Two Preservationists To Buy 81 Acres In Spotsylvania County
By Scott C. Boyd
(October 2011 Civil War News)
This historical marker along Route 3 in Spotsylvania that tells about Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s arm being amputated nearby is on one of three parcels being bought by local preservationists. (Scott C. Boyd photo)
SPOTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. – Two prominent local battlefield preservationists acquired an option to buy 81.69 acres in Spotsylvania for $595,793. The land they call Wilderness Fields is on both the Chancellorsville and Wilderness battlefields.
The men received support from the Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors to apply for a state grant to assist with the purchase.
Johnny Mitchell, a businessman who owns The Made in Virginia Store in nearby Fredericksburg, and Enos Richardson, a retired Fredericksburg lawyer, have worked together for years to preserve Civil War battlefields.
They, with five others, founded the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust (CVBT) in 1996 to preserve battlefield land in the region surrounding Fredericksburg. The CVBT has preserved 893 acres to date.
Mitchell and Richardson formed a partnership called Wilderness Fields LLC for the current land purchase.
Mitchell said they formed the limited liability company (LLC) partnership to be able to “fast-track” battlefield land purchases.
He said they didn’t go through CVBT because their Wilderness Fields LLC can move quicker on promising deals and because CVBT is busy trying to finish paying the $930,000 it owes for Wilderness Crossroads.
Mitchell and Richardson negotiated the CVBT’s purchase of 93 acres known as Wilderness Crossroads in Spotsylvania in 2009 (see September 2009 CWN). It is just over the border from Orange County, about one mile east of the intersection of State Routes 3 and 20 where the “Wilderness Wal-mart” was proposed.
Wilderness Fields lies on the north side of Route 3, directly across from Wilderness Crossroads on the south side of the state highway.
The Atkins family owned both properties and didn’t want to see them developed, Mitchell said. He and Richardson had to locate some out-of-state Atkins relatives in Florida and North Carolina before finalizing the deal on July 25.
Quoting Richardson, Mitchell said there was “no dilly-dallying around” once the deal presented itself.
He described the owners as “very gracious” to structure the deal so that the biggest part of the balloon loan is due at the end of four years. Mitchell said he and Richardson must come up with $50,000 at the end of the first year on July 25, 2012.
Wilderness Fields consists of three non-contiguous parcels. From west to east, the first is 13 acres, the second 17 acres and the third 51 acres.
The first parcel has a “tremendous” commercial significance, Mitchell explained, making it the most vulnerable to encroachment by developers.
“That corner of the county might be the last one left in Spotsylvania that doesn’t have a fast food or coffee shop on it,” Mitchell said.
Confederate field hospitals were on the two smaller parcels during the Battle of Chancellorsville, according to Mitchell.
A historic marker was placed on the westernmost parcel in 1963 by the Virginia Historical Landmarks Commission. It states that Stonewall Jackson’s left arm was amputated in a nearby hospital tent on May 3, 1863, seven days before he died at Guinea.
Of the three tracts, the 51-acre parcel has minimal Civil War historical significance, Mitchell said, but the owners stipulated that it had to be included in the deal. It is wooded and screens a housing development from the heavily-traveled Route 3.
None of the parcels is within the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park boundary. The land therefore could not be donated or sold to the National Park Service without Congress expanding the park boundary. Mitchell said ownership of the properties will be transferred to the county.
The antebellum Ellwood Manor on the Wilderness Battlefield can be seen from the westernmost parcel of Wilderness Fields, according to Mitchell. Preserving that land will help protect Ellwood’s viewshed. The family cemetery at Ellwood is where Jackson’s amputated arm is buried.
The Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors on June 28 unanimously requested financial help from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation (VLCF) for the purchase of the 81.69 acres.
If the needed funds are secured, the supervisors also pledged to permanently protect the property according to VLCF requirements, including observing the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.
Lastly, the board pledged to donate a perpetual preservation easement on the property to the Virginia Board of Historic Resources.
“It says a lot about Spotsylvania,” Mitchell said, that the board of supervisors is willing to take the land off the tax rolls.
He speculated that the board doesn’t want to repeat what happened to Salem Church, a key locale for the Battle of Chancellorsville. It is a single acre of preserved land in a sea of commercial development on Route 3.