Housing developers eye Civil War battlefields
Celebration of the conflict’s 150th anniversary is drawing attention to a disappearing part of the nation's history.
In Atlanta, just minutes away from city offices and downtown attractions, 14 acres of brush and woods have caught the eye of apartment housing developers.
That in itself is nothing new. But what makes those 14 acres special is this: The prime piece of in-town real estate is also a part of Civil War history. A Confederate army brigade encamped there during the summer of 1864, ahead of what became the Battle of Peachtree Creek -- which soon after led to the decisive and costly Battle of Atlanta.
The American Civil War divided the country 150 years ago and forever changed U.S. history. And remembrances during the conflict’s sesquicentennial are apparently fueling efforts to rescue and preserve many quickly disappearing reminders of that bloody and divisive conflict.
The non-profit Civil War Trust says nearly 20% of American Civil War battlefields have been destroyed and, of those that remain, only 15% are protected as national parks.
Many of the battlefield sites are now in urban or suburban communities, on valuable land. And there have been some highly publicized skirmishes in recent years as preservation groups fought to keep large companies from developing the sites.
And in the 1990s, Walt Disney (DIS) proposed constructing a U.S. history theme park outside of Washington D.C., near the Manassas/Bull Run battlefields. The project was initially praised by Virginia officials for creating further jobs and tourism revenue. But it quickly ran into opposition from preservationists, and was cancelled.
The Civil War Trust says it preserves battlefields by purchasing the land outright or receiving it via donation.
"By acquiring the land outright, we can ensure that it is preserved and that development threats will not destroy it," says its 2011 annual report. "We also protect land through acquiring conservation easements on tracts we do not own, ensuring that these tracts will remain in their current state, and will never be developed.”
The trust also works with local governments like the state of Virginia. Late last year, the state provided a $1.5 million matching grant to preserve nearly 300 acres of land in Gaines’ Mill, site of a bloody fight in 1862. And the trust recently announced it permanently protected 3,735 acres of "hallowed" Civil War ground last year, making 2012 the most successful year in its 25-year history.
In the case of 14 acres of Atlanta woods, the property’s owner wants to break ground later this year on a 236-unit apartment complex. But local residents would like the grounds to be looked over before the bulldozers start their work.
"If there were some archaeological or historic significance to this particular area, I think that would definitely add some value to the neighborhood," Wyatt Gordon, president of the local neighborhood association, told WXIA-TV.
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