Archive for Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Place in history

September 25, 2002


Within the last week, local historians and a syndicated columnist have sounded a common chord on the need to preserve historic battlefields

Almost 150 years ago, the men who fought the Battle of Black Jack were more concerned about their own survival than about the survival of the site where they were making history.

Now, local historic preservationists are entering into a debate that is occurring in other places across America where development threatens to overtake important sites in the nation's history. In some cases, the debate may be as impassioned as the cause that led to the Civil War.

To allow for calm discussion of this issue, the Douglas County Commission has delayed action on a request that it support an application to have the 20-acre Black Jack site placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Commissioners, concerned about the impact of the designation on private-property rights, have called for meetings involving adjacent property owners and more information about additional regulations the designation would prompt.

These are reasonable issues to address and not unlike the issues raised by George Will in his syndicated column published in Sunday's Journal-World. Will focused on the battlefield at Gettsyburg, Pa., where developers are proposing a plan that would cover the battlefield site with 2,350 homes and 2.4 million square feet of commercial and office space. So much for hallowed ground.

Will and Black Jack advocate Carolyn Bailey Berneking make an impassioned case for preserving pieces of American history. Will chastises the federal government for not dedicating funds to purchase important sites such as Gettysburg. Are such sites any less important than the natural wonders of America that have been preserved by the National Park Service? He also notes the difference between the tragic deaths of those killed at the World Trade Centers and the deaths of those who willingly took up arms to fight "because they were devoted unto death to certain things."

Berneking has a similar feeling for the hallowed ground of Black Jack Park. As she stands on the property she urges a reporter: "If you listen real carefully, you can hear the creaking of the wagons. You can see the ladies in long dresses." The Battle of Black Jack was the first time Americans took up arms to fight against slavery. It is, Berneking said, as important as the battle at Fort Sumter, S.C.

Americans treasure their private-property rights, but they also treasure their history. Perhaps the meetings sought by county commissioners will allay the fears of neighbors of the Black Jack property. In some cases, the guarantee that a plot of land will never be developed actually enhances the value of neighboring property.

In his Sunday column, Will asserted: "Northern Virginia has ample acreage for development without erasing the landscapes where the Army of Northern Virginia spent its valor." Just as America protects its most valued natural landscapes, it also should protect its most treasured historic landscapes so that future generations can come, as Berneking does to the Black Jack battlefield, to listen and sense the spirit of events and people who were important to the history of America.

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