Guilford Courthouse
Administrative History
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NPS Final Solution Spurs Local Intervention

After years of fruitless contention centered around the site of the eighteenth-century Guilford Courthouse building, National Park Service planners had apparently had enough. A sort of institutional final solution was propounded in draft legislation, "To authorize the elimination of 8.50 acres of land from Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, North Carolina, and for other purposes." Ten years after Director Wirth wrote that the courthouse was the area's "most important landmark," and the spot where Nathanael Greene's doughty Continentals had "made their last stand and retired from the field," the process of NPS historical revisionism had come full circle. As of 29 January 1963, the date this proposed legislation was sent to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the new position of the National Park Service held that:

The courthouse had only a remote connection with the battlefield, both historically and physically. It was neither assaulted nor defended, [and] played no part in the battle fought one-half mile to the west. . . .

It was the intent of the Department of the Interior to use the courthouse site as a medium of exchange, to be sold or traded to defray the acquisition costs of the two Richardson-Merrill tracts, 17.84 acres in all, along the park's northern boundary. This purchase was considered important as a means of blocking "undesirable development" on lands near the visitor center, and on "lands adjacent to and on the American Third Battle Line." The eastern portion of New Garden Road, the subject of so much controversy in its own right, would be returned to the State. The park could then fulfill its long-term goal of closing New Garden along the new eastern boundary. These steps completed, Guilford Courthouse NMP would be a much more compact, more easily administered, and much less vexatious area. [1]

This decision did not go unchallenged. A courtesy copy of this draft legislation was forwarded to the recently elected Sixth District Congressman Horace R. Kornegay. Unlike his predecessor Carl T. Durham, who was a resident of the more rural eastern portion of the district, Kornegay hailed from Greensboro. As such he was acquainted with the park and with the fact that Greensboro's mayor took a decided interest in the battlefield. It was the good fortune of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park that Greensboro's mayor at this critical juncture was David Schenck, grandson and namesake of the park's founder. Knowing of the Mayor's familial connection with the site, Representative Kornegay forwarded a copy of the draft legislation to Schenck, inviting his response but requesting that the matter be held in confidence. The Congressman probably knew what the Mayor's response would be, and he wanted no confusion as to the source of this bill.

You understand that I have nothing whatsoever to do with this, and that it is a proposal of the Department of the Interior. [2]

The Mayor did not care for the proposal, and he enumerated his objections in some detail. He noted that the site was thematically related to the battlefield as "the site of General Greene's headquarters and the rally point for the American forces following the battle." However, the bulk of the Mayor's objections were rooted in the need to protect the park from the forces of urban encroachment generated by the success of the very city he led. He noted that "this particular tract protects the main entrance to the park," and that its sale would open the door to encirclement of "this now beautiful historical area." Tracing the course of urban development in the park community he reported that businesses were encroaching from the southwest, residential areas on the east and west, and confidently predicted that development along the northern boundary was "only a matter of time." In addition to retaining the courthouse tract, he suggested that the park's area should be expanded by the acquisition of the 17.84 acres held by Richardson-Merrill as an additional buffer against encroachment from the north. Assuming a local perspective consistent with his office he asserted, "This is Greensboro's finest historical site, and one that should be preserved at all costs." Characterizing this issue as a "matter of vital importance," he nonetheless promised to respect the Congressman's request for confidentiality, with the proviso that he would publish the relevant documents and rally support for his views "if it appears that the sale of the land is going to take place." [3]

Taking his cue from the Mayor's response, Representative Kornegay wrote to Director Wirth stating "my own opposition to such a proposal" and requesting an audience for "a delegation of citizens and officials from Greensboro to confer with you. . . prior to the introduction of a bill of this nature." Wirth responded favorably, welcoming the opportunity "to seek a solution beneficial to both the Park and the city." [4]

On 10 April 1963 Director Wirth met with Kornegay and a delegation from Greensboro consisting of Mayor Schenck, Chairman of the Board of the North Carolina Department of Archives and History McDaniel Lewis, and Guilford County Historian James G.W. MacClamroch. Also in attendance were staff representatives from the offices of North Carolina's senators B. Everett Jordan and Sam J. Ervin. Among NPS personnel present was Staff Historian Rogers W. Young who had served a temporary assignment as acting historian at Guilford in the 1930s. The Greensboro conferees stated their opposition to the NPS plan to dispose of the courthouse tract. County Historian MacClamroch then seized the floor to restate his 1940 proposal for the acquisition of approximately three hundred acres on the park's north, south and west boundaries. He was seconded by McDaniel Lewis. At length, Director Wirth concluded that it was "desirable to study the proposed additions" and agreed to retain the courthouse tract. [5]

