Civil War corridor called `endangered'

ARCHITECTURE

June 06, 2005|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

A 175-mile-long corridor that runs through Western Maryland -- and includes the nation's greatest concentration of Civil War battlefields -- has been named one of the most "endangered" places in America.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation included the "Journey Through Hallowed Ground" corridor in its just-released 2005 list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

The trust compiles a list each year to call attention to historic buildings and places that need to be saved from pending threats, such as demolition and suburban sprawl. In recent years it has added entire categories of buildings, such as Maryland tobacco barns and vintage movie theaters.

"The Journey Through Hallowed Ground" is the name for a corridor that runs from Charlottesville, Va., to Gettysburg, Pa., and includes the Catoctin Mountain region of Frederick County.

Along this route are homes of six former presidents, historic sites related to African-Americans and Native Americans, scenic rivers and byways, and Civil War battlefields. Much of the landscape is being transformed by sprawl from the fast-growing Washington area.

Housing subdivisions are sprouting from cornfields; winding country roads are being straightened to accommodate traffic, and traditional "Main Street" towns are being marred by incompatible new development.

"There aren't many places that encompass a greater variety of significant historic sites -- from Founding Fathers' homes to Civil War battlefields -- or that face a more serious range of threats," said Richard Moe, president of the trust. "Without comprehensive planning to manage sprawl and encourage appropriate growth, much of the region's heritage could be paved over."

The Journey Through Hallowed Ground corridor takes its name from President Abraham Lincoln's 1863 Gettysburg Address, in which he said the ground at Gettysburg had been hallowed by "the brave men, living and dead," who fought there.

The effort to protect Civil War battlefields and related historic sites gained steam in the 1990s, when preservationists successfully fought an attempt by the Walt Disney Co. to build a theme park that could have adversely affected Virginia's famous Manassas Civil War battlefields.

Although Disney abandoned its efforts, preservationists and environmentalists realized that other valuable land was in just as much danger of being consumed by new development. They formed a three-state, public-private coalition to seek ways to balance growth and historic preservation while protecting the region's heritage.

In Maryland, sites that fall within the Hallowed Ground corridor include the Monocacy National Battlefield, C&O National History Park and the Catoctin Mountain Scenic Byway. More information can be found on the Web site www.hallowed ground.org.

The group's executive director, Cate Magennis Wyatt, said she is hopeful that the National Trust listing will focus national attention on the region and alert more people to the way it is changing and why it needs protection.

"We don't have illusions that you can save it all," she said. "What we can do is make people aware of the importance of our heritage areas. We want it to be part of the discussion: How do we have growth and protect our heritage, too? It's been done in other parts of the country. There's nothing radical here."

While Virginia, Pennsylvania and Western Maryland are subject to a variety of threats, Wyatt said, "the largest threat is ignorance. It's not intentional ignorance. It's not knowing that there are options. ... People forget that the journey is as important as the destination."

Other sites named in the 2005 endangered list include the Belleview Biltmore Hotel, Belleair, Fla.; Camp Security in York County, Pa., the last remaining site of a Revolutionary War prison camp; the Daniel Webster Farm in Franklin, N.H., former home one of America's pre-eminent orators and statesmen; Eleutherian College in Madison, Ind., one of the first U.S. colleges to admit students regardless of race or gender, and the Ennis-Brown House in Los Angeles, the grandest of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's textile block houses, damaged by a 1994 earthquake and recent rains.

Also, Finca Vigia in San Francisco de Paula, Cuba, the home of Ernest Hemingway from 1939 to 1960; more than 100 historic buildings in downtown Detroit; the historic Catholic churches of Greater Boston; King Island, Alaska, in danger of being washed into the Bering Sea; the National Landscape Conservation System, an area that encompasses 26 million acres in 12 western states and includes dozens of national monuments, conservation and wilderness areas, and historic trails.

Preservation leaders

Three Maryland residents are among a group of 35 preservationists nationwide who are receiving leadership training from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Johns Hopkins, executive director of Baltimore Heritage; Josh Phillips, director of preservation services for Preservation Maryland, and Kristen Harbeson, education and outreach director for Preservation Maryland, are attending a weeklong session that began Saturday in San Antonio.

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