“Wilderness Wal-Mart” Update: 145th Anniversary of the 1864 Battle

Posted on: May 6th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Written by Robert Nieweg

Wal-Mart continues to pursue its flawed plan to build a “Superstore” within the boundaries of the 1864 Wilderness Battlefield and just across the roadway from the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park.

Wal-Mart’s 140,000-square foot big-box would permanently harm the battlefield, frustrate private-public initiatives to preserve the battlefield and restore 1864’s open viewscapes, and undermine the visitor's experience of the National Park. Critically, Wal-Mart would facilitate more large-scale commercial development.

Preservationists are asking Wal-Mart to relocate its store to another location in Orange County, VA – away from the historic battlefield and National Park. However, on May 21, 2009, Wal-Mart’s proposal is likely to be heard by the Orange County Planning Board.

Here is an update on advocacy to save Wilderness Battlefield:

  • Historian James McPherson published a thoughtful opinion piece in the May 3, 2009, edition of the Washington Post observing: “There is still time for Wal-Mart to recognize its error and identify another location. This week marks the 145th anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness, a perfect opportunity to seek a solution in everyone's best interests. The Wilderness Battlefield is a living memorial to American sacrifice and heroism. It would be tragic if such a landmark was lost through the short-sightedness of local decision-makers and Wal-Mart's stubborn refusal to consider reasonable alternatives.
  • Actor Robert Duvall, Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) convened a press event at the National Park on May 4, 2009, to raise awareness of Wilderness Wal-Mart. In February 2009, Congressman Welch and Congressman Poe wrote to Wal-Mart’s CEO Lee Scott, stating: “There are countless other locations your company could consider for a more responsibly sited development in this region. We feel the definition of corporate responsibility must always extend to respecting storied lands and respecting a community’s natural landscape and surroundings when choosing a site for a store. Those values should not be eroded for the sake of commercial gain.”
  • On May 4th, Mr. Duvall said: “The Wal-Mart Corporation has within its power to be a savior of the Wilderness battlefield. Simply by moving to an alternate location slightly farther from the battlefield, they have the ability to protect this critical piece of American history.”
  • The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Wilderness Battlefield Coalition have offered to pay for a land-use planning study to balance preservation and sustainable economic development at this vulnerable site. To their credit, one of Orange County’s major private property owners has joined us to endorse the preservationists’ land-use planning process. However, the Orange County Board of Supervisors dismissed our offer of assistance as a “ruse” to delay Wal-Mart.
  • Once again, the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star editorialized on April 21, 2009, in support of battlefield preservation and land-use planning, observing: “Those sharp retorts heard recently from the direction of the Wilderness Battlefield were the sounds of Orange County supervisors shooting down a proposed planning study for the county’s eastern gateway. Alas, their shortsightedness made them miss the target altogether. … That’s a classic ‘ready fire aim’ view. Because once the big-box store is planted, others will sprout up, and the chance to ‘plan’ obviated. … Rejecting the reasonable request of the Wilderness Coalition is foolish. Orange supervisors should rethink their position. The target of the public good still stands. Only they can hit it.”

Please join thousands of Americans by signing the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s petition to protect historic Wilderness Battlefield.

Robert Nieweg is the Director of the Southern Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Senior Citizens in Scrabble, VA Are Going Back To School

Posted on: May 6th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 2 Comments

 

Written by Crista Gibbons

Nanette Butler Roberts, a Scrabble alumna, sings the Star Spangled Banner.

Nanette Butler Roberts, a Scrabble alumna, sings the Star Spangled Banner.

Last Saturday, rather than tend to my normal “mommy” weekend duties, I left the kids with my husband and went to work. But it was no typical day at work -- it turned out to be one of the most beautiful and moving memories I have of my nine years at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

I drove two hours to Rappahannock County in rural Virginia to attend the re-dedication ceremony of the Scrabble School. It is a former Rosenwald School that has been restored and reopened as a senior center thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers and support from private and public organizations such as Lowe’s and the National Trust.

