17 May 2011 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 10 comments

Todd Berkoff, one of the board members of the Brandy Station Foundation who resigned because of the election of Joseph McKinney, left this particularly astute and insightful comment here yesterday. It explains why Mr. McKinney needs to resign as president of the BSF. The reasons are simple: he is not interested in preserving the battlefield.

As one of the board members of The Brandy Station Foundation (BSF) for 2010-2011 who resigned in protest over Mr. Joseph McKinney’s elevation to president, I can tell you that I, along with my other colleagues who resigned, assessed last month–before he led the group–that Mr. McKinney was not interested in making the protection of the battlefield a priority. And the other board members were more interested in allowing ghost hunters to look for “ghost cats” in the Grafitti House than protect a battlefield where young men gave their last full measure of devotion. I’m not even kidding about the ghost cat…there is paranormal group investigating the house this month.

The “Board in Exile” made this prediction about Mr. McKinney and his new direction for the BSF over four weeks ago — and now our fears and predictions have come true. However, I am surprised–and elated–it took as little as three weeks for him to show his true colors. I don’t want to say “We told you so,” but guess what folks, “We told you so!”

Some of us did research on Mr. McKinney during the nomination process earlier this year and soon discovered he had a twisted view of historic preservation. See his perplexing op-ed in the Washington Post from 2009, and his posting on this blog last year defending the McMansion on Fleetwood Hill. It is unclear to me how a man who leads one of the country’s oldest battlefield preservation groups could condone Disney’s America theme park, the Wal-Mart at the Wilderness, the McMansion on Fleetwood Hill, the widening of Route 3 in Stevensburg, and also participates in massive relic hunts on the very battlefield he was charged to protect. Yes, folks, he is a relic hunter too.

A recurring theme in Mr. McKinney’s strange argument for his stances on preservation is that we, as good citizens, are powerless to do anything against what landowners wish to do on their own property, so why bother making a fuss. Well sir, that is where you are wrong. As Bud Hall demonstrated this week, you can require the landowner to abide by proper regulations — which the landowner had not done.

If people took your appeasement view on preservation, then there would be a mall at Manassas, a casino at Gettysburg, and a racetrack at Brandy Station. As a result of the quick actions taken by the “Board in Exile” this week–led by the indomitable Bud Hall–the Army Corps of Engineers has compelled Mr. Troilo to cease further construction of his pond that rumor has it was intended for his jet skiing hobby. Stopped at least for now.

How embarrassing that the current president and board FAILED MISERABLY to even issue a simple statement of protest over the last two weeks! But more alarming is that Mr. McKinney knew about this project for some time and chose to not to oppose it because Mr. Troilo is a friend and influential member of the community. This is a clear conflict of interest, as Eric has rightly pointed out. Mr. McKinney and current members of the Board should be ashamed of themselves, and if you had any integrity whatsoever, you should resign from the organization and join the local crochet group and leave battlefield preservation to those who actually care.

Because I think it’s important that you see Mr. McKinney’s own words, here is the op-ed piece from The Washington Post that Todd mentioned:

Posted at 9:58 AM ET, 08/ 6/2009
If Not Wal-Mart… ?
By washingtonpost.com editors

By Joseph W. McKinney
Brandy Station

The controversy over the “Wilderness Wal-Mart” proposed in Virginia’s Orange County reminds me of the time in the 1990s when the Walt Disney Co. proposed building a theme park in western Prince William County.

The site that Disney selected was not historically significant, but it was only a few miles from the Manassas National Battlefield Park. Preservationists, concerned that increased traffic and sprawl would degrade the experience of visitors to the battlefield, rose in opposition.

After intense lobbying and public relations campaigns waged by both sides, Disney canceled its plans.

Today, instead of Disney’s theme park, residential developments line Route 15 from Haymarket to the Loudoun County line. Along Route 55, Gainesville and Haymarket have essentially merged, joined together by retail establishments and housing. Instead of tourists, the roads — including those running through the Manassas battlefield — are choked with commuters.

The drive along the base of the Bull Run Mountains used to be pleasurable. Now it is stultifying. I support battlefield preservation, and I even wrote a book about the Battle of Brandy Station, but sometimes, as I sit in traffic on the way to Leesburg, I think we might have been better off with the theme park instead of the houses.

That leads me to wonder: If Wal-Mart is not acceptable near the Wilderness battlefield, what is? Is a strip mall better than a Wal-Mart? What about 500 single-family dwellings? The people of Orange County deserve an answer to these questions as the review of Wal-Mart’s proposal proceeds.

By washingtonpost.com editors | August 6, 2009; 9:58 AM ET

This, coming from the man who is supposed to be the head of a battlefield preservation organization? Do these words suggest that he cares even the slightest bit about saving the battlefield?

