Written by Rob Nieweg
The national fight continues to save historic Wilderness Battlefield, one of the most important Civil War historic sites, from Wal-Mart's flawed proposal to build 240,000 square feet of big-box development on the Wilderness Battlefield and immediately adjacent to the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park in Orange County, Virginia.
On July 7, 2009, conservative commentator Ben Stein wrote in The American Spectator that Wal-Mart should find another site for its Orange County store. Mr. Stein wrote:
"Frankly, I wonder if the nice people in Arkansas who run Wal-Mart have thought this through. This battlefield is incredibly important environmentally and historically and emotionally. It reeks of the blood of men fighting for causes they considered sacred. How can it possibly be that it will be used even in part for a Wal-Mart Super Store? Wal-Mart is a great American institution. I am, as noted, about as devout a fan as there is in the national media. But a store is a store and blood is blood. There is plenty of other land in the area that is not historically sensitive. ... Wal-Mart has shown that it is flexible on a number of issues lately, including employee health care. Now may be the time to show that Wal-Mart has a heart as well as a calculator. The blood of those men burned to death, shot through and through, some alive but leaving without their limbs, in what is still America's greatest tragedy, cries out for sanctity. I hope they can hear it in Northwest Arkansas."
Several days later, on July 10th, The American Spectator also published a letter to the editor from Zack Burkett, a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Later this summer Mr. Burkett will vote to approve or reject Wal-Mart's proposal. In his letter to the editor Mr. Burkett asserts incorrectly that “the proposed site of the Wal-Mart is not on the Battlefield. It is not adjacent to the Battlefield. It cannot be seen from the Wilderness Battlefield.” In fact, as we've reported on PreservationNation.org, Wal-Mart's proposed site is entirely within the historic boundaries of the 1864 Wilderness Battlefield, according to the expert Virginia Dept. of Historic Resources and the blue-ribbon Civil War Sites Advisory Commission. Even Wal-Mart's own consultant, Dovetail Cultural Resource Group, Inc., agrees that the Wal-Mart site is on the historic battlefield. Importantly, Wal-Mart's proposed buildings would be obviously visible from many vantage points in the National Park, according to the National Park Service and private Friends of Wilderness Battlefield -- which have been working in partnership for years to preserve and interpret this hallowed ground for the American public. Unfortunately, if Mr. Burkett and Orange County's elected officials vote based upon incorrect information, Wal-Mart is likely to secure the necessary special use permit.
As our members know well, the National Trust for Historic Preservation owns James Madison's Montpelier and 2,700 acres in Orange County. As a longtime local citizen, the National Trust has raised the alarm -- locally and nationally -- that preservationists are gravely concerned that Wal-Mart's planned development would harm the battlefield, undermine the visitor's experience of the National Park, and open the door to more incompatible development at this nationally significant historic place. The National Trust and its allies do not oppose change and have offered to help plan for battlefield preservation and sustainable growth in Orange County. Local elected officials dismissed our offer.
That's why we've asked Wal-Mart to relocate its development to another site in Orange County but away from the battlefield and National Park. We hope Wal-Mart is listening.
Rob Nieweg is the Director of the Southern Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.