- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 27, 2000

A foundation has been created to work with local governments, businesses and residents in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to preserve 10 Civil War battlefields in what is now mostly open farmland.

The nonprofit Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation was created this month after a three-year study by a commission established by Congress. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt approved the commission plan for the foundation in October.

"The people in the valley are very proud. They are proud of their heritage," said foundation Chairman Carrington Williams, a McLean lawyer also involved in the Civil War Preservation Trust.

The commission was formed because preservationists became concerned that suburban development was growing in the valley, and economic pressures were pushing farmers off their land.

The battlefields comprise more than 20,000 acres in eight counties from Winchester to Port Republic in Rockingham County and McDowell in Highland County along the West Virginia border.

Those rolling farmlands were the scenes of Confederate Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's successful campaigns early in the war and of the decisive Union victory at Cedar Creek years later. The Shenandoah Valley was the site of 325 armed engagements.

Gen. Jackson's victories in 1862 fortified Confederate morale and drew Union forces away from Richmond. Federal armies eventually overcame the Southern forces in the valley, laying waste to the region in its march to victory during the war's later years.

In the 1980s, Washington-area suburbs began to spread into the valley's northern sector. James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., expanded from a small teaching college to one of the state's largest universities. Interstate 81 became one of the region's most important transportation corridors.

The National Park Service is unable to purchase the battlefields, or even to keep them tidy and attractive for Civil War historians and tourists.

So, the foundation stands ready to work out cooperative agreements among landowners, county and town governments, developers and businesses to preserve the battlefields and perhaps establish tourist centers, Mr. Williams said.

"The objective is to preserve our heritage, but at the same time, to get along with the business community," Mr. Williams said. "What we undertake to do is get along with the private sector."

The commission helped to do just that last June at a battlefield near Cross Keys, Va. An elderly couple, wanting to enter a retirement home, sold 51 acres for $288,000 to the commission and a Harrisonburg doctor interested in preserving the battlefield and the house there.

The agreement allows the doctor to continue any farm production, but he may not subdivide the land. He may alter and repair the house as long as it retains the image of its existence during the Civil War, Mr. Williams said.

"There's a mud road leading out to it. The doctor wants to change it to a blacktop, and that's OK," Mr. Williams said.

The foundation plans to set up orientation centers in historic buildings in each of five battlefield clusters.

Money needed for various projects may come from the trust, which has 30,000 members. To begin, the foundation has $1 million for projects, and $400,000 to pay operational costs.

For the most part, the foundation plans to buy conservation easements especially from farmers that keep buildings and housing lots off the land, Mr. Williams said.

"This is our last great chance to do this, so we're all very serious," said John Heatwole, one of the foundation's trustees and a history professor at Blue Ridge Community College in Weyers Cave, Va.

Howard Kittell, the foundation's executive director, believes McDowell in Highland County where Gen. Jackson fought so vehemently remains one of the most pristine Civil War sites in the nation.

On the other hand, Second Kernstown, south of Winchester which involved nearly 5,000 acres has ceded all but 350 acres to development, Mr. Kittell said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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