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.