Guilford Courthouse
Administrative History
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1968 Master Plan Revision

From the standpoint of timing alone, it would appear that the 1968 Master Plan revision was an outgrowth of the adverse local reaction to the proposed excision of the courthouse site from Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. Other factors were involved, however. The park's original planning documents dating from 1936 had not been thoroughly superseded even though the park's environment had been radically altered by Greensboro's urban sprawl. The modern facilities completed in 1937 seemed small and outdated thirty-one years later. After an initial infusion of Depression-era public works construction funding, the National Park Service had done very little to improve Guilford Courthouse NMP. In some ways the area was simultaneously too accessible and too inaccessible. There were too many vehicular access points (six), but no way to tour the field except by using two heavily-traveled local thorough fares. There was very little parking, but essentially no way to prevent parking along busy park roads or on grass-covered road shoulders or fields. There was no way to limit access when the park was closed. There were no walking trails and no safe places to ride bicycles. There were many problems that needed to be addressed at Guilford Courthouse, and history did not suggest that this small park would be a top priority in the dispensation of always limited capital improvement funds. But the approach of the 1976 National Bicentennial held out the promise that things would change at this and other Revolutionary War sites where the sacrifices of American patriots had given substance to the bold statements of principle contained in the Declaration of Independence.

According to the new Master Plan approved 17 July 1968, the most pressing problems confronting Guilford Courthouse NMP could be distilled into five key and generally related areas. Foremost among these concerns were difficulties arising from land use questions. These were to be addressed by the park's land acquisition program. Most serious among these were "incompatible" usage of "non-Federal properties" adjacent to the Third Line and courthouse sites. Specifically, this referred to the Martin recreation areas and the city zoo. The former had been purchased by the park in 1967, and the exchange for the latter was premised on the barter of a portion of the former. This transaction was completed in 1969, thereby clearing the way for the resolution of the other related land use problem.

The present tour route is over roads which carry conflicting local traffic and is further complicated by uncontrolled access at several points. [1]

To remedy this situation the plan called for the closure of all vehicular access points from the Country Park, closure of New Garden Road, and the construction of the long delayed by-pass three hundred feet north of and parallel to the existing road. This step would simultaneously address legitimate visitor protection concerns while enhancing efforts to more accurately reconstruct the historic scene. With paved New Garden Road obliterated, a walking trail reminiscent of the Great Salisbury Wagon Road of 1781 would be fashioned. Vehicular access to the battlefield would be accommodated by the construction of a tour road with stops at six key points of the battle, each complete with small parking areas and interpretive exhibits. The last leg of this route would run along the new by-pass. "Adverse night use" would be reduced by gates installed at the west end of Holt Avenue, and at the tour road junction with the by-pass. To further enhance visitor protection it was suggested that the status of law enforcement jurisdictions be simplified. [2]

Shortcomings in interpretive facilities were among other key areas addressed by the Master Plan. Of greatest concern were the inadequacies of the 1937 Visitor Center, considered too small and too antiquated to effectively serve the needs of the increasing numbers of visitors expected in the upcoming Bicentennial decade and the years following. [3] The Visitor Center was to be redesigned and expanded. More effective museum exhibits were to be mounted, and it was suggested that permanent interpretive staffing be employed to man the information desk and to offer expanded programs such as guided walks and demonstrations. Foot trails were to be constructed in the third line region of the battlefield, and in response to a city proposal that the Greensboro Country Park build a bicycle rental facility, a bicycle trail would be developed that was linked to the Country Park via abandoned Nathanael Greene Road. Bicyclists could then ride to the Visitor Center along the New Garden Road restoration and complete the circuit on a designated path that paralleled the tour road. [4]

Restoration of the battlefield to a closer approximation of its historic appearance was another key objective. It was concluded that the 1939 Historical Base Map was an inadequate resource to guide this effort and it was recommended that additional historical and archaeological research be undertaken to guide identification and interpretation of the courthouse site and the associated post war village of Martinville, as well as the retreat road over which the American army withdrew from the battlefield. It was likewise suggested that the "fields in the third-line area should be enlarged to portray their historic conditions." The final recommendation was that all structures on recently acquired properties should be eradicated. The Park Drive-In Theater in particular, located within sight of the courthouse, should be "rehabilitated and restored to its period farm use." [5]

The park staff at this time consisted of Superintendent Willard W. Danielson, who entered on duty 9 February 1967, a historian, a clerk-typist, and two maintenance workers. This staff was considered inadequate to provide visitor protection and resource management programs, improved and expanded interpretation, and satisfactory maintenance for newly acquired lands and visitor use facilities. It was recommended that the staff be expanded by the addition of a permanent ranger, an interpreter, a maintenance foreman, and be supplemented during peak visitation periods by seasonal employees. [6]

This was a remarkably comprehensive document. In retrospect it is striking that every problem area identified was interrelated with each of the other need classifications. For instance the closure of New Garden Road was defined as a land acquisition problem because two small tracts north of the courthouse site were required to link the proposed by-pass with Lawndale Drive. Likewise, removing excessive non-park traffic from the heart of the battlefield had obvious visitor protection ramifications. The plan to replace the paved highway with an approximation of the eighteenth century road was a historic preservation issue that offered substantial interpretive opportunities. Finally, because the park was critically undermanned, the development of additional facilities further evidenced the need for a larger, more specialized staff.

