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As it turned out, however, it proved to be a mall too far. The normally somnolent Fredericksburg citizens went so ballistic that the national news media took note, and Wal-Mart settled and moved elsewhere.

The most interesting part of Mr. Levy’s story starts when he and his team of archaeologists arrive at Ferry Farm in 2002 to begin the daunting task of locating where the main house and attendant farm buildings were actually sited.

The vandalism of so many of our historic sites at the hands of greedy developers and compliant local governments — think Gettysburg or Antietam — show that the threat to our collective heritage is constant. However, this story is both instructive, and it has a happy ending.

James Srodes’ “Franklin: The Essential Founding Father” (Regnery, 2003), won Philadelphia’s One Book award for the 2006 tercentenary of Benjamin Franklin’s birth.