Two weeks later a second conference was convened in Greensboro. This meeting was chaired by former Guilford Superintendent Charles S. Marshall, who was serving at that time as Assistant to Southeast Regional Director Elbert Cox. The Greensboro delegation had been expanded to include City Manager George Aull, City Planner Ronald Scott, and Recreation Director Oka T. Hester. MacClamroch and Lewis again pitched the 1940 expansion plan, specifically noting that the city "zoo and deer park" should be added to the battlefield. Schenck and Hester expressed their willingness to trade the zoo site in return for a portion of the Martin property that adjoined the Country Park, meaning that the NPS would have to buy "the Martin properties in their entirety." Marshall responded that Director Wirth would support the acquisition of approximately fifty acres, including the Richardson holdings on the northern boundary, the Webb and Yates properties abutting the courthouse site, a small buffer tract at the Holt Avenue-Old Battleground Road intersection, and the Martin properties in their entirety. He also noted the Service would purchase sufficient additional lands to serve as a buffer between the park and a northern by-pass road, provided the by-pass was no more than one hundred yards north of the boundary, and that construction work commenced "in the very near future."

Marshall, who had been very popular in the community during his tenure at Guilford, had opined as early as 1943 that MacClamroch's land acquisition goals were excessive. He did not believe that Mayor Schenck and Representative Kornegay would "push very vigorously for lands in which they know they will have no [NPS] support." Without their backing he believed MacClamroch's plan could be disregarded. He asserted, however, that the proposals he had laid on the table at the Greensboro conference should be acted upon. "If we are ever to get any more land at Guilford it appears this year is the appropriate time to move." [6]

The long deferred process of land acquisition at Guilford Courthouse began in the last half of 1963. By the end of that year approximately one hundred acres had been identified as suitable for purchase. [7] It would be another year before Secretary of the Interior Udall approved the proposal pursuant to the provisions of the Land and Conservation Fund Act passed by the Eighty-eighth Congress. [8] Appraisals of the designated tracts were performed in the summer of 1965, but the first purchase was not completed until the end of 1966 when Richardson-Merrill, after extended negotiations, agreed to sell the park 29.69 acres at a cost of $74,900. This acquisition evened-out the park's northern boundary at a distance approximately three hundred yards from New Garden Road. [9] Subsequent events suggest that Richardson's willingness to part with almost twelve additional acres was dependent on the Service's determination to build the long-sought-after by-pass on park property.

1967 witnessed the greatest flurry of land acquisition activities in the park's history. By year's end three transactions had been completed, increasing the park's area by 40.92 acres. Largest and most vital to park interests was the purchase of the 36.40 acre holdings of the C.O. Martin heirs, complete with all recreational improvements. This transaction had an important consequence in that 16.84 acres of this tract were later exchanged for the City's 11.76 acre zoo site, thereby removing an especially incongruous example of urban encroachment from a high visibility battlefield locale. [10] At Mayor Schenck's direction the City also played a key role in facilitating the purchase of two small (3.65 acres total) but critical tracts located between the new boundary of park holdings acquired from Richardson-Merrill and the courthouse site. Knowing of the park's interest in this parcel, Schenck fended off rezoning requests instituted by a potential buyer, and arranged its purchase by the City. In turn it was sold to the park at cost when funding became available. With the subsequent procurement of the Webb house and lot the park at last had an unbroken line of holdings that permitted on-site interpretation of the entire course of the battle.