Most of the recommendations contained in this document were related in one way or another to the changing character of the park community. Growing urbanization would produce heavier traffic, increased visitation, and greater demand for and use of facilities. Indicative of this tendency, the Master Plan accorded highest priority to the relocation of New Garden Road and the expansion of the visitor center as the two developments that would yield the "greatest improvement" in park operations. Beyond these improvements to accommodate growing use, the Master Plan had only one suggestion for appropriate reactions to encroaching urbanization: "Participate in city, county and park planning efforts to secure zoning decisions beneficial to park management." Clearly this was a sensible recommendation. As demonstrated during David Schenck's term as Mayor of Greensboro, favorably inclined local administrations could be of incalculable value to the park. Skillful diplomacy and aggressive advocacy would be required to cultivate a similarly advantageous climate between the park and succeeding governments. In the event the governing councils that represented the booming local economy could not be persuaded to view the park as an asset worthy of particular solicitude, park management would have been well-advised to adopt a related goal of working to develop active constituency groups that would be supportive of park goals. In a worst case scenario, such groups might represent the park's last bulwark against advancing urban encroachment. The Master Plan advocated no additional acquisition of lands, no efforts to develop buffers by obtaining easements, not even the Mission 66 suggestion that screen plantings be employed as visual shields in key areas was revived. For good or ill, this document, in combination with the realities of life in Greater Greensboro, meant a great deal was riding on park management's consensus-building skills.

Local newspapers reported that the new Master Plan would be made public at the one hundred eighty-eighth anniversary celebration of the battle of Guilford Courthouse, March 15, 1969. Described as a "five-year Bicentennial Development plan costing $750,000," press accounts identified as key elements the construction of the New Garden by-pass, "three tour trails for autos, bicycles and hikers," and a new visitor center. Subsequent to the formulation of the Master Plan (presumably during the preparation of the park's Development Concept Plan) it had occurred to someone that the old visitor center, located as it was almost astride the second American battle line, was not an ideal location to serve as the starting point for a sequential battlefield tour. It was decided to build a new facility in the wooded region east of the first line's location. From this new starting point a battlefield tour would begin much closer to the locale where the first shots were fired. The old building was slated for demolition. In anticipation of the contracting and engineering demands of this project, Guilford Courthouse was assigned to the Blue Ridge Parkway Management Group for its duration. [7]

News of plans to construct a by-pass and close New Garden Road provoked considerable constituent outcry to Sixth District Congressman L. Richardson Preyer. Most of the mail Preyer received was from residents of Cottage Place in the Battle Forest subdivision on the park's northern boundary. These letters typically complained that the closure of New Garden was unnecessary as the traffic it carried in no way harmed the park. The by-pass, on the other hand, would bring the same traffic perilously close to their back doors, lowering their property values and diminishing the quality of their suburban lifestyles. Preyer conveyed these concerns to National Park Service Director George B. Hartzog, who responded that the road was needed to reduce commuter traffic through the park, that it would be contained entirely within the park's northern boundary, and that its effect on park neighbors would be minimized by intervening forest. Sensitive to citizen concerns, Preyer was informed that a representative from the Southeast Regional office would appear at the park the following afternoon to meet with "representatives of the local groups and officers of the city." He was invited to send his own emissary, but that could not be arranged on such short notice. Judging by Preyer's mail, this meeting placated neighborhood concerns, at least temporarily. [8]

Initial project funding of $781,000 was obtained for Fiscal Year 1973 to cover the cost of design and construction of the by-pass and for design of the new visitor center. Contracts for project design and supervision were let to John V. Townsend and Associates, Landscape Architects of Greensboro. Townsend subcontracted building design responsibilities to Greensboro architects Thomas P. Heritage and Associates. Plans were approved by the Southeast Regional Director on 12 September 1973, and by the Denver Service Center Manager on 29 April 1974. Construction funds totaling $1,175,000 were appropriated for Fiscal Year 1974. $665,000 was slated for visitor center construction, with the balance to complete road projects, interpretive field exhibits, and erection of a comfort station near the courthouse site. [9]