And finally, I give you a piece of one of the nasty e-mails that I received from Mrs. McKinney last week that spells out the family’s preservation philosophy quite clearly and quite succinctly:

As an avid foxhunter and as a resident in the community of Brandy Station, I understand that in Virginia, land ownership is everything. The rights of landowners to do what they wish with their own property trumps everything. That is an acknowledged fact. If someone wants a landowner to listen to his opinion on what he should do with his own land, he had better be prepared to reason with him.

Were this true, the Brandy Station battlefield would either be a Formula-1 racetrack or an industrial park now. Were this true, the Wilderness would have a gigantic Wal-Mart store being built. Were this true, there would be an immense Disney theme park butting up against the Bull Run battlefield, overwhelming an area where the road network already can’t handle the volume of traffic it must sustain. Were this true, all of the Cedar Creek battlefield would be a rock quarry now. I could go on, but you get the idea. The fact is that Mrs. McKinney’s claim that the rights of landowners to do what they wish with their property trumps everything is clearly NOT true, as the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers plainly demonstrated yesterday. Battlefield preservation is NOT about appeasement, as the McKinneys believe. It’s about being aggressive and being proactive and doing whatever has to be done to prevent the destruction of core battlefield land, and if someone’s feathers gets ruffled in the process, that’s too damned bad. In the view of the McKinneys, feather-ruffling is apparently something to be avoided at all costs, even if it means that core battlefield land at the base of Fleetwood Hill is turned into a lake because the good friend of the McKinneys who owns the land has to be appeased at ALL costs.

This bizarre laissez-faire attitude of Mr. McKinney plainly and amply demonstrates that this man is NOT committed to battlefield preservation unless it promotes fox-hunting or doesn’t annoy the local landowners. That’s not how to save a battlefield. You do whatever has to be done, and if that means calling the Army Corps of Engineers and annoying the neighbors, it’s what you do.

I think it is entirely possible that REAL battlefield preservation organizations, such as the Civil War Trust, will completely disavow and disenfranchise the BSF unless these wrong-headed and ill-advised policies are abandoned, and that would be a disaster.

Mix in the huge and irreconcilable conflict of interest that I pointed out here last week, and it becomes painfully clear that this man has NO business heading the BSF, and that his continued leadership of it will cause irreparable harm to an organization that has a twenty-plus year record of tremendous success in saving battlefield land that resulted from active and aggressive action and leadership.

Mr. McKinney, it’s time for you to either resign or to limit yourself to simply running the Graffiti House and leave the real work of preserving the battlefield to those of us who have the nerve and the fire in our bellies to do it.

UPDATE, 6:30 P.M.: Below are three photographs of Lake Troilo taken this afternoon after a long day of heavy rain. If there wasn’t a major erosion problem before, there most assuredly is now. Shame on you, Joe McKinney, and shame on you, BSF board, for sitting on your hands and allowing this sort of desecration to happen without so much as making a peep about it. Resign. Now.

Scridb filter


  1. Tue 17th May 2011 at 9:22 am

    Eric, the most disturbing part of my personal exchange on this issue has been continual references to “reversal of development.”

    I agree that in some cases development can be rolled back, and partial recovery is an option. That may occur in specific cases, for example tree line restorations, clearing of lightly modified grounds, OR that old car dealership along Carlisle Road at Gettysburg.

    But at the same time preservation groups shouldn’t just hide from contention by citing “reversible changes” as a long term policy. In my mind, that’s the point the organization stops being a preservation group and starts becoming an advocate for developers.

  2. Tue 17th May 2011 at 9:29 am

    Good point, Craig, and well said.

  3. Mike Green
    Tue 17th May 2011 at 10:00 am

    Excellent coverage Eric. Hats off to Todd Berkoff for his comprehensive overview of the current situation as well. Tony Troilo’s destruction of the Brandy Station Battlefield has been stopped by the courage and fast efforts of several preservationists, who took decisive action to alert the Corps of Engineers about the recent destruction of south Fleetwood Hill – a core engagement site. As noted by Eric, the Brandy Station Foundation (BSF) leadership has remained silent on this issue throughout the two-week process.

    As a former 12-year board member of the BSF, where I served as the BSF’s chief spokesperson during the preservation battles of the 1990’s, I am shocked by the abandonment of their core mission to protect the Brandy Station battlefield. Over the past weekend, I contacted BSF President Joe McKinney and urged him to take action and join the preservation forces opposing the Troilo construction. His response involved explaining his belief that this issue had been blown out of proportion and how the BSF could not interfere with Mr. Troilo’s private property rights. He also complained about being mistreated by this blog.

