Guilford Courthouse
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The Martin Trespass Case

While Guilford Courthouse National Military Park was slowly developing, surrounding Guilford County and nearby Greensboro were exhibiting impressive growth characteristics. Even during the Depression the county's economy continued to expand.

Growth was constant. . . . Industrial expansion continued even during the Great Depression, and World War II brought economic advantage rather than disruption. After the war there was little dependence upon national defense as Guilford's economy came to achieve a healthy diversification. [1]

Little wonder that Guilford County was a virtual population magnet. Census reports indicate that rapid population gains that began in the decade 1920-1930 continued through World War II and the "Baby Boom" years. The county's population which stood at 79,272 in 1920 had tripled to 246,520 by 1960. In the same period the population of Greensboro, the county's business and industrial heartland, grew from 19,861 to 123,334; from twenty-five to fifty per cent of the county's total population. [2]

As Greensboro's population grew, city limits very naturally were extended. The park, which since 1887 had billed itself as being six miles from Greensboro, as a result of a 1945 annexation of residential areas on the north side of town found itself a short two and one-half miles from the city limits. There was plenty of evidence that the park's rural environs would soon change. A study by Greensboro planners indicated that in 1940 population density was one thousand persons per square mile at a distance of two miles from the city's center. By 1960 this same population density had extended three-quarters of a mile farther. Projections indicated that by 1980 there would be one thousand residents per square mile at a distance of four miles from the center, within two miles of the park. Expansion of Greensboro's city limits kept pace and by 1964 the city limits ran along the park's south and east boundaries. These areas were protected from more objectionable urban encroachment by the Greensboro Country Park and the Forest Lawn Cemetery, but events would demonstrate that these facilities were not impenetrable defenses. [3]

In January 1941 Acting Superintendent Brandon reported that he was approached by Charles O. Martin with plans for a residential subdivision of twelve to fifteen homes that he intended to build on his thirty-six acre tract that fronted the south side of the New Garden Road right-of-way, running 1350 feet from the New Garden Lawndale Drive intersection to the eastern boundary of the park's main body. This property sat opposite the courthouse site and very likely included archaeological remains of the post-Revolutionary War village, Martinville. About two hundred feet of this property along the New Garden Road line was submerged beneath Lake Caldwell, the northern-most Country Park lake, and as such was under easement to the City of Greensboro. The balance was readily available for development.

Brandon noted that each of these homesites was to have direct access to New Garden Road via driveway connection. A month earlier Brandon had discussed the question of access to this park-owned road with Martin and his attorney. He informed them that the right-of-way transfer had occurred prior to his posting to Guilford Courthouse. Nonetheless, it was his understanding, based on conversations with former Resident Commissioner Roane and officials of the Bureau of Public Roads, that the National Park Service had a "moral obligation" to permit access, with the Service to be the sole arbiter as to type, number, and location of such connections. Brandon concluded that the Service was "unlikely" to approve twelve or more access points at this location and so informed Martin. [4]

World War II intervened. In the late summer of 1945 Martin informed Superintendent Charles S. Marshall that he intended to construct two access roads from his property to intersect with New Garden Road. Martin contended that he had conveyed right-of-way to the National Park Service (by way of the State of North Carolina) with "the express reservation" that he could construct access roads at intervals of two hundred feet. Informed by Marshall that the Government was unlikely to grant such access, Martin turned the matter over to his attorney, James G.W. MacClamroch. [5]

Of course attorney MacClamroch was well-known to officials of the National Park Service because of his long-time advocacy of the expansion of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. MacClamroch wasted no time in telling the Director of Region One that although the Martin property should be included within the park, this personal belief "has nothing to do with my client's rights as to the land he owns." Specifically he argued that although Martin had access to his property along its eastern boundary from Lawndale Drive, this access was "inadequate for his full use of the property" and "undue hardship to him will result" if he were denied access to New Garden Road. Region One Director Thomas J. Allen replied that no authority existed to grant private access to a Government-owned road. [6]

The matter rested there until the summer of 1949 when Martin began grading operations on his property to construct an unpaved connector between Nathanael Greene Road in the Country Park and New Garden Road in the military park. Superintendent Taylor took immediate steps to block Nathanael Greene Road Extension, as Martin's road was christened, by erecting a barricade of concrete posts along the park property line. This barrier remained in place until November 1949 when it was removed by "Martin or his agents." [7] In response Taylor contacted United States Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina Bryce R. Holt. In 1945 Holt had advised Taylor's predecessor to prosecute Martin for criminal trespass in the event his (at that time) threatened road-building operations crossed the park boundary. At this latter juncture, apparently without explanation, the U.S. Attorney failed to act. [8] A 14 April 1950 letter from the Secretary of the Interior to Attorney General J. Howard McGrath also failed to elicit "appropriate injunctive proceedings" against Mr. Martin.

In January 1951 Coordinating Superintendent Hummel came to Greensboro to consult with the involved parties. The situation had become more complex because another park neighbor, Minnie H. Webb, had been emboldened by Martin's apparent success to build a similar access road from her property on the north side of New Garden Road. [9] Shortly after this round of meetings U.S. Attorney Holt wrote to Hummel stating that he believed Martin and MacClamroch's contentions that the National Park Service had a moral obligation to provide access to neighboring property owners "have a great deal of merit to them." [10]

Unable to induce U.S. Attorney Holt to take action, Mastin G. White, Solicitor of the Department of the Interior, addressed a rousing letter to the Attorney General summarizing the case and insisting that appropriate proceedings be instituted against Martin. Solicitor White argued that the Service's responsibility to "preserve and protect this national shrine . . . transcends any claimed moral rights of access." White concluded with a pointed request that U.S. Attorney Holt be instructed to institute proceedings "without delay" and that a copy of the Justice Department's letter of instruction be forwarded to the Department of the Interior. [11]

There is no indication that the requested letter of instruction was ever sent. Instead there followed a round of meetings between National Park Service officials and members of the North Carolina Congressional Delegation, which in turn led to an October 1951 summit conference in Greensboro. In attendance were C.O. Martin, his attorney J.G.W. MacClamroch, Greensboro City Manager James R. Townsend, U.S. Attorney Holt, National Park Service Chief Counsel Jackson E. Price, Region One Landscape Architect V.R. Ludgate, and Superintendent Taylor. The presence of the City Manager suggested that the pro-Martin forces were about to assume a new line of attack. They did so. MacClamroch argued that this access road represented more than the simple exercise of his client's property rights. He argued that it performed a public service in that it provided another entrance and exit for the heavily used Greensboro Country Park. He argued further: "The National Park will be benefited rather than inconvenienced by this extension," because it would reduce the flow of traffic into and out of the Country Park by way of Holt Avenue, one of the National Military Park's primary entrances. MacClamroch's contention was supported by City Manager Townsend and, interestingly enough, by U.S. Attorney Holt. [12]

Failing to achieve a meeting of the minds, a second conference was held on 6 November 1951 at which the National Park Service tried a new tack of its own. Regional Landscape Architect Ludgate presented a proposal to use the Martin property as a construction site for "a restricted, high-type residential development without access to the Government road. . . ." Martin and MacClamroch rejected this suggestion, and when queried refused to divulge the nature of their plans for the tract. Service representatives speculated that they planned "a tourist court or some other commercial development." [13]

What actually followed was a series of "improvements" that were probably conceived to capitalize upon the considerable number of recreational users passing between the parks. Martin's tract was essentially an undeveloped thirty-six acre woodland with six humble frame rental houses along its southern boundary with the Country Park. When the construction dust cleared, he had added the Park Drive-In Movie Theater, the Park Recreation Area (featuring a go cart track) and the Park Barbecue Restaurant. [14]

This case took its next unlikely turn on 31 July 1952 when R. Brookes Peters, General Counsel of the North Carolina State Highway and Public Works Commission wrote to NPS Chief Counsel Jackson E. Price with news that yet another interested party had entered the lists. At the request of "several local governing bodies," the Martin road had been included in the State-maintained County Highway System. The State of North Carolina was now requesting access to New Garden Road. [15] This indulgence was denied by Director Conrad L. Wirth, who stated that to do otherwise would "nullify the character of New Garden Road as a Park road," whose purpose was to "assist in the interpretation of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse rather than as a public thoroughfare serving local interests for the benefit of adjoining landowners." [16]

Local historian MacClamroch took exception to the characterization of New Garden as a park road and to the implication that the Martin road would in any way harm the park. With regard to the former point he correctly described New Garden as a local road of considerable antiquity that extended for a number of miles beyond the park boundaries. In his view, the fact that it passed through the park did not alter its essential character as a local roadway. As to the latter implication that the Martin road constituted a threat to Guilford Courthouse NMP, MacClamroch invoked his personal history as the park's leading advocate as a guarantee that the exercise of his client's rights would do nothing to compromise the site's integrity. Furthermore he asserted that local patriotic organizations were united in support of the Martin road and promised to provide formal resolutions to that effect. No such declarations were forthcoming and Superintendent Taylor found officers of area D.A.R. and S.A.R. chapters to be unanimously opposed to the Martin road. [17]

The State made one final appeal in the spring of 1953. Director Wirth's response hinted ominously that if access were somehow granted:

[I]t would be necessary for the Service to consider revising the boundaries of the Park with a view toward eliminating those portions which may no longer be consistent with or in the furtherance of the established purpose of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.

Access was denied. Superintendent Taylor was ordered to rebuild his barricades, and a stern warning was conveyed: "The Attorney General will take action against trespassers." Of course such threats were not new, but there was reason to suspect at this juncture that a different attitude would pervade the office of the District Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina. The autumn 1952 elections had left the Democratic Party in control of North Carolina and Guilford County governments, but Dwight Eisenhower had succeeded to the presidency and his administration was unlikely to be as receptive to the appeals of North Carolina's Democratic Congressional delegation in behalf of a long-time party stalwart of the likes of James G.W. MacClamroch.

In obedience to the Director's instructions Superintendent Taylor blocked the Martin access road on June 2, 1953. The barricade was removed by "grading machines" on June 29. Replaced once more, the barrier was again demolished by heavy machinery. [18]

The seemingly endless cycle was broken on 21 July 1953. Four years after Martin first directed his grading machinery across the park boundary and Superintendent Taylor initially requested Justice Department assistance, a civil suit was finally filed in the Federal District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina charging Martin with trespass and requesting the removal of the road and the restoration of twenty feet of disturbed park land between the boundary and New Garden Road. Four months later a predictable countersuit was filed requesting dismissal of the Government's claim and requesting a judgment in the amount of five thousand dollars for the "unlawful use, trespass upon, interference with and damage to the property" of Charles O. Martin. Specifically, it was alleged that Martin had been dispossessed of his property without compensation; and that Martin had made the conveyance with expressed reservations regarding rights of access. Thrown in for good measure was the assertion that the access road had been constructed with State assistance, in that the State Highway Commission had seen fit to pave it. The Government's response to the counterclaim asserted that tort claims against the United States were barred unless instituted within one year from the date the claim accrues (Title 28, U.S.C. 1346) and that they must be prosecuted in an original action (Title 28, U.S.C. 2401). The response also amended the Government's suit to include as defendants the members of the North Carolina State Highway Commission. [19]

The District Court's docket was exceedingly congested and it was clear that it would be some time before this case would be heard. In the interval there was a flurry of activity aimed at finding a compromise solution. The State opened the bidding with a proposal that would have the United States return the eastern portion of New Garden Road in exchange for the North Carolina Highway Commission's promise to maintain it. As this emphatically one-sided offer would have left the Martin access road in place and would have technically severed the only linkage between the courthouse site and the bulk of the National Military Park property, it should have been rejected out of hand. That it was not sheds considerable light on the lengths to which National Park Service management was prepared to go to make these problems disappear. [20]

Early in December 1954 NPS Chief Counsel Jackson Price appeared in Greensboro to discuss with Superintendent Taylor the idea of returning the courthouse site to Guilford County and the New Garden right-of way to the State. In a memorandum to Regional Director Elbert Cox dated 5 December 1954 Superintendent Taylor submitted his response to this proposal. While admitting that the Service had done "little enough toward maintaining the site" and that such a boundary reduction would "make the park easier to administer," Taylor concluded: "I would be opposed to giving up a foot of this ground." His rationale was in part historical ("The courthouse gave a name to the battle.") and in part personal, "possibly too personal."

I spent a good deal of time trying to stop Mr. Martin from completing his road, and after that was done, from using it. These efforts were not only useless and somewhat expensive, but if the road is finally to remain open, then it seems that I will be made especially ridiculous, not only personally but as a representative of the Service whose instructions I was trying to execute. Damage to our aims in this community would be considerable.

Taylor's objections were noted, but were rejected in favor of a compromise described by Chief Historian Herbert E. Kahler as "three steps [that] will be taken in an effort to dispose of this problem." The North Carolina Division of Highways and Public Works would be requested to close New Garden Road to through traffic. Efforts would then be undertaken to arrange a land exchange whereby the National Park Service would swap the courthouse site for some portion of the Richardson Real Estate Company land holdings. The final element of this equation would be consultations with Dr. C.C. Crittenden, Chairman of the North Carolina Historical Commission, regarding the "historical problem" involved in this exchange. [21]

Although undefined this "historical problem" was undoubtedly the question of whether the battle of Guilford Courthouse could be interpreted adequately without the inclusion of the courthouse site. Was it a "key point" in the Antietam Plan sense of historic preservation? No less an authority than the Director of the National Park Service had characterized the Guilford Courthouse site as an "important landmark during the battle."

It was the base of supplies for American troops and the spot where they made their last stand and retired from the field. The courthouse was the most important landmark in that vicinity and the battle was named for it. [22]

This judgment from the highest policy-making level of the National Park Service certainly suggested that the courthouse area was a key site. Furthermore, Wirth concluded that at one hundred fifty acres Guilford Courthouse National Military Park "is indeed inadequate to tell the story of the battle." Three years later this key site had become a "historical problem" fit for excision from a park "inadequate to tell the story of the battle." Why this was the case was not clear at this point.

Within five months the three-step plan was dead. The State rejected the notion of closing New Garden Road. Richardson Realty Company concluded that, "No suitable [land] exchange could be accomplished." As a result, Dr. Crittenden had not been consulted regarding the "historical problem." [23] This plan was abandoned but compromise efforts continued. Edwin M. Stanley, the Eisenhower appointee who had at length succeeded Bryce Holt as United States Attorney for the Middle District, reported that he had been approached by MacClamroch with an offer to settle based on the Government's retaining title to New Garden Road and Martin's access road remaining open. Like his predecessor Stanley noted that the Martin road did serve a public interest in that it permitted access to the city park. He noted further that if the case did come to trial he would have to defend the Government's title to the right-of-way and this he seemed unwilling to do. [24]

MacClamroch's proposal was rejected, or at least not acted upon, and the case finally came before Judge Johnson J. Hayes of Wilkesboro, North Carolina on 31 January 1956. Judge Hayes issued a summary judgment dismissing the State Highway Commission members as parties to the suit on their agreement to abide by the court's ruling in the case. The court was also informed that Charles O. Martin had retired and conveyed his interest in the thirty-six acre tract to his son, Floyd B. Martin, and to his daughter and son-in-law Raymond F. and Hazel Martin Farrar. The Government's suit was amended to include them as defendants and a trial date of 10 February 1956 was set. [25]

On 30 March 1956 the court issued its ruling. With regard to the assertion that Martin had been deprived of his property with out consideration, and that the Government's title to the New Garden right-of-way was therefore defective, the court ruled, "The United States is owner and is entitled to full use and possession" of the roadway. Martin's contention that he had reserved rights of access was also rejected and the defendants were "permanently restrained" from constructing or using Nathanael Greene Road Extension or other such access roads without the permission of the Secretary of the Interior or his designees. In short, the Government's victory was complete; but it did not stand. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, ruling that Chapter 2, Public Laws of North Carolina, 1935, was defective in that "mere registration of maps was not sufficient to divest the owners of title." However, Government could establish title via prescriptive easement upon a showing that it had exercised long-term "dominion and control" over the property. [26]

Remanded to the Middle District Court, former superintendents Brandon and Marshall, and caretaker William J. Brown testified that the park had mowed, seeded, and sodded the shoulders of New Garden Road since June 1937. The court ruled that the Government had established title through the required exercise of dominion and control, but refused to order the closure of Nathanael Greene Road Extension "until and unless" Martin, et al., were compensated. The Government responded by filing a motion for an order to close the access road. This motion was denied on the grounds that the court was not required to order the closure, and that the road served a public purpose, in that it provided access to a recreation area and a barbecue restaurant. This ruling was appealed. The motion was again remanded to the District Court, which again refused to act. Again brought before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals the petition was denied on the grounds that Martin had been denied "constructive notice" of the taking of his reserved access. [27]

The ten-year run of the Martin Trespass Case ended on 20 October 1959 with a memorandum from Edward A. Fritz, Acting Solicitor of the Department of the Interior, informing Attorney General William P. Rogers that a decision had been made to cease the seemingly endless round of petitions and appeals in this case. The grounds for this judgment had remarkably little to do with Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, or the effect of the contested road on the park, or even on the likelihood of success of further appeals. Rather this decision turned upon the larger issue of the validity of the North Carolina statute designed to obtain land for Federal parkways that had been employed by the State to obtain title to New Garden Road and, not coincidentally, for much of the property that comprised the Blue Ridge Parkway. Because the court's final ruling had hinged upon the State's failure to provide Martin "constructive notice" of the rejection of his claimed reserved right of access to New Garden Road, the effect of the ruling was considered to be limited to the specifics of this case. Rather than open a Pandora's box of actions challenging the legality of State takings for the Parkway, the National Park Service and Department of the Interior "decline(d) to file petition for certiorari."

After a decade of contention, the courts' rulings had resolved nothing. The park's claim to the New Garden Road right-of-way had been upheld, but Nathanael Greene Drive Extension was still in use. In some ways the park's position had actually deteriorated in this period. The formerly wooded Martin tract had been replaced by a trio of business enterprises that drastically affected the historic scene of the courthouse area. An immense drive-in movie screen loomed over the courthouse site, and nature's tranquility had been replaced by the roar of go-cart engines and a peculiar aroma that was an amalgam of gasoline fumes and hickory smoke. It was almost as if C.O. Martin had gone out of his way to convert his thirty-six acres to uses that would be as incompatible as possible with the goals and purposes of the National Military Park. One wonders if attorney MacClamroch, park expansion advocate turned implacable National Park Service critic, played a role in this selection of uses. Perhaps he saw in this a way to force the National Park Service to expand the area of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, while at the same time profiting his client. Was this the motive former Superintendent Charles Marshall was suggesting when he wrote in 1943 that MacClamroch "has a deliberate reason for this misrepresentation" regarding the true size of the battlefield? [28]

Aside from speculative conclusions, several pertinent observations can be drawn from events surrounding the Martin Trespass Case. The evidence supports the conclusion that in this instance Guilford Courthouse National Military Park and the National Park Service could not rely upon local, State, or even sister Federal agencies to support the park in its efforts to preserve and interpret the Guilford Courthouse battlefield. While City and State agencies quickly wheeled into line to support each other's positions (positions that were inimical to the interests of the park), the passage of four years and a change of presidential political affiliation were required before the National Park Service could induce the Justice Department to initiate proceedings in its behalf. The fact that the case essentially represented a defeat for the Government is beside the point. This case stretched over a decade, consuming the park's human and financial resources, and diverting attention from other planning and development needs. A decision, even a negative decision, reached four years earlier would have been a great favor to the park and its small staff. Sad to say the future would reveal other instances when this small park would find itself contending against the alliance of City and State governments, and the indifference of other Federal agencies.

Evidence derived from this case also supports the observation that local perceptions of the park and its purpose were garbled. Aside from MacClamroch's self-serving assertions that the Martin access road would not be a detriment to the park, there are the frequent remarks of District Attorney Holt to the effect that the Country Park and the National Military Park were essentially indistinguishable, remarks that show the extent of his identification with local rather than national interests, as well as his lack of understanding of the purposes and aims of the National Park. Unfortunately the passing of time would demonstrate that his views were fairly typical