Archive for Sunday, September 22, 2002

Civil War

September 22, 2002


— As Carolyn Bailey Berneking hikes through the knee-high prairie grasses a couple miles east of Baldwin, the historian closes her eyes and hears 150-year-old voices.

Kit Carson, H. Clay Pate and John Brown all speak to her, and Berneking wants everyone to listen.

"Can you hear that?" she says, stopping at the crest of a hill in the Black Jack Battleground. "If you listen real carefully, you can hear the creaking of the wagons. You can see the ladies in long dresses."

And in the years ahead, Berneking hopes to attract the sounds of hundreds of historians, thousands of visitors and millions of dollars in tourism spending to this 20-acre patch along the south side of U.S. Highway 56.

Berneking, on behalf of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance, is working to have the site listed as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places commemorating the country's first battle for freedom from slavery. It was on June 2, 1856, that Brown's free-state troops traded gunfire with pro-slavery forces and took two dozen prisoners.

Birthplace of Civil War

The landmark designation also could marshal efforts to get Lawrence and Douglas County approved as a National Heritage Area, a designation capable of generating $10 million in federal grants and another $40 million in private investment.

The idea is to put "Bleeding Kansas" on the map  literally, historically and economically.

"This is the site of the battle that started the Civil War," Berneking said, walking through the site. "It's the spark that started the flames of the Civil War. This place could be every bit as important as Fort Sumter. We could make a big thing out of this park  a visitors center, tours, everything."

But, just as the Civil War divided a nation, Berneking's application isn't winning unanimous support from nearby residents or members of the Douglas County Commission, which will meet Monday morning to review the landmark plan.

The 20.27-acre battleground is about 2 miles east of Baldwin and includes three parts: the Ivan Boyd Prairie Preserve, which covers 18 acres and is owned by the county; the Robert Hall Pearson Memorial Park, covering 0.27 acres and also owned by the county; and the state-owned Black Jack Park, which covers the 2 acres closest to U.S. 56 and includes historical markers and a log cabin for events.

'Adverse' effects?

Bob Johnson, whose district includes the site, said he supported efforts to preserve historic resources for generations to come. But he's not convinced that adding the site to the national register would be appropriate because such a listing could place development restrictions on adjacent properties.

Johnson knows it's a flashpoint issue, especially with Baldwin expanding to the east and property owners looking ahead.

"My concern is that as these places get on the historic register, it has, sometimes, a very adverse effect  one much more far reaching than anybody realizes when you're doing it," he said. "If our objective is to protect that property, that's fine. But we have to be really careful how that imposes hardships on neighboring property."

Listing the battleground on the national register would require that any proposed development of property within 1,000 feet of the site be reviewed by state officials. Such reviews can delay or reject such plans.

"It allows the community to evaluate what the effects might or might not be, and how they would play into issues with community growth and community vision," said Dennis Enslinger, a planner in the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Office and the city's historic resources administrator.

Costly control?

The prospects of such reviews worry Raymond Deay, who owns and farms more than 200 acres immediately south of the Black Jack site. He's worked the ground since 1960 and already has watched from his front porch as nearby lots were listed for residential development at $10,000 an acre.

"If you live to be 500 years old, you couldn't get that farming," said Deay, 69, of such returns on the land.

He said he would object to the landmark designation if it restricted his options for building upon or cut into his ability to sell his property for future development.

But adding a property to the national register typically triples the value of adjacent properties, Berneking said. A new home recently built just east of the battleground overlooks Santa Fe Trail ruts that cut through the site, and the owner there plans to keep prairie grasses in the back yard and probably will install a split-rail fence to keep things in character.

A landmark listing for the battleground would offer a chance to market the site as a tourism destination, she said, and that means any adjacent development should remain sensitive to the site that gave birth to the Civil War.

"I wouldn't want a bunch of pig farms all the way around here," she said, waving at the prairie grasses and woods.

That, of course, would be another battle.

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