Ten days after the park design plans received final approval, Guilford Courthouse's Development Concept Plan was issued. This document was a more accurate indicator of the park's future than the Master Plan. The major differences between the two were the previously noted decision to erect a new visitor center, and the deletion of the long sought after by-pass road in favor of a one-way automobile and bicycle tour route. [10] This radical change of direction was apparently induced by Superintendent Danielson's opposition to the by-pass concept. It was facilitated by the City of Greensboro's long-range plan to build a beltline, Painter Boulevard, that would pass through the Battle Forest subdivision immediately north of the park, and would supply the desired east-west connector between Old Battleground Road and Lawndale Drive. The Development Concept Plan stated that the City planned to construct this beltline within fifteen years and concluded that this development "should minimize, if not eliminate, objections . . . to the closing of New Garden Road." Until that time local commuter traffic could avail itself of "other east-west roads outside the park." [11] This revision was countenanced by a perceived lack of public opposition to the proposal to delete the by-pass. A second public meeting was held on 21 July 1972 where the plan to close New Garden was discussed before local media representatives. A third and final opportunity for public comment was afforded on 6 February 1974 when the Draft Environmental Impact Statement of the Development Concept Plan was made available for public review. The public review process yielded "no critical comments concerning the plan to close the road within the park." [12]

Congressman Preyer, on the other hand, received a great deal of critical commentary from his constituents. Most complained of the closing of New Garden and a rumored plan to extend Cottage Place to Lawndale Drive to supplant New Garden Road as the area's east-west connector. Representative Preyer took these concerns to Director Ronald H. Walker, but was told that contracts had been let for the eradication of New Garden Road and that the park improvements would proceed as planned. [13]

In all candor, the assertion that the New Garden Road closure provoked no critical response is not supported by the evidence. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement review process evoked critical responses from both the State and the City of Greensboro. The State noted that New Garden Road "functions as a continuous peripheral route and also serves as a collector route" and that its closing would represent an "inconvenience" to area residents. It also asserted that the Painter Boulevard beltway project "has not been scheduled." The State specifically requested that commuter traffic be allowed to use New Garden until the "outer loop" was constructed. The City questioned the plan's statement regarding the completion date for Painter Boulevard and challenged the assertion that existing roads could serve as east-west connectors. The Government's replies to the City were that dates for the Painter Boulevard Project came from unnamed City "engineers," and that Pisgah Church Road and Lake Brandt Roads would serve as required connectors until the outer loop project was completed. The reply to the State asserted that the development of the park's one-way tour road and closure of New Garden had been "under consideration for some time." The matter had been considered at a public meeting on 21 July 1972 before "State, county, city agencies, park neighbors and other interested persons," and that, "There were no objections to the proposal voiced at this meeting, the results of which received TV, press and radio coverage." It concluded that although New Garden Road's closure might "inconvenience users" this inconvenience paled in comparison to the effect of "intrusive traffic upon the historic resource." [14]

A groundbreaking ceremony for the new visitor center and associated improvements was held on 4 August 1974. The new building was occupied on 17 October 1975. The next day the old museum was razed. [15] New museum exhibits were installed over the course of the following winter, as was a new twenty-minute audio-visual program, produced by the Harpers Ferry Center, for viewing in the new one hundred-twenty seat auditorium. Exterior improvements included the construction of an additional 1.77 miles of paved road to supplement existing roadways and form a self-contained tour road of 2.4 miles length. This road contained six stops (later expanded to seven) at key points of the battlefield. Four of these pull-offs featured interpretive stations that employed maps, drawings, and audio recordings of first-person accounts to explain the course of the battle. Access points to this road were located at the visitor center entrance on New Garden Road, and at Holt Avenue from Old Battleground Road. Gates were constructed at entrances and exits. This tour route's major liability was that visitors were compelled to twice cross heavily traveled Old Battleground Road. A bicycle lane eight feet in width was established on the left side of the one-way road. Almost two miles of new exposed aggregate foot trails were constructed, and New Garden Road within the park boundaries was restored to approximate its eighteenth century appearance by removing all paving materials and replacing them with "brown crushed stone." A comfort station was constructed at tour stop number five.

Two proposed interpretive features were never installed or acted upon. The approved landscaping drawings and the Development Concept Plan indicated that rival troop positions would be demarcated by flags displayed at appropriate locations on the third line field. The Master Plan directed that the old drive-in site should be restored to an approximation of its period usage by planting eighteenth century farm crops. Superintendent Danielson rejected both ideas as being too labor-intensive. [16]

The Land Classification Plan contained in the 1968 Master Plan had categorized essentially the entire park area as "Historic" property. Exceptions were made only for those areas devoted to "Public Use Development," such as roads, residences and maintenance facilities. It was likely that such extensive construction and renovation projects would disturb archaeological remains. To minimize the destruction of archaeological resources a site survey was conducted in 1972 by the Research Laboratories of Anthropology of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Investigators found that most of the construction areas had "very low potential for concealing archaeological remains." The cleared ground around tour stop five was an exception. Here were found significant archaeological features of the Martinville community, necessitating a slight adjustment in the route of the tour road and the relocation of the comfort station parking lot.

