- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2001

WINCHESTER, Va. — Residents in this small town in Frederick County, where locals boast of the single largest cavalry charge taking place at nearby Stephensons Depot during the Civil War, are now waging a fight to save a portion of that battlefield from becoming an industrial site.
The residents, who call themselves Frederick County Voters with Common Concerns (FCVCC), say Stephensons Depot — 70 acres of which they say could be lost to construction — should be preserved for posterity because of the lands historical significance during the war. The area played a role in the second and third battles of Winchester in 1863 and 1864.
The field, which also has been identified as a historic district, has been ranked as one of the top 25 battlefields in the country most endangered by development, according to the Civil War Preservation Trust.
"This truly has become a fourth battle of Winchester," said Sharon Boyd, a local resident and FCVCC member. "This battlefield is a national treasure. This industrial park defies all logic. The preservation of this land is the best use of this property. This is truly hallowed ground."
Whats worse, residents say, an industrial center would harm the quality of life of the surrounding neighborhood. Two elementary schools are within 1.5 miles of the site, and some 2,800 residential homes would abut the proposed center. "It could be potentially harmful to all the families who live out there near the property," said Gina Forrester, a local resident and another FCVCC member.
Frederick County has an estimated 59,000 residents, about 5,000 of whom are members of FCVCC, Mrs. Forrester said.
Officials with the Shockey Companies, the corporation that owns the tract of land, said last week "theres a lot of dreaming going on" among opponents of their plans.
"Its all been a bunch of hooey," said John Good, the companys chief financial officer. "This land was on the market for years. If they wanted to save it, they could have bought it. … People run their mouths, well wait a minute, I didnt see them put money on the table."
Stephensons Depot is located north of Winchester on the east side of Route 11, which runs parallel to Route 81. The tract is vacant, except for a CSX railroad that runs through the grounds and the historic Samuel Byers House, which stands in the center of the property. The historic Milburn Cemetery, which was established in 1788, sits on the southwest corner of the proposed site.
The latest story of this battlefield began in 1996, when the county Board of Supervisors deemed the tract suitable for development. Later that year, the Shockey Companies, a local general contractor and concrete manufacturer, purchased 958 acres, of which 70 acres are designated as part of the core battlefield where the second and third battles took place.
Nothing was done with the property until October when Shockey officials filed an application with the countys planning commission to rezone 404 acres of the property from rural to light industrial. Under the proposal, they would set aside 31.8 acres for preservation and attract technology companies and other industries only to the 285 acres of the land where development is feasible.
"What would the alternative be?" Mr. Good asked. "If our plan isnt successful, then whats going to happen to the land? If there was a more viable plan for that property, then we would do it. But many of the battlefields require subsidies. Thats just the way it is. Its a constant fund raising. Here, were saving 31.8 acres right from the starting gate."
What angers residents the most is the company indicated it could build a spur to the property from the CSX railroad, which company officials admit would go through the 31.8 acres, or the core battlefield.
"The railroad spur would only go in if the user comes in and needs it," Mr. Good said last week. Mr. Good said putting in rail service cuts down on the number of trucks on the roads.
Mr. Good said the company wants to build an industrial/technological park that would attract a wide range of industry, including data processing centers, which would have little impact on the area. He said it is tough to say what industry would go into the site, if all is approved, because no one knows what the industry will need in the long run.
"We want to look at it as what the industry will need five, 10 or 20 years from now," Mr. Good said. "No one knew about the Internet until five or six years ago, and look at it now."
The county board is expected to set a date next month on when it will vote on Shockeys application.
The battle of Stephensons Depot was fought on June 15, 1863, when Confederate forces under Lt. General Richard Ewell wanted to intercept the retreating federal army under Maj. Gen. Robert Milroy. The bulk of the fighting occurred along Old Charles Town Road, where a handful of Rebels held off Union forces until reinforcements arrived and caused the surrender of Union Troops.
For the Third Battle of Winchester, the largest cavalry charge in American history formed in Stephenson. The Union front consisted of 5,000 horses for the September 1864 confrontation. The line of horses covered a half-mile-wide area and pushed south on Valley Pike, now called Route 11.
Local resident Todd Kern, who is a historical consultant and another FCVCC member, said the field should stay as it is, a grassy pasture where cows graze on sunny summer afternoons and history buffs can walk along the gravel road that leads them along the battlefield marked by traditional "Civil War Trails" signs.
"You want people to come here and stand on this gravel road and look out to the field and say, 'This is what it would have looked like during the war," Mr. Kern said, as he stood on the gravel path. "You alter that scene and you lose that interpretation of that battle."
The residents have collected more than 3,200 signatures on petitions urging the county board to deny Shockeys rezoning request. They even filed a lawsuit to throw out the countys comprehensive plan of development, claiming the board didnt include a 1997 study by the Virginia Department of Transportation that recommended a historic district in the battlefield area. That means, if a center is built, the field no longer would be eligible to be included in the National Historic Register.
"This is a fight for the future of the county," Mr. Kern said. "We really have to ask ourselves whether we want to retain the rural atmosphere of our county or do we want to become an urban community like Northern Virginia?"

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