Spotsylvania's placement last week on a prominent national list of most-endangered Civil War sites is both a blessing and a curse for the county.
For the first time ever, the Civil War Preservation Trust, the nation's largest battlefield preservation organization, placed an entire county on its Top 10 list of at-risk spots. Spotsylvania, home to four major battlefields and legions of new residents with many more on the way, "is ground zero," said Jim Campi, spokesman for the organization, which has 70,000 members.
A pedestrian bridge crosses Confederate trenches that remain at the Spotsylvania Battlefield at Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania National Military Park.
(Ray K. Saunders -- The Washington Post)
Earning a spot on the list may help new county leaders who are determined to make Civil War tourism the centerpiece of Spotsylvania's immediate development strategy. Supervisors elected in the last few years have set to work on a vision that fits housing, businesses and roads around the battlefields.
"To me, [the list] increases awareness of the challenges we face," said Supervisor Henry "Hap" Connors Jr. (I-Chancellor), a former spokesman for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "The list is important because land values are going up and time is crucial."
Campi said the Civil War trust hopes to help purchase battlefield land or negotiate acceptable development in the next two or three years. "Spotsylvania and a few other Virginia counties -- Hanover and Henrico -- are getting the lion's share of our attention," he said. "We are trying to go out and buy the land before landowners put it on the market. In other places in the country, we are in a reactive mode."
Ninety percent of the land preservationists want is zoned for commercial development. Some is zoned rural, and some landowners hoping to sell to developers have expressed interest in applying for rezonings for more intense development, Campi said.
Although preservationists aren't happy about much of the region's growth, Campi said the intense competition for land in Virginia has been a boost for his Civil War group and others like it. A plan two years ago to build 2,000 homes on part of the site of the Battle of Chancellorsville became something of a rallying cry for Civil War enthusiasts across the country.
"When we ask for money, they are more likely to give for places like Spotsylvania than for relatively unknown sites in the country. There is a financial incentive on our part to be more involved in Spotsylvania County," Campi said.
But the increasing pressure on battlefields comes when overall interest in the Civil War is slipping, said George E. Hicks, chief executive of the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pa.
"Let's face it, we don't have Civil War veterans alive or widows alive. We don't have that last string to that bygone era," he said, adding that it's "high time" state and federal bodies set aside key Civil War sites. "We certainly should be paying homage in places other than cemeteries and not allowing 'progress' to encroach on land that was so dearly paid for."
Other Virginia sites on the trust's list are battlefields from the Bermuda Hundred campaign in Chesterfield County and the two Manassas battlefields.
Turning Spotsylvania into a historic tourist destination rests in substantial part with elected officials who rule on rezoning applications and decide how much developers should contribute in proffers, payments or improvements meant to offset future costs of growth. Supervisors have approved several recent countywide down-zonings, reducing rather than increasing the density of development allowed, but many remaining properties are likely to be controversial.
"There comes a time when you have to say the whole world doesn't have to be black asphalt. However, those decisions are the supervisors' to make," said Gary Partridge, the county's economic development director. "If someone comes to say they want to work on a piece of property and wants me to move it forward [for development], I will work with them -- no matter where it is."