CVBT Has Option To Buy 93 Acres At Wilderness Battlefield
By Scott C. Boyd

(September 2009 Civil War News)

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FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — While the effort to halt Wal-Mart’s plans to build a huge supercenter on the Wilderness Battlefield in central Virginia seemingly falters, a historic preservation group has acquired an option to buy 93 acres of land on that same battlefield, about one mile away from the proposed Wal-Mart site.

The Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT) described the deal in early August: “As Wal-Mart continues to plan a new store at the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20, in Orange County, the CVBT has moved to protect nearby terrain in Spotsylvania County from development.”

“The ‘option’ is a contract to purchase the land,” according to CVBT President Erik F. Nelson. “We’ve locked in the price. We have a closing date within a year.”

“This gives us the opportunity to do a certain amount of fundraising during the year,” Nelson said. The funds raised will in effect be a down payment which will reduce the size of the mortgage CVBT will have to take out on the property. “It’s an opportunity to reduce the price between then and now,” he explained.

He also said there may be state grants for Civil War land preservation as the sesquicentennial anniversary of the war approaches. Nelson estimated they would have five years to pay for the land.

The price was $10,000 per acre for a total of $930,000, according to Enos Richardson. He and Johnny Mitchell, both former board members and past presidents, negotiated for the CVBT. Richardson and Mitchell have always been “a great dynamic duo for finding properties,” according to Nelson.

The landowners are brothers Phillip P. Atkins and John Atkins III from nearby Stafford County, across the Rappahannock River from Spotsylvania.

The “Charles A. Link Revocable Trust 1996” is also part-owner, though the Atkins brothers own a majority interest in the property, said Richardson. The Link family is connected to the Atkins family through Phyllis Link Atkins, the brothers’ mother.

“We’ve been talking to the Atkinses for several years. We started talking to them again just recently and they were amenable to making a deal, so that’s how it came about,” Richardson said. The brother preferred “having the property saved rather than developed as a commercial or residential tract,” according to Richardson.

The CVBT has always been receptive to buying the Atkins-Link property, Nelson said, “but with the Wal-Mart thing going on, we realized we really needed to move now.” The 93 acres “was an area we didn’t want Wal-Mart or anybody else to consider.”

The land is in Spotsylvania County, just across Wilderness Run, which forms the boundary with Orange County in that area. It’s on the south side of State Route 3, east of its intersection with State Route 20 and near some surviving outbuildings of the Wilderness Tavern.

An old house is on the property, along with a barn and a few smaller structures. Richardson said the house was built in the 1890s by the Link family is in very bad condition.

An adjoining property owner leases part of the land to grow crops. The land looks much as it did in 1864.

Nelson called the Route 3/Route 20 intersection (where Wal-Mart wants to locate, a “20th century creation.” It was made in the 1920s by the state highway department and is not the intersection traveled in the Civil War.

The Atkins-Link property includes the original Wilderness crossroads, Nelson said, referring to where Germanna Plank Road and Orange Turnpike met southeast of the modern intersection.

These were roads “used by a huge portion of the Union Army as they moved into the Wilderness in May 1864,” according to Nelson. “This land is truly the historic gateway to the Wilderness.”

He said the Atkins-Link parcel would give the National Park Service (NPS) the option, if they want to pursue it, “to establish an entirely new entry way into the Wilderness.”

Today’s gateway to the Wilderness battlefield is through the intersection of modern State Routes 3 and 20 where the CVBT already owns 19 acres of ground comprising the knoll where U.S. Grant had his headquarters. In its 13 years of operation, the CVBT has saved over 890 acres of Civil War battlefields.

Nelson described how a different gateway could possibly be created to take battlefield tourists directly from State Route 3 to the original Wilderness crossroads (on the Atkins-Link tract) and away from the modern State Routes 3 & 20 intersection that may end up tainted by the presence of the huge new store Wal-Mart wants to build there.

“It has strong possibilities,” Nelson said, but added, “We’re talking very long-term here.”

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Superintendent Russ Smith said, “We’re very pleased with the CVBT announcement.” He expressed concerns about the engineering challenges of creating an entrance to the battlefield on the Atkins-Link property from State Route 3, including the high posted speed limit on that part of the highway and the steep drop in elevation from the highway onto the property.

Making the tract particularly attractive to the NPS is that 31 of the 93 acres are within the NPS Wilderness battlefield boundary. The NPS can only purchase land within the Congression-ally defined battlefield boundary.

For information and to donate go to www.cvbt.org.