By virtue of the other purchases in the courthouse area the remaining fragment of the Webb tract had become an .87 acre inholding. Aesthetically it was reminiscent of the Woods store property on Old Battleground Road. It was dominated by a rapidly deteriorating farmhouse and several outbuildings, all of which were ingloriously adjacent to the courthouse tract. The Service was willing to pay seven thousand dollars for this site, but the proud owners would accept no less than seven thousand five hundred. Condemnation proceedings were instituted. The court did issue a writ of taking, and the Service was required to pay a fair market value of ten thousand dollars for the property. [11]

The last of the approved land purchases as outlined by Charles Marshall at the 25 April 1963 conference were made in the 1970s. Two small tracts (3.59 and .36 acres) located north of the courthouse site were obtained at the beginning of the decade to further separate the historic area from the proposed route of the by-pass. As the decade ended the one-quarter acre buffer was added at the Holt Avenue entrance, bringing the area of Guilford Courthouse NMP to its current total of 220 acres, more or less. [12]

In retrospect the 1960s were something of a golden era for Guilford Courthouse NMP. The park's area was increased by almost fifty per cent. Several obnoxious commercial and institutional incongruities were removed from the park's boundaries, and a foundation was laid to remove New Garden Road and its burgeoning traffic flow from the heart of the historic area. These increases were not sufficient to satisfy long-time expansion advocates MacClamroch and Lewis who would continue to seize every opportunity to lobby for park expansion to the west. Even a realist like David Schenck was disappointed that more of the "unspoiled" forest land to the north could not have been saved from "the developers and the bulldozers." He shared the others' hopes that something could be done on the western boundary, particularly to save the area's sole remaining period structure, the Hoskins House. [13]

Nothing more was done, however. By the end of the 1960s the Richardson-Merrill holdings had been sold, the forest clear-cut to the park boundary, and an up-scale housing development called Battle Forest constructed where the right wings of the American second and third battle lines had once stood. Development on the western approaches, begun in the 1950s with the Green Acres Subdivision, continued and a number of smaller houses were built in the region between the park boundary and the Hoskins House. As the American Revolution Bicentennial approached expansion advocates redoubled their efforts. Their overtures were repeatedly rejected on grounds that the area's development made prohibitive the costs of further land acquisitions at Guilford. [14] Recommendations for acquisition via less costly life tenancies were likewise spurned. In frustration McDaniel Lewis essentially gave up the cause with the reflection:

There have always been problems connected with this and all other battlefield extensions. Presumably all parks have been expanded at the expense of the federal treasury, and some disruption of the community area. . . . The problem seems to be that nobody took hold and decided officially to do something. [15]

David Schenck was the exception to this rule. What McDaniel Lewis and James MacClamroch and other advocates of park expansion never seemed to fully appreciate was the fact that the National Park Service considered Guilford Courthouse to be a justifiably small park. Every management decision made since 1933, including the resolution to divest the park of the courthouse site, was consistent with this judgment. The only hope there had ever been to enlarge this park was entirely dependent on local initiative and local resources. Schenck's term as Greensboro's mayor represented a unique period in park history, marked by an unprecedented degree of cooperation between local government and the National Park Service. More than any other individual Schenck was responsible for forging the coalition of local leaders and Congressional representatives that induced the Service to rethink its decision to eliminate the courthouse site, and to instead find the means for vital park land accessions. In so doing he forestalled an error of judgment whose gravity would become apparent in the mid-1970s when archaeological investigators discovered the missing link that established the courthouse site's direct relationship to the battle of Guilford Courthouse. [16] Mayor Schenck then employed his personal prestige and the authority of his office to facilitate the property acquisition process by obtaining favorable zoning decisions, and by using city resources to obtain and hold an important tract until the laborious Federal budgetary process could make funding available. Schenck cited this case as "good and tangible evidence of the good faith and desire of the people of Greensboro to preserve this historic land." In a sense this latter case foreshadowed the activities of a modern NPS support organization, the National Park Foundation. For this service Acting Southeast Region Director E.M. Lisle likened the Mayor's service to that of his grandfather, park founder David Schenck.

Once again we in the National Park Service find ourselves indebted to a member of the Schenck family for public-spirited service on behalf of the park. [17]

Unfortunately, this golden age of park history ended when Mayor Schenck left office in late 1966. David Schenck was an advocate for Guilford Courthouse NMP for the rest of his life, but as a former mayor he lacked the authority to direct city bureaus to act in concert with the national park. The significance of this change at city hall became abundantly clear in 1967 when a new Greensboro Country Park Zoo master plan was released. According to this plan the zoo would remain situated on the Military Park boundary, essentially overlooking the Third Line Field, and would expand east to Nathanael Greene Road Extension. It was with some difficulty that the NPS convinced the city fathers to honor former Mayor Schenck's commitment to trade the zoo site for a portion of the old Martin properties. [18]

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Last Updated: 10-Feb-2003