Guilford Courthouse
Administrative History
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Local Land Acquisition Agitation

Acting Superintendent Brandon stated in the preamble to his 1940 land acquisition program that "interested parties in Greensboro" planned to "obtain the introduction in Congress of a bill to authorize the funds necessary" to radically extend the area of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. Circumstances certainly suggest that it was this locally initiated movement to enlarge the park rather than the rumored development plans of Richardson Realty that led to the formulation of Brandon's acquisition plan. In either case, the notion that the park should be substantially enlarged was the brainchild of two Greensboro businessmen who combined their keen interests in history with considerable energy and local political influence. This pair, attorney James G.W. MacClamroch and stockbroker McDaniel Lewis, were formidable advocates for their point of view. MacClamroch was clearly the dominant member of this small pack; and for the next twenty years he would be a central figure in park history.

Born in Greensboro shortly after the turn of the twentieth century, James Gwaltney Westwarren MacClamroch was a graduate of the University of North Carolina and the Yale University School of Law. In the 1920's he returned to Greensboro where he established a successful law practice and began to establish his credentials as an advocate of progressive change. Over the course of a long career he championed a number of causes including reform of North Carolina's antiquated judicial system, regional development of water resources, and expansion and improvement of the state's highways. He was an aggressive advocate for his hometown, working through the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce to initiate the movement that led to the first major expansion of the city limits in 1923. Later, as a member of the State Highway Commission, he worked successfully to obtain funding for a model urban expressway system for Greensboro. These developments were major contributors to Greensboro's rapid growth in the twentieth century; and as Greensboro grew, James MacClamroch prospered as an attorney, and later as a developer.

Clearly a man of diverse interests, MacClamroch was best known for his passionate interest in local history. In this he was seconded by McDaniel Lewis, of whom MacClamroch said: "McDaniel Lewis has aided and abetted me on everything I have ever done." Throughout the years this pair indulged their interest in a number of constructive ways. They worked tirelessly to preserve historic sites both in Greensboro and across the state. Both served with distinction on state and local historical advisory commissions, and both were officers of countless historical and patriotic organizations. [1]

In 1940 two of MacClamroch's interests were drawn together by a plan to realign U.S. Highway 220. Convinced that efficient transportation systems stimulate economic development, MacClamroch was an extremely active member of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce's Good Roads Committee. This organization enthusiastically supported the North Carolina Highway Commission's decision to reroute U.S. 220 to a new, more direct line about a quarter mile west and south of the park's boundaries. MacClamroch was troubled, however, by preliminary drawings that showed the new route crossing a site clearly associated with the battle of Guilford Courthouse: the eighteenth century farmstead of Joseph Hoskins. The British had deployed around Hoskins's cabin and crossed his fields as they attacked the first American battleline, whose center was drawn up behind rail fences Hoskins had constructed to protect his crops. At battle's end the British had used the Hoskins house as a field hospital. Within sight of the cabin they dug a mass grave for their slain troops. Clearly this was historic ground and MacClamroch employed all of his influence in successfully lobbying to move the highway just west of the Hoskins property. [2]

MacClamroch the visionary, the "Idea Man" as he was later christened by the local media, was heartened by this success. In turn he was inspired to act upon another of his beliefs: that the entire area covered by the battle of Guilford Courthouse should be included in Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. To this end he launched a letter-writing campaign to the North Carolina Congressional delegation urging that legislation be introduced to acquire all lands between the park's western boundary and the new line of U.S. 220, including the Hoskins property. He drew upon his most eminent contacts in state historical and patriotic societies as reenforcements. [3]

Brandon clearly did not share MacClamroch's view of the importance of this property. He nonetheless thought it advisable to placate MacClamroch and recommended that "the Service should ostensibly fall in with [the] local proposal" to buy the western battlefield lands, trusting to unspecified "practical difficulties" to discourage its proponents and ultimately block this initiative. Brandon believed that to do otherwise would lead the "local interest" to "refuse to cooperate, if not actively oppose the addition of the other more important tracts." [4]

Of course MacClamroch was not the type to be discouraged by difficulties of any sort. At his instigation Representative Carl T. Durham of the Sixth Congressional District contacted the National Park Service directorate to request a study of areas that should be added to Guilford Courthouse NMP. Acting Director A.E. Demaray wrote directly to MacClamroch at the close of 1940 to inform him that such a study had been performed (by Brandon) and that a map was in preparation showing "proposed extensions." Demaray concluded with a cautionary note:

The prospect of acquiring additional lands with Federal funds is not very bright at the present time. As you know, the national defense is receiving first consideration in the expenditure of funds. [5]

As the new year dawned battle lines were becoming more clearly drawn in Europe as well as in Greensboro, North Carolina. The war in Europe was real enough as Great Britain, with material and financial support from the United States, struggled alone to stem the tide of Axis aggression. It was the cost of this assistance to Great Britain combined with the monumental catch-up effort to improve the defenses of the United States that made it unlikely that Congress would appropriate funds for any but the most essential programs and services.

