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51 Acres At Cross Keys Battlefield Saved
By Deborah Fitts
CROSS KEYS, Va.

A 51-acre piece of the Cross Keys battlefield has been preserved in what the Civil War Preservation Trust is calling a "first-ever partnership" of its kind between a Civil War preservation organization and a private buyer.

The property, the Widow Pence Farm at the time of the war, was jointly purchased by the Trust and farm neighbors, Dr. and Mrs. Irvin Hess. They bought the land at auction for $288,000, with each party to pay half.

"It's wonderful that they saved it," said historian Robert Krick, who as author of "Conquering the Valley" is regarded as the authority on the June 1862 battle. "It's one of those things where there's only one opportunity, and to get the property for half its value is something you dream about."

Krick learned of the June 17 auction when he contacted the owners about bringing people on the property for a May 5-6 tour by himself and historian Gary Gallagher. The elderly couple consented as usual, but told him it would be the "last time," as they were heading for retirement living.

Krick alerted Trust president James Lighthizer, who in turn learned of the Hesses' interest and approached them about a joint purchase.

Lighthizer offered to pay half the cost in exchange for a permanent conservation easement on the property. Public access will be allowed, by appointment.

The Widow Pence Farm is virtually surrounded by another 100 acres of the battlefield that belongs to the Lee-Jackson Foundation of Charlottesville. Krick said the two parcels represent "the most important single piece" of the Cross Keys battlefield, which comprises acreage five times as large.

The former Civil War Trust also acquired a 40-acre easement on land at Cross Keys several years ago, for $75,000. The easement is held by the Virginia Outdoors Foundation.

Lighthizer said in late June that the Trust will borrow its $144,000 share of the cost. It will be recovered by an appeal to members. Settlement was to take place in July.

"We bought in effect a $288,000 piece of property for $144,000," Lighthizer said. "This was a happy marriage of a preservation organization with a preservationist [Irvin Hess, whom Lighthizer described as a Civil War buff]. It presages an approach to Civil War land preservation that we're going to be looking for. Our objective is to protect land, not to own land."

The tract was appraised at $205,000, according to Lighthizer. The auction attracted more than 300 people by his estimate, but there was only one other bidder for the farm, a "banker" who Lighthizer believed represented developers. After Lighthizer prevailed in the bidding duel, he was asked to address the crowd. He said into the microphone, "This farm is going to be preserved forever."

"They cheered and applauded," Lighthizer recalled. "The locals were ecstatic. It gave me goose bumps. It was a neat, neat experience."

He said two other farmers with battlefield land approached him afterwards asking to sell easements.

The Hesses will be allowed to expand the historic Widow Pence farmhouse to up to 3000 square feet, so long as it's in keeping with the present structure. They will also be allowed to hardtop the drive and to repair or replace a sagging barn. Visitors must notify them in advance, and there are provisions in the easement to allow the Trust to interpret the property.

The 11th-hour acquisition comes when the Trust is going through "a lean time," according to Lighthizer. At the time the Trust was formed late last year (from a merger of the former Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites APCWS and the Civil War Trust), the debt of APCWS stood at $7 million, he said.

That has since been reduced to $6 million, Lighthizer said, and he predicted that by late this year the amount will be cut to $600,000, thanks largely to millions of dollars in reimbursements coming from the federal Land & Water Conservation Fund.

As for the millions garnered from the Civil War Trust's sale of commemorative coins several years ago, about $500,000 still remains unpledged, and all of it will be spent this fall, according to Lighthizer.

Krick, a founding director of APCWS, said he had been "considerably anxious about its fate" in recent years, when finances seemed in "considerable disarray."

But Lighthizer "is a strong man," Krick said " a preservation stud. Jim and his board have got it back on track. They're working miracles already."

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