The celebration opened with a prayer, followed by the Color Guard (local Boy Scout troop 36) unfurling the flag for Nanette Butler Roberts, a Scrabble alumna, to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Nanette sang with such emotion that the entire crowd joined in. It was a beautiful moment that moved many of use to tears.

The Scrabble School, before its renovation.

The Scrabble School, before its renovation.

The Scrabble School is a wonderful preservation success story. Just a few years ago, area residents facetiously nicknamed it the “Scrabble Mall,” a reference to the dumpster divers drawn to the school each Saturday when the County dumped new loads of rubbish in the two dumpsters in front of the school. In addition to the trash in the front, the building itself was in disrepair and being overtaken by brush.

Today, the building is fully restored and open for business as the new Rappahannock Senior Center. And bringing this story full-circle is the fact that many of the seniors that will use the center and benefit from it today are among the alumni of the Scrabble School. The building stands strong and offers a beacon of hope to so many other Rosenwald Schools that are endangered across the South. So many, are in fact at risk of being lost forever that the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Rosenwald Schools to their “11 Most Endangered” list in 2002.

Scrabble school alumni say "This Place Matters!"

Scrabble school alumni say "This Place Matters!"

After the ceremony, I was able to sit down and interview many of the alumni. As they spoke fondly of their years as students in the small, two room schoolhouse, I listened to countless memories that flooded through their minds. They talked about their walks to school, vocabulary lessons, spelling bees, theatrical plays, feeding the stoves, crushes on boys, and so much more. Almost all of them mentioned “Soup Day,” a special day once a week when a mother brought in warm soup for all of the children. The rest of the time  they packed cold lunches and sandwiches, as there was no stove for warm meals.

Lowe's employee Judi Vigay and her aunt, Scrabble School alumna Laurie Noakes Jackson.

Lowe's employee Judi Vigay and her aunt, Scrabble School alumna Laurie Noakes Jackson.

Judi Vigay had both a professional and personal connection to the school, representing not only the local Lowe’s store, but also sharing the moment with her aunt, Laurie Noakes Jackson, a 1924 alumna of the Scrabble School.

The day was full of these poignant examples of the personal impact of preservation. In the coming weeks, excerpts from my conversations with the alums will be posted on PreservationNation, and I encourage you to tune in.

Learn more about:

Click here to read The Rappahannock Voice story about the event.

Crista Gibbons is the assistant director of the Business Development office at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

A Letter to the Governor Of West Virginia Regarding Blair Mountain

Posted on: May 5th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Following news that the State of West Virginia requested that Blair Mountain be removed from the National Register of Historic Places, several committed volunteers helped the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia gather signatures for a scholars’ letter, urging an alternative to surface mining on the site. More than 80 writers, historians, archaeologists and other experts signed on, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author James McPherson and noted historian Henry Louis Gates.

The letter was delivered to Governor Manchin’s office last week:

Dear Governor Manchin:

As historians, archaeologists, and other scholars, we urge you in the strongest possible terms to investigate all avenues for preserving and interpreting the nationally significant Blair Mountain Battlefield, which was recently listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Blair Mountain is the site of the largest civil insurrection in American history since the Civil War. The struggle that took place on the mountain pitted approximately 10,000 coal miners against an army of 5,000 who were opposed to their unionization attempts. More than one million rounds of ammunition were fired in the confrontation during the late summer of 1921.

Although the miners were defeated there, the American labor movement began slowly to gather momentum. The egregious conditions in the nation’s coal fields that were exposed by the miners’ actions drew public attention to the working conditions confronting laborers in every sector of the nation’s industry. The fight to unionize was synonymous with the fight to bring dignity, democracy, and safety to American work places.

The Blair Mountain Battlefield is a unique historic and cultural treasure that deserves recognition and protection. Archaeological research performed in preparing the National Register nomination indicates that the battlefield has tremendous integrity, as it presents a rich and well-preserved record of the details of the conflict. This preliminary research has revealed interesting and provocative information about force movements, weaponry, and strategies used by both sides in the battle. These findings are especially critical, given fallible and sometimes contradictory narratives of the battle. No doubt much remains to be discovered, and scholars must be able to continue to study this important chapter in American history.

