07 November 2005 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 3 comments

One aspect of battlefield preservation that was not addressed yesterday is the issue of picking and choosing.

Some preservationists draw a line in the sand each and every time that someone even remotely threatens something that they consider to be important. Their posture is much like that of the NRA–never, ever give an inch because it will lead to giving yards. The problems with that approach are numerous:

1. It causes people to look at preservationists as unreasonable and irrational.
2. It means that relationships with developers and zoning authorities are contentious instead of cooperative.
3. It means that everything is costly and emotional when it need not be so.
4. It means that, at times, the baby ends up being thrown out with the bathwater.

In short, this sort of approach may win the occasional battle, but it usually loses wars. People get the perception that preservationists are irrational nut cases who cannot and will not listen to reason.

There are, of course, times when this sort of approach is necessary. The battlefield at Brandy Station probably would not have been saved if it had not been for this sort of full court press, and everyone–including me–celebrating the success there.

I tend to take a much more pragmatic approach to these things. Perhaps it’s my professional life coming through. When I was a young lawyer oh so many years ago, an old gray beard asked me if I knew what a good settlement was. When I said no, he told me that a good settlement is one that both sides walk away from equally unhappy. That made a lot of sense to me, and as events have played out in my career, this statement has proved to be very true.

Consequently, I recognize that not every parcel can or should be saved. I know that what I’m about to say is sacriligious, but I didn’t cry any tears about Camp Letterman at Gettysburg. It was a hospital. There was no fighting there. I would rather lose that ground than ground where actual fighting took place, and you can’t stop all progress. Given that choice, I will always choose the hospital over the actual battlefield. So, I believe in picking and choosing battles and selecting only those fights that are worth alienating people over. Ultimately, some developers will actually work with preservationists and accomplish a satisfactory result.

If you need an example of what I’m referring to here, take a look at the partnership that was forged between the CWPT and a developer at Bristoe Station in Virginia. The deal means that Centex Homes, the developer, agreed to preserve the critical portion of the battlefield in return for the CWPT’s dropping its objections to the rest of the development. The developer is donating 127 of the 340 acres that it owns to the CWPT in order for that ground to be turned into a battlefield park. That, in my mind, is a win-win scenario that meets precisely my definition of a good settlement. Both sides gave up something to get something, and both sides ended up walking away with a compromise. In my mind, this is a real formula for successful future preservation efforts, and I hope that local preservation groups learn something from it.

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Comments

  1. Tue 08th Nov 2005 at 11:47 am

    Eric,

    It’s so very true that preservationists be able to work with developers. I do take a hard line on battlefield land that saw fighting and even the staging of troops (it should be saved) but many folks seem to think we should save every inch of ground that a soldier ever walked on. It’s just not possible. As say, such an impression leads to the idea that battlefield preservationists are rabid looney cases. Many are, unfortunately, but we are lately seeing examples of compromise. I think one of the points you tried to make is that saving something is better than getting nothing.

    Many don’t see it that way, but sometimes that’s what we get, and sometimes it has to be acceptable. Sure, I’d like to see the area where Camp Letterman was located to be a nice open field now, but I’ll take the retail nightmare that is on the spot in order to put money and resources into land at Gettysburg that saw actual fighting and troop deployment.

    Interesting comments in the previous blog about Pohanka and the CWPT. I had thought he made a sizable donation, but apparently not. If not, it does speak volumes. I’m sure that Brian treasured those organizations that put every dollar into preservation, rather than one that puts, say, half of every buck into expenses and overhead. I don’t think, at the outset, that Brian ever envisioned so many people making such huge salaries in a preservation organization, and perhaps he’s posthumously making a statement about that now.

    J.D. Petruzzi

  2. Tue 08th Nov 2005 at 2:38 pm

    Also, I would prefer that money be spent on open spaces rather than buildings, which are outrageously expensive to “restore”. People seem to want to keep every little shack that was a general’s HQ during some battle or another. I always cringe when I see several million dollars being spent on restoring some old home because “Washington slept there” or some other thing. Those kind of amounts seem to always fail my smell-o-meter as well, since you could probably tear the building down and rebuilt it five times over for the amount that is needed to restore it. Obviously, I know nothing of the details of restoring historical buildings and am perhaps wrong about the costs being over the top, but the amount of money dedicated to so many buildings is often wildly incommensurate with the historical importance of the building.

  3. Tue 08th Nov 2005 at 4:43 pm

    Drew,

    You’ve anticipated some of what I intend to address in tomorrow’s post, which is part 4 of this thread.

    The Reader’s Digest version is that I agree with you.

    More tomorrow.

    Eric

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