    I drove out and visited the site on Sunday morning and was appalled at the destruction I saw. How could anyone, who leads a preservation organization, not be sickened by the mess Troilo’s bulldozers inflicted on this verdant historic hillside? Angry and upset, I wrote a lengthy, impassioned letter to Joe McKinney requesting he and the BSF to step-up and oppose the destruction on Fleetwood Hill. I urged the BSF to make a public statement opposing this construction project. The McKinney and BSF response so far…only silence!!! Not one public word.

    Todd Berkoff and I, along with several others, are members of the so-called “BSF Board in Exile.” We did resign upon Joe McKinney’s back-door appointment to the BSF presidency because we feared McKinney is not a true preservationist and would not fight to preserve this important battlefield. Less than one month later, Joe McKinney and the BSF leadership proved us correct – sadly.

    Simply put, as an ardent preservationist, I believe Joe McKinney and the BSF leadership cannot be trusted to preserve and protect this hallowed battlefield. Their silence on this issue conveys a level of complicity in Troilo’s destruction efforts on historic south Fleetwood Hill. Their appeasement – if not outright support – of Tony Troilo’s so-called “property rights” and his wishes to destroy a key part of Fleetwood Hill should reverberate throughout the preservation community. We should not tolerate it.

    I am relieved the Corps stepped in and stopped Troilo. He will now be required to remediate the destruction he caused – at his own expense. Special thanks to my long-time friend Clark B. Hall, the former president of the BSF, who led this preservation fight as the BSF sat on the sidelines. Bud and I have fought many developers and threats to this battlefield over the years. He is a man of true principles. Something Joe McKinney and the BSF leadership seem not to possess.

  4. Chris
    Tue 17th May 2011 at 10:50 am

    What a sad state of affairs. Could a worse, so-called preservationist be put in such a position? I have no idea why Mrs. McKinney threw in that line about foxhunting. What does foxhunting have to do with land ownership? The only thing I can think of was that it was a Freudian slip and perhaps she wants to hunt on their new playground: the Brandy Station Battlefield. As far as land ownership “trumping everything.”…she apparently has also never been part of a homeowner’s association…where you have to get approval to change something as simple as your coach lights.

    It’s one thing to be screwed by greedy developers and landowners. It’s quite another for a “steward” of preservation to let that screw happen on his watch. I look forward to what the CWT has to say about this and will look for any news in The Civil War News. (I hope someone has filled in the folks at that periodical about all this.)

    I fired off one email. If there’s anything else a poor sap like me can do, I’ll be obliged to help.

  5. Chuck
    Tue 17th May 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Thanks for continuing the dialogue on this very important issue. Todd, Craig and yourself have eloquently stated what has occurred and what needs to happen. As I stated in a previous comment on Monday, we exiled board members of BSF need everyone’s help in getting the foundation focused back on its mission. So long as Mr. Mckinney remains as President the battlefield is in danger. Again….Those of you who care about the battlefield we need you to speak up now. Write the board of BSF asking for the resignation of Joe McKinney and a firm, public reaffirmation of its guiding principle to protect the battlefield. Its time to step up…mount up…and kick in.

  6. Todd Berkoff
    Tue 17th May 2011 at 8:49 pm

    If Joe McKinney and the rest of the Board do not want to resign–I doubt they will since it would be an admission of guilt–they need to start calling themselves “The Friends of the Graffiti House” — and let others do the job of preservation. They are WAY out of their league and utterly unprepared for the job at hand.

  7. Keith Yoder
    Tue 17th May 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Putting aside that this is historic battlefield land, it appears from these photos that there are uncontrolled stormwater runoff issues.

    I would hope this will be reported to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) – they oversee stormwater issues. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) should also be contacted. Such stormwater blowouts (without permits) are possibly a violation of Virginia stormwater regulations which require adequate erosion and sediment control.

  8. Tom Clemens
    Tue 17th May 2011 at 11:30 pm

    Outrageous, just outrageous.

  9. Wed 18th May 2011 at 6:48 am

    My son and I visited Brandy Station in late March for our first visit there. I was stunned by the intrusion of the McMansion on the center of the view and now I am even more stunned by this new development. I have four grandsons that I want to take Civil War siteseeing with me when they are old enough to understand their heritage (we are descendants of multiple Civil War soldiers). Speaking as a direct descendant of men who put their lives on the line for their beliefs on similar battlefields, and as a grandparent concerned for tomorrow’s generations, I strongly oppose this outrageous destruction.

  10. Wed 18th May 2011 at 4:41 pm

    I have been following all of these developments over the past weeks, and I think someone needs to check the BSF by-laws for any provision by which a board member and/or President can be removed or impeached (if it already hasn’t been checked). Mr. McKinney’s complicity in the destruction of core battlefield land is colossally sufficient to warrant his removal. His guilt by omission goes beyond acceptable, and if he refuses to do the right, moral, and ethical thing – resign and NOW – then he should be removed immediately.

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