Because the Master Plan had strongly recommended that archaeological investigations be mounted to locate the courthouse site and the retreat road, a contract was issued to the Research Laboratories of Anthropology to perform more extensive investigations. This work was performed in 1974-1975 and resulted in the discovery of the courthouse's remains, evidence of the site's use as a field hospital, and the remains of a gravel-covered swale that the anthropologists interpreted as being "in some way associated with the Retreat Road." [17] One significant feature that was not investigated at that time (or since) was the clearly distinguishable courthouse well located about one hundred feet north of the survey area.

In addition to this menu of physical improvements, the Master Plan mandated significant additions to park staff. To handle expanding visitor protection and resource management responsibilities the Historian's position was reclassified as Chief of Interpretation and Resource Management. One of the pair of Maintenance Workers was promoted to Maintenance Work Leader, and the vacant position was refilled. Beginning in 1972 a series of 180-day seasonal interpretive and resource management Park Technician posts were created and filled. The first of a pair of permanent Park Technician-Interpretation slots was filled in 1972. The second followed in 1976. [18]

Modern Guilford Courthouse NMP resulted from this Bicentennial Development package. It emerged from this process as a much more accessible area with much-improved, thoroughly modern facilities. Park management was sufficiently satisfied by the results that no additional planning needs were identified until a new Superintendent initiated a Master Plan revision process in 1993-1994. Staff reports indicate considerable local approval for the improvements. A two-day dedication ceremony was held on 13-14 March 1976. Major speakers were President Gerald R. Ford and then-CIA Director and future President George Bush. Impressive eighteenth-century tactical demonstrations were performed by the recreated First Maryland Regiment. Attendance at these festivities was estimated at ten thousand.

There was some disapproval of the results, particularly among residents of Cottage Place who saw traffic on their street swell as commuters sought a nearby connector to replace New Garden Road. The proposed outer loop that NPS planners confidently predicted would "minimize, if not eliminate objections to the closing of New Garden Road," has not been built. The park by-pass proposal that was abandoned sometime between the publication of the 1968 Master Plan and the issuance of the Guilford Courthouse Development Plan was brought back to life in 1987-1988 when Cottage Place residents successfully lobbied the Greensboro City Council to close their street to through-traffic. City Planners then dredged up the still born by-pass as the only means of accommodating both the unhappy Cottage Place homeowners and the growing number of commuters searching for an east-west connector. When the Service proved unwilling to accede to the City Council's request that the by-pass be resurrected, Council members denounced the National Park Service for its short-sightedness and threatened retaliation in the form of opposition to future park improvement initiatives. [19]

This episode certainly suggests that park consensus-building efforts had been less than successful. Perhaps such an impasse was inevitable given the conflicting priorities of park managers, park neighbors, area commuters, and the desire of City government to placate various local constituencies. It is tempting to speculate, however, that much of the antipathy aroused in this situation might have been avoided if the Service had been consistent in its handling of this issue, and if a better job had been done to communicate its plans to the community. The ultimate deletion of a long-term park goal certainly suggests that this objective never should have been identified as worthy of attainment. This would seem to be so in the case of the proposed by-pass road, which would have simply removed commuter traffic from one area of the historic property to another. More to the point, if changing circumstances require the emendation of such an objective it is absolutely incumbent upon park management to see that the community at least understands, if not agrees with, the changing circumstances that wrought this change. A careful review of the evidence suggests that park-community lines of communication were at best uncertain during the critical planning processes of the late 1960s to early 1970s. The only public comment session for the Master Plan revision was apparently scheduled on such short notice that the district's Congressman received word too late to send a representative, even though he had corresponded previously with the National Park Service directorate about his constituents' concerns arising from this plan. The unwillingness to characterize as "critical" the responses of the State and City to the Development Concept Plan could be interpreted as deceptive, as could the fact that the promised outer loop that would solve the area's traffic problems was never built.

The end that was served by these means was worthy. The interests of historic preservation were clearly well-served by the removal of east-west commuter traffic from the park. But the residual feelings of mistrust toward the Service and its representatives would not be in the park's interest in the coming decade as the processes of urban encroachment reached their peak in the surrounding community. Ironically, this point would be made most clearly as efforts were undertaken to close another, even more heavily traveled thoroughfare through the park.

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Last Updated: 10-Feb-2003