Antietam Battlefield Under Fire as Development Peppers the Area : Preservation: Those who want to protect the past are divided on how to accomplish their goal.


Once again, Millard Kefauver’s 280-acre dairy farm is in the line of fire.

Kefauver’s great-grandfather farmed the same land when Union and Confederate soldiers surged across the rolling western Maryland landscape on Sept. 17, 1862--the bloodiest day of fighting in the Civil War.

Now Kefauver and his family are swept up in a struggle over efforts to protect the Antietam National Battlefield Park from encroaching development.

It is typical of many struggles being fought as the great cities of America extend their suburbs into the once-quiet countryside.


“Battles were fought near areas that had strategic importance then; and since they had strategic importance then, they would have growth potential now,” said Edwin Bearss, chief historian of the National Park Service and a specialist on the Civil War.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation says Cedar Creek Battlefield and Belle Grove Plantation at Middletown, Va., where Union Gen. Phil Sheridan handed the Confederacy one of its final stunning blows by winning control of the Shenandoah Valley in 1864, could be surrounded by eight 10-acre industrial parks.

In 1988, Congress authorized acquisition of Stuart’s Hill at Manassas, Va., stopping plans for a 1.2 million-square-foot shopping mall on land where the Blue and the Gray fought two crucial battles. Just last year, Congress stepped in again and approved expansion of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia.

It is not just Civil War battlefields that are threatened, preservationists say. The National Trust has a list of what it calls the 11 most endangered historic places, including sites associated with Columbus’ landing in the Virgin Islands, the rivalry of Spain and England for control of the Georgia and South Carolina coasts early in the 18th Century, and 19th-Century gold and silver strikes in South Dakota.


Preservationists are far from united on how to deal with the situation.

“One view is that the only way to protect a park and the only way to be truly fair to landowners is to have the federal government purchase the property,” said Bruce Craig of the National Parks and Conservation Assn.

That approach got a boost as long ago as the 1890s, when Congress established Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, blocking Gettysburg Electric Railway Co. from building a development around Big Round Top, a vital point of ground in the engagement that marked the high-water mark of Confederate fortunes.

The railroad sued, saying Congress didn’t have the power to acquire land for commemorative purposes. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion in 1896, replied, “Such a use seems . . . not only a public use, but one so closely connected with the welfare of the Republic itself as to be within the powers granted the Congress by the Constitution for the purpose of protecting and preserving the whole country.”

The trouble is that protecting and preserving the whole country can be costly.

In the Manassas case, for example, the purchase price was left to future negotiation and hasn’t been settled yet.

“What the lands will ultimately cost the taxpayer, no one knows,” said Bearss, the Park Service historian.

In addition, said Craig of the Parks and Conservation Assn., “There is sometimes a community hesitation and a suspicion of what the federal government is likely to do with that property.”


There sure is.

“I can never be satisfied with anything the Park Service does,” said Russell Weaver of Sharpsburg, president of Save Historic Antietam with Responsible Policies (SHARP), one of two rival citizens groups that have sprung up around the battlefield.

Tom Clemens, president of the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF), said, “There are still people in Sharpsburg who would just like the whole battlefield and the National Park Service to go away, and that isn’t going to happen.”

The latest fracas was touched off in 1985 when the zoning commission approved a rezoning that paved the way for construction, expected soon, of a shopping center next to the privately owned Grove Farm. On that site, President Abraham Lincoln met with Union Gen. George B. McClellan after the battle in which the forces of McClellan and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee fought to a virtual draw and left 23,000 killed, wounded or missing. It will be the first shopping center in this town of 800, which now has not a single fast-food franchise.

“I was one of the people who was galvanized to action by that particular incident,” said SHAF president Clemens, who teaches theater at Hagerstown Junior College and describes himself as “a Civil War fanatic.”

“We decided that we had just had enough.”

Eric Seifarth, agricultural land preservation specialist for the county planning department, said recently that Washington County lost about 1,700 acres of farmland to development in fiscal 1989 and could have none left for the next generation if the rate continued. He said there were between 50,000 and 80,000 acres of prime farmland left in the 293,000-acre county.

In a recent article in National Parks Magazine, Richard Rambur, superintendent of the Antietam park, said that when he arrived in August, 1987, he found that 33% of the working population of south Washington County was commuting to Washington or Baltimore, each about 75 miles from Sharpsburg.


In nearby Shepherdstown, W.Va., the population is expected to double within five years with the advent of a new housing development for nearly 2,000 people, Rambur said in an interview.

The trend is indeed becoming obvious. The argument is over what to do about it.

“It’s not just simply a case of ‘The developers are coming, the developers are coming.’ It’s a question of who are the developers,” said Ann Corcoran, a SHARP member who, with her husband, Howard, operates a 300-acre farm adjacent to and partially within the battlefield.

The county established a 23-member commission of farmers, realtors and others and in June, 1989, adopted its final product, a plan called the Antietam Overlay. It requires review of all new home construction in the 2,900 acres surrounding the 815-acre battlefield, lays down standards to make commercial buildings on approach roads compatible with the historic character of the area and calls for an approved forestry plan for timber clear-cutting on nearby Red Hill.

At this point, SHARP was formed, telling area residents in a letter that it “suspected that the enactment of the Overlay was . . . the beginning of a larger scheme to preserve the views around the battlefield to make it more attractive to tourists and commercial developers.” The organization also maintains that restrictions in the Overlay would make modern farming more difficult. SHAF, on the other hand, supports the Overlay.

SHARP proposed a plan under which landowners around the battlefield would sell development rights to their property, at a suggested $4,000 an acre, to keep it in agricultural use. About half the money would come from the state, and the rest would be raised from private sources. The organization also filed suit challenging the Overlay. The county has asked that the suit be dismissed.

The Park Service has developed three alternatives for the future of the battlefield.

One alternative calls for keeping the battlefield basically as it is. The second calls for expanding the park by as much as 250 acres to take in the Grove Farm and other sites, eliminating fences and roads and taking other steps to make such battlegrounds as the Miller cornfield and the eroded gully known as Bloody Lane look more as they did in 1862. The third is a compromise between the two. Rambur predicts further compromise before a plan is adopted in six months or so.

The state of Maryland is also interested.

At a meeting in January at the battlefield visitors’ center, Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced plans for a nonprofit trust that would combine private grants and charitable contributions to augment state and county payments for land development rights.

This plan is more historically oriented and would impose more severe restrictions on development than the agricultural easements envisioned by SHARP.

Millard and Nancy Kefauver, meanwhile, continue living inside the park boundaries in their privately owned home, which served as a Union field hospital during the battle.

“We sort of felt like we knew as much about protecting it as the Park Service did,” Nancy Kefauver said.

“They are very nervous and concerned about what plans the Park Service has for them,” . Corcoran said.

In Washington, preservationists have a different concern. They are pushing for legislation intended to give federal protection to endangered historic sites somewhat like the protection now given to endangered species of wildlife.

“It really is remarkable to say that the snail darter enjoys more federal protection than the Antietam Battlefield,” said J. Jackson Walter, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.