We are concerned that the recent attempt to delist Blair Mountain from the National Register may be a first step toward strip-mining the mountain for coal production, which will destroy the historic site. The National Park Service found that the battlefield is both significant and intact, and we believe it must be preserved for future generations. If mining is necessary, we strongly encourage the state and federal agencies with oversight over mining to work with the property owners to find a solution that will allow mining on Blair Mountain without destroying the historic site.

There’s still time to sign the National Trust’s general petition! Click here to take action!

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Boston's Sites Spark Poetry and Inspiring Stories

Posted on: May 5th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Written by James Igoe

I was amazed at April 14th’s Partners in Preservation launch by the significance of the 25 projects selected for the program, ranging from the oldest—The Old Ship Meeting House in Hingham, erected in 1681—to the most recent, Boston's New England Aquarium, constructed in 1969. As the statewide non-profit, we at Preservation Massachusetts were thrilled by the great turnout at the press conference at Faneuil Hall, which included Mayor Thomas Menino and Governor Deval Patrick, both promoting historic preservation and the importance of this National Trust/ American Express partnership.

Today, a little over two weeks into the voting period, the interest in the program and the voting turnout has clearly been incredible. We’ve talked to so many individuals who are working feverishly to promote their own favorite projects. We’ve also found that one of our favorite elements of the program has turned out to be the user-generated content on the Partners in Preservation website—the personal stories that members of the public have submitted about the 25 historic places. The other day I was particularly struck by a poem that a woman had posted which described her experience touring the United First Parish Church in Quincy. It was wonderful to see that a short visit to the church was enough to inspire serious reflection and creativity.

For us, reading these personal stories makes it even more impossible to select a winner, as it drives home the worthiness of all the 25 places—they’ve all shaped countless lives. If you’d like to make our voting decisions even harder by sharing your own experiences with any of the sites, go to that place’s page under the Explore tab, click “Learn More” and then “Add your story.” We’d love to see what you contribute.

And, of course, please continue to also contribute by casting your votes every day through May 17th. What a great way to promote historic preservation and provide funding for some great properties! Hats off to the National Trust and American Express!

James Igoe is the President of Preservation Massachusetts

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Charity Hospital: Lawsuit Filed Against Department of Veteran Affairs and FEMA

Posted on: May 1st, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments

 

Continuing our efforts to save the historic Mid-City neighborhood from needless demolition - 67 acres of homes and businesses in Mid-City are slated to be demolished to make room for sprawling new hospital campuses for the Department of Veterans Affairs and Louisiana State University - the National Trust for Historic Preservation today filed a lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs and FEMA (FEMA is funding part of LSU’s hospital, and therefore has a responsibility to evaluate the impacts of the project on the community in which it is located).

The lawsuit claims that during the environmental review process, VA and FEMA failed to fully evaluate the devastating effects that their plan would inflict on historic properties - factors they must consider under federal law. Despite the fact that the new hospitals would mean razing hundreds of homes and businesses and wiping a historic neighborhood off the map, the federal agencies determined that the damage to the neighborhood would be “insignificant.”

Obviously, we disagree. Many homeowners in Mid-City have painstakingly restored their homes since Katrina’s flooding devastated their neighborhood. By returning to the city after the storm, pouring thousands of dollars and untold hours of sweat-equity into fixing their homes and rebuilding their community, these homeowners have done exactly what was asked of them. To then turn around and deem it “insignificant” that their neighborhood will be demolished is just plain wrong.

Rather than delaying the return of medical care to veterans and the people of New Orleans, the intention of the lawsuit is to have the opposite effect: by encouraging the agencies to revisit their site-location decisions, the agencies could choose sites that would not only avoid delays, but allow the hospitals to open sooner than under current plans.

>> Read More About the Lawsuit

>> Read the Complaint Filed by the National Trust

>> Learn More About Our Efforts to Save Mid-City New Orleans

-Betsy Merritt

Betsy Merritt is deputy general counsel at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, where she has been responsible for the National Trust's legal advocacy program for the past 25 years.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.