The metaphorical war in Greensboro was also intensifying. In his narrative for January 1941 Brandon reported that Charles O. Martin, owner of the property south of the courthouse tract, was considering the subdivision of his property for residential development. [6] At the same time an engineer was finishing a map that detailed MacClamroch's recommendations for the expansion of Guilford Courthouse NMP. With his intimate ties to the Greensboro business community MacClamroch was undoubtedly aware of Martin's suggested subdivision, and he seized this opportunity to announce that the only acceptable means of protecting the battlefield was to include the entire site, "all parts of it and everything pertaining to it" in the park. Reflecting this judgment his map showed a proposed park area that encompassed roughly five hundred acres, bounded on the north by Lake Brandt Road, on the east by Hillsdale (Lawndale) Drive, and by the new line of U.S. 220 on the south and west. [7] The Martin property was within the area proposed for acquisition.

National Park Service officials were stunned by the magnitude of this proposal. The official response was an evolving effort to convince MacClamroch of the impracticality of his vision. On 3 February 1941 Director Demaray wrote to MacClamroch:

[T]he National Park Service has no funds for the purchase of lands at the Guilford Courthouse battleground. In consequence, any additions to the park must be the result of donations or purchases made with donated funds.

Six weeks later Demaray wrote again, emphasizing the cost in lost tax revenues to the Greensboro community, as well as increased maintenance, protection and management expenses to be incurred by the National Park Service if the park were greatly expanded. Again he noted that the park could obtain more land via donation, but seemed to temporize when he added:

[E]specially at this time, proposed additions should be kept within bounds easily justified by the needs of interpretation and economical park administration." [8]

MacClamroch was displeased by what he interpreted as the Service's miserly attitude toward land acquisition at Guilford; particularly so in light of activities at Saratoga National Historical Park, site of a battle that MacClamroch considered of less importance than Guilford Courthouse.

I still can't understand how it is feasible for the National Park Service to take over 1427 acres at Saratoga, New York, and spend a $50,000 additional appropriation for land acquisition there, and it is not reasonable to ask the cooperation of the National Park Service in acquiring the one hundred to two hundred acres additional at the site of the battle of Guilford Courthouse to round out the boundaries of the park and take in the entire site of the battle. [9]

Director Drury responded that although the size of National Military Parks varied considerably, "the general policy is to include only such tracts as are necessary in telling the story of the engagement and for administrative purposes." His conclusion was significant: "[Y]ou may rest assured that the National Park Service will look with favor on any donation of property within the proposed boundaries which it has considered." In other words, the park would accept no land outside the scope of its land acquisition program even if it were proffered by donation. [10]

MacClamroch replied acidly: "If only the land 'necessary in telling the story of the engagement' were to be included in National Military Parks then a lot ten feet square might be sufficient." He reiterated that the entire battlefield should be preserved, "with at least the passive if not the active cooperation of the National Park Service," and concluded, "with or without we expect to have the area extended." [11]

Grown tired of this long-distance debate over conflicting philosophies of historic preservation, MacClamroch traveled to Washington in late May 1941 to meet with the members of the North Carolina Congressional delegation, as well as his law school classmate Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. He apparently returned with a promise from Representative Carl T. Durham that he would introduce a Guilford Courthouse land acquisition bill, and shortly after his return to Greensboro MacClamroch wrote the Congressman, "I believe it is now time for you to do so." [12]

The timely intercession of World War II spared the National Park Service the probable embarrassment this bill would have occasioned. A year later Brandon would write that enthusiasm for the land acquisition plan had cooled with the "local recognition that this is no time for the Government to be concerned with the spending of money for land purchases." [13] MacClamroch spent the war years haranguing local National Park Service officials, distributing copies of his map, and working to generate local support for a post-war park expansion drive. Park staff viewed this effort with some skepticism, echoing Brandon's earlier judgment that although local support for MacClamroch's proposal was "strong and sincere it is hardly deep enough to reach their pocketbooks." [14]

