Virginia’s 150th program reviews the Sesquicentennial at the mid-way mark

With all the sesquicentennial timed postings about Stones River and Arkansas Post, I’m a bit behind on the “newsy” posts (which is not a bad thing, since many of those are… admittedly … filler). So let me turn to some “old news,” but still good news. At the first of the year, the Virginia Sesquicentennial Committee released a report titled “Civil War Sesquicentennial in Virginia: Impact at the Halfway Mark.” The executive summary affirms the success of the program to date:

By any measure, it is clear there is a vibrant interest in the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and that partners throughout Virginia have recognized and maximized its opportunities. Virginia is leading the way in the national sesquicentennial commemoration.

Clint Schemmer provided more details in an article also posted earlier this month to his Past is Prologue column on Fredericksburg.com. But, if you have time, grab a cup of coffee and take a look at the full report, posted on the State’s website.

There’s no secret that tourism is a driving factor behind the Virginia 150th programs. And as the committee reports the sesquicentennial has a measurable impact on the numbers. If I were to cite just one, it would be the estimate of 10% of all visitors to Virginia stop at a Civil War or Emancipation site. Contrary to what some nay-Sayers expressed years back, the draw is there.

But paired with the tourism promotion are educational and interpretive outreach programs. There is the “An American Turning Point: The Civil War in Virginia” exhibit being shown at different museums around the state; the Historymobile (which dueled with Pennsylvania’s similar traveling exhibit at Antietam last September); a signature conference series; a traveling document digitization program; DVD programs for the classrooms; and participation with the Civil War Trust to produce battlefield apps for mobile devices; and the excellent “Walk in their Footsteps” web database. In short, Virginia’s 150th is a multi-faceted program hitting more than just the tour stops.

And the state has not neglected the “resource.” $8 million in matching grants to help protect 4,700 acres of battlefield lands. This is critical. Over the last fifty years, many of unprotected battlefields were lost with the rapid growth of Virginia’s metropolitan areas. These preservation projects ensure something will remain for the 200th… and beyond.

The report includes several summaries from local and county organizations. Of note, Manassas reported a 34% increase in visitor traffic during August 2012, at the time of the anniversary of Second Manassas. State and national parks with Civil War sites report similar increased attendance since the start of the sesquicentennial.

I’m proud to be involved with the sesquicentennial program at the county level, even though none of our activities made it into the state report. We’ve done a lot of great things this last year at the local level – particularly the Harrison Hall event in September and the Emancipation Proclamation anniversary observance just a few weeks ago. Both of those events had “standing room only” attendance. Across the state, people are turning out to participate in the sesquicentennial.

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3 responses to “Virginia’s 150th program reviews the Sesquicentennial at the mid-way mark

  1. Craig, this is a terrific summary of Virginia’s 150th efforts, and all of us here in the Old Dominion are proud of our state’s national leadership on this vital initiative–one that both commemorates and educates..

    Like any collective effort, it is a fact that successful results can only be achieved through dynamic, effective and engaged leadership. And most fortunately here in Virginia we can boast that committed leadership in our own Sesquicentennial effort has paid off with huge dividends. And although there are many individuals who have labored hard on this statewide effort, my own three particular “heroes” in this regard comprise the following:

    Speaker Bill Howell, Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. Speaker Howell Chairs our 150th Committee and his congenial, cordial manner has set the tone for the most visibly cooperative effort this state has witnessed in a very long time. Speaker Howell does not see problems; rather, he focuses on the importance of recalling historical memory in a way that all of our citizens can appreciate and support.

    Cheryl Jackson, Executive Director, Virginia Sesquicentennial, is one of the most effective mangers anyone could ever imagine and she has been relentlessly positive in her efforts to build 150th bridges in every county of the state. And wherever five folks get together to discuss our 150th program, Cheryl is there, happily leading the discussion.

    Jim Lighthizer, President, Civil War Trust, has thrown the full resources of the nation’s largest and most effective battlefield preservation effort behind our country’s Sesquicentennial efforts, and one only need review CWT’s website to witness the terrific effectiveness of their promotional support. Plus in Virginia, it certainly doesn’t exactly hurt the Commonwealth’s 150th initiative when one considers how truly effectively Speaker Howell and Jim Lighthizer work together on Civil War battlefield preservation initiatives..

    So, take a bow, Virginia, but of course much work yet remains to be accomplished in 2013 and 2014..

    Thanks for your upbeat post, Craig. We all should be reminded of wonderful accomplishments–and to applaud those who “make it happen.”

    Clark B. Hall

  2. severalfourmany

    Can someone explain to me why the visitation numbers for Shiloh are almost three times the visitation numbers for all three Virginia 150th events combined? Is it possible that Shiloh had more than twice the number of attendees than went to Antietam? Where are they all coming from? There are barely 3 million people in Memphis, Nashville and Birmingham and they more than 2 1/2 hours away. How do you feed and provide basic services for 104,266 people in a town of 3,000?

    • I wonder if we are seeing “apples” and “oranges” with the numbers from individual parks. But that is a question best posted to the parks. But, Shiloh (and Vicksburg to some degree) benefit from what I call the “Cardinals” effect. For many decades, well before west coast baseball and expansion, the “west” was St. Louis Cardinal territory. Even today the fan base is there. A geographic legacy, if you will.

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