24 March 2008 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 3 comments

There is apparently a very significant threat to the very pristine battlefield at Perryville:

Development eyed near Kentucky’s biggest Civil War battlefield

By BRUCE SCHREINER
Associated Press Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. –Homes and businesses may someday fill the landscape on a stretch of pristine property once within earshot of cannonfire from Kentucky’s bloodiest Civil War battle.

Landowner Pete Coyle envisions turning the approximately 34-acre tract on the edge of Perryville into a housing subdivision along with an assisted living center and limited commercial development.

A national Civil War preservation group is so worried by the proposed development that it placed the Perryville battlefield site on a list of the nation’s 10 most endangered Civil War battlefields.

The designation this week comes amid a rezoning proposal that would clear the way for the development.

The proposal won approval recently from a sharply divided Danville-Boyle County Planning and Zoning Commission but still must win backing from the Perryville City Council. Perryville Mayor Anne Sleet said Friday that she hasn’t made up her mind on the plan.

The development in the central Kentucky town about 85 miles southeast of Louisville would be visible from hilltops about a mile away at the battlefield, where more than 7,500 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after five hours of fighting in October 1862. A Confederate withdrawal after the battle secured Kentucky for the Union.

The Perryville battlefield – which includes nearly 670 acres that have been preserved – has long been considered a historic gem because of little or no modern encroachments. The battlefield draws about 100,000 visitors yearly and has been the site of two national Civil War re-enactments this decade.

“When you’re here, you’re in 1862,” said Chris Kolakowski, executive director of the Perryville Enhancement Project, a preservationist group. “I could take any veteran of the Battle of Perryville … out to the ground that they fought on, and they would be able to recognize where they were.”

The property wasn’t the site of fighting but was a key transportation route as troops marched toward battle and some came back bloodied and wounded to be seen at makeshift hospitals, he said.

Kolakowski said he’d prefer that the property remain undeveloped, but there’s a bigger concern – an adjoining 52-acre rural tract closer to the battlefield.

That property is also owned by Coyle, who has had talks with the state about a possible conservation easement to protect the 52 acres from development. Coyle said he hopes an agreement can be reached, but added, “anytime you’re dealing with the state with budgets, you never know.”

The talks come at a time when Kentucky lawmakers are putting together the state’s next spending plan while grappling with a nearly $900 million projected revenue shortfall over the next two years.

“We are supportive of preserving this property, and we very much want to work with the landowner on it,” said Gil Lawson, a spokesman for the state Commerce Cabinet, which includes the state parks department.

“However, with the current state budget situation, funding for parks is very limited.”

The rural property is separated from the battlefield park by a 50-acre tract owned by someone else.

Coyle envisions the subdivision becoming a haven for empty-nesters and retirees. The addition of just over 50 homes, the assisted living center and commercial development on a couple of lots would be a boon to the historic town of about 800, generating new tax revenue in a community with little growth opportunity, he said.

“There’s no other place to build in the city,” he said. “So this is kind of a salvation for the city.”

James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust, sees it differently. He said the rezoning applications threaten the “historical integrity of the area.”

It was the first time that the trust, a nonprofit battlefield preservation group, added the Perryville battlefield to its annual list of the nation’s most endangered Civil War battlefields.

Kenneth Noe, an Auburn University history professor who has written a book about the battle, said he was “floored” to see the Perryville battlefield added to the endangered list.

“I can’t think of anyone who has done a better job of preserving a battlefield than the people of Perryville and Boyle County,” he said.

He’s worried about the proposed development and even more concerned about the precedent it might set. “It could have national implications,” he said. “If it can happen at Perryville, it can happen anywhere.”

Kolakowski said it would be the first major residential development on the end of Perryville closest to the battlefield. “Do we want to see it stay agricultural? Yes,” he said. “But we’re realistic enough to know that may or may not be a possibility.”

The property includes a strip of land that was a road used by the Confederates to move soldiers to the front, haul supplies and transport wounded troops to hospitals. Coyle said he wants to see that strip turned into a hiking and biking trail that would lead from town to the battlefield.

The development would be visible from a couple of hills at the battlefield, including one where Confederate artillery was positioned and soldiers moved to attack Union lines further west, Kolakowski said.

“The way the terrain is out here, anything within about two or three miles of the park is going to be visible and is going to impact the vista and be an intrusion on the landscape,” he said.

Still, Kolakowski sounded conciliatory in discussing Coyle’s development plans, with his bigger concern being safeguarding the 52 rural acres from development.

“It’s his property,” Kolakowski said. “We’re trying to balance his desire to develop it with preservation needs. We’re trying to strike the best balance.”

Coyle said he’d like to see an outcome in which the 52 rural acres are left undeveloped.

“There was blood shed there; people being carried back from the battlefield to the hospitals,” he said. “It’s still hallowed ground.”

It is indeed hallowed ground, and I sincerely hope that this ground is preserved and left undeveloped.

By the way, for those who have never been to Perryville, it’s a Kentucky state park, not a national park, but nearly the whole battlefield is preserved, and the state has done a nice job of interpreting the field.

Ken Noe, I know you read this blog, and I see that you were quoted in the article. Is there anything you would like to add?

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Ken Noe
    Mon 24th Mar 2008 at 5:37 pm

    Eric:

    Well, I’m still floored, in a way. Since 1862 the people of Perryville have taken the lead in preserving that ground. And since the early 1990s they’ve offered what I still think is a model of how public and private funding can combine to preserve battlefield property. So to see the park listed on the endangered list really caught me unawares. Heck, I was just there leading a tour last November. But in retrospect it’s not completely surprising, I suppose. These aren’t the best of times there economically, significant businesses have closed, and I’m sure the promise of revenue was darned appealing to local government. Plus, this development is rather benign as far as battlefield development goes, and I’m told that Mr. Coyle is trying to be a responsible steward. What really worries me is what might come next one this project goes through.

    Ken

  2. Mike Nugent
    Tue 25th Mar 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Important!

    The Perryville City Council still has to vote on this development. You can voice your opposition by calling city hall at 859-332-8361. They’re keeping a log of all calls. The City Council will vote on this issue on April 3. Call today and urge your like minded friends to call too!

    Regards,

    Mike Nugent

  3. Tue 25th Mar 2008 at 1:30 pm

    Mike,

    Thanks for passing this along. I’ve put it into its own post.

    Eric

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