When Acting Superintendent Brandon departed for military service in March 1943, MacClamroch undertook to convert to the expansionist point of view his replacement, Charles S. Marshall. He failed in this effort as Marshall quickly concluded that MacClamroch favored "an excessively large land acquisition program" based upon "inaccuracies and misrepresentations" of the battlefield's size. He also hinted darkly, but without elaboration, that MacClamroch "has a deliberate reason for this misrepresentation." [15]

A likely outcome of MacClamroch's lobbying efforts, National Park Service officials began searching intently for means by which to obtain the five small tracts identified in Brandon's Land Acquisition Program. Congressional funding being virtually impossible during the war years, Acting Regional Director Oliver G. Taylor directed Superintendent Marshall to canvass local property owners to determine their willingness to donate land to the park. All declined. [16] Marshall also investigated property tax appraisals for the designated tracts on the assumption that land acquisition funds would become available in the post-war period. He found that these tracts were appraised at significantly higher values than similar property in the area, leading him to conclude "the tax authorities have valued this land at a high rate because the land adjoins the park." [17]

The park did receive one unsolicited offer of donated land in this period. Perhaps swept away in a post-V.E. Day wave of patriotic fervor, County Commissioner J.A. Doggett telephoned Superintendent Marshall with the news that he intended to sponsor a resolution granting the original Guilford Courthouse site to the park, along with a commemorative marker to be erected at County expense. As diplomatically as possible Marshall informed the Commissioner that the park had owned the site for the past decade, but that the National Park Service would gladly accept the proffered marker. The Superintendent noted the indignant tone of Doggett's rejection of this proposal:

[I]f the Service had owned the site for ten years and done nothing towards constructing such a marker he did not think the County should accept responsibility at this late date. [18]

Commissioner Doggett's dismissive statement was a paradigm of park-community relations in the 1940s. Reflecting the 1933 headline that Guilford Courthouse NMP would be brought up to "national standards," the community was led to have very high expectations of what National Park Service stewardship would mean for their battlefield. Expectations were heightened by the flurry of construction and road projects completed in the late 1930s. Park supporters failed to grasp the significance of the fact that all of these improvements were funded through Depression-era recovery agencies. No one could foresee that such governmental largesse would cease once the nation was fully immersed in World War II.

The strange case of James MacClamroch was a particularly lamentable aspect of park-community relations in this period. Initially the park's leading local advocate, he would emerge in the post-war era as the area's most formidable critic of National Park Service policies. This transformation may have been inevitable, given MacClamroch's unrealistic notions of the battle of Guilford Courthouse's significance, and his essentially egocentric delusion that he could force the National Park Service and Congress to accept his interpretation of history. The fact remains, however, that National Park Service representatives did not deal with MacClamroch in a particularly straightforward manner. Beginning with Brandon's recommendation that MacClamroch be allowed to believe that the Service supported his park expansion program; followed by assurances that the park would gladly accept donated land; concluding with a far more restrictive policy that the park would accept only such land accessions as were countenanced by the park's planning documents, the National Park Service appeared to be at best inconsistent. MacClamroch probably should have been told in 1940 that it was the judgment of the National Park Service that the historical importance of the battle of Guilford Courthouse did not justify substantial expenditures for either the acquisition of additional property, or even for the administration of larger holdings obtained by donation.

In short, Guilford Courthouse National Military Park was, and always would be a small park, a judgment perfectly in keeping with the "Antietam Plan" conception of historic preservation with minimal commitment of Federal resources. Unfortunately the Antietam Plan would prove ill-suited to shield this small park from the forces of robust urban development in the post-war world.

In September 1946 National Park Service representatives, mindful of James MacClamroch's promises to revive his land acquisition campaign, traveled to Greensboro to gauge the depth of local support for park expansion. A meeting was convened in the offices of the Greensboro Chamber of Commerce where Coordinating Superintendent Edward A. Hummel, new Guilford Superintendent Raleigh C. Taylor, and James MacClamroch met with chamber officials. From the standpoint of park expansion advocates the timing of this meeting could not have been worse. Six weeks earlier military authorities had announced the closing of the 652-acre Army Air Force Overseas Replacement Depot in northeast Greensboro, and the local business community was transfixed by the goal of making a smooth transition to a peacetime economy. It should have surprised no one when Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President John S. Patterson told the conferees "that the Chamber does not feel that it can take on the park expansion project as an active program until the early part of 1947. . . ." This answer essentially doomed the Guilford Courthouse expansion plan. MacClamroch, the plan's originator and principal advocate, was soon embroiled in a a new controversy with the National Park Service and would not resume his former position as ramrod on this issue. Deprived of his leadership local support withered. Without his prodding, the National Park Service was content to leave things as they were. [19]

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Last Updated: 10-Feb-2003