial growth in Orange County, but we believe the proposed Wal-Mart and 2.6-million-square-foot business park should not be permitted to critically threaten Virginia and our nation’s heritage. There are many potential sites for Wal-Mart, but only one Wilderness Battlefield, the preservation of which is crucial to the understanding of our history and the education of our children in addition to the welfare of local communities.

For more information about the Wilderness Wal-Mart, please visit www.wildernesswalmart.com.

-- Richard Moe

Richard Moe is the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This op-ed article originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on December 21, 2008.

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8 Responses

  1. Richard Udelhofen

    December 22, 2008

    It would seem that WalMart has destroyed more than enough farmland and rural settings in order to have a store within a short distance of an already existing store. To allow degradation of a nationally important site says as much about us as it does about WalMart. We should be ashamed to consider allowing this kind of activity. I know WalMart has the clout – am hoping people will stand up to them-would be a welcome change from our development at any cost mentality. As I said – WE SHOULD BE ASHAMED if we allow this type of thing.

  2. Gregory L Land

    December 23, 2008

    As an Historian for the 43rd Regiment of the General Barton and Stovall History and Heritage Assoc. I request that Wal-Mart NOT build a Super store or any other type of store which may impact the historical preservation of such a major part of AMERICAN HISTORY !!!!!! The Wilderness Battlefield is equally important to Northerners and Southeners alike due to the major impact this battle had on the entire War effofort for both sides. All Americans have a legacy from the importance of this site. It is imparitive that we save the Battlesite as well as the surrounding area and prohibit any commercialiation of the adjacent areas…

    Best Regards,
    Gregory L Land
    Historian for the 43rd Regiment
    GBSHHA

  3. Growing Opposition to “Wilderness Wal-Mart” « Fred2Blue

    December 26, 2008

    […] to “Wilderness Wal-Mart” Posted on December 26, 2008 by Chris Guy The National Trust for Historic Preservation doesn’t mince words: Virginia’s irreplaceable historic landscapes, from the Piedmont to the […]

  4. Jane Rothchild

    December 29, 2008

    Once again, this retail monster is set to destroy another community. They have no concern for local tourism revenue, local businesses, or National heritage and sacrifice. The American story. If the “powers that be” allow a Wal-Mart on or near The Wilderness, then all of America loses. One wealthy and powerful family will rake in the money — at the expense of history, education and greenspace. It’s ridiculous that these plans are even entertained by Orange county at all.

  5. Selma Troyanoski

    December 30, 2008

    I certainly hope the protest against this modern day behomoth and its dictatorial ways is successful. As a life-long Civil War buff and advocate for maintaining historic buildings, I do hope that clearer thinking on the part of Orange County and the Commonwealth of VA do persuade Wal-mart to locate elsewhere. We owe it to our brave ancestors North and South to preserve this important reminder of nation’s long and bloody struggle to remain as close to its pristine nature as possible. I agree with other commentators. The very idea of such a plan is repulsive!

  6. Kelly Grimaldi

    December 30, 2008

    We need to fight Wal-Mart and every other super-giant that could not care less about the preservation of history. America has already lost bits and pieces of her historic buildings and sites in the name of progress. I remember the quaintness of Main Street USA dotted with family owned shops before Walmart and malls took over. I can also recall when Lake George (NY) water was so pure you could drink it in the years before massive lakefront developments caused water runoff to contaminate it. It’s well past the time to just say no to capitalist pigs and yes to the preservation of our environment and our fine American History. Shame on Orange County, VA for even entertaining the thought of allowing Wal-Mart to build so close to sacred ground.

  7. Ann Chervek

    December 30, 2008

    Being from the Mid West I have friends and relatives who ask me why I get involved with NTHP and Williamsburg other projects to save all that “old” stuff back East. My answer is simple. We here in the Mid West never paid much attention to history and when it finally dawned on someone we might have some, they discovered we had either torn most of it down or paved over it. Someone needs to save this site and all others for our children and our childrens – children. In small towns all over the country Walmart is pushing the hometown merchants out of business by the thousands. This needs to stop and the Wilderness is the best place to start.

  8. Alyson McGee

    December 30, 2008

    How sad that once again a community (and the nation) has to struggle against the 800 lb. gorilla known as Wal Mart to save its irreplacable heritage. However, there is a very sad irony that the Trust is condemming this case when in the November/December 2008 issue of “Preservation” the “Making a Difference” article highlights a case where a historic barn in Battle Creek, MI was deconstructed, parts of it moved to another site and “reconstructed” as a smaller “teaching barn” – all to make room for another Wal Mart store. The article commends the projects and states that Wal Mart provided $150,000 to make the “relocation” (Can it be called a relocation since only parts of the building were used?) possible.

    Does the Trust condemn Wal Mart’s destruction of historic resources in some instances, but not others? Is it O.K. for Wal Mart to destroy our heritage if they save some parts of the resource? What message does this send to the public and the executives of Wal Mart?