Let me start with a little preservation history for those unfamiliar with Brandy Station.
In 1990s a developer proposed building an Indy Car racetrack at Brandy Station. A grass-roots effort rallied in opposition to block that venture… and won. As new development proposals came, a realization set in. The only way to prevent the eventual carving up and development of the Brandy Station battlefield was to preserve the ground itself. Promises, easements, and outright purchase secured some, if not all, of the battlefield. The center-piece of those efforts was the purchase of 944 acres for $6.8 million.
… 944 acres for $6.8 million. The money came from state and federal grants, yes. But a sizable sum – over a quarter – came through a coalition of preservation organizations. The Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites and the Civil War Preservation Trust, both parent organizations of today’s Civil War Trust, along with the Brandy Station Foundation (BSF) – before that organization’s recent break from the focus on preservation – all worked towards this 944 acre objective. And more to the point, the grant money, which formed the majority, was secured through applications and appeals made by those preservation organizations.
With that, Brandy Station became one of the “crown jewels” in the modern Civil War battlefields preservation wave. Just as there were turning points in the real war on those same lands, that purchase was a turning point in the effort to preserve the ground.
Yet for all the success, important parts of Brandy Station were left unprotected and open for encroaching development. In recent years Civil War Trust has opened several efforts to correct those shortfalls. We’ve seen Brandy Station ’05, Brandy Station ’08 and Brandy Station ’10 preservation efforts within recent memory. All focused on important ground, and somewhat “nibbling” at the corners of a larger “missing piece.”
Fleetwood Hill, where some of the most important fighting on June 9, 1863 took place, was one of those locations. The owner of that ground built a rather large house at the crest. Still the overall prominence of the hill remained. Even after the land owner attempted to build a pond at the base of the hill, illegally mind you, the ground remained a worthy objective for preservation efforts. Just as the prominence of that hill beckoned combatants on that hot June day 149 years ago, the hill draws the attention of preservationists today. It is the “missing piece” to the battlefield.
Still when I read Eric’s recent post highlighting the lack of effort by BSF, I was not surprised. The tone of Joe McKinney’s letter is clear. BSF is simply wringing its hands, intimidated by the asking price of the property, waiting for Civil War Trust to move. (Seriously, I don’t understand this “we’ll wait for someone else to lead” attitude from a former Army officer. Not the kind of stuff I learned while in uniform…)
A few weeks back, I said the time had come for Civil War Trust to sound the clarion. Reading comments on Eric’s blog and from the emails I’ve exchanged, I sense rank and file preservationists feel the same. Yes, we all know $2.5 million is a grossly inflated price. But it shouldn’t intimidate us from acting (remember 944 acres for $6.8 million….). Certainly a good round of negotiations would bring that number down to a fair market price. Heck, if McKinney’s letter is correct, the owner has already dropped the asking price significantly! Always good to be a buyer in a down market.
The air is heavy with anticipation for a “Brandy Station ’12”. I renew my call for the Civil War Trust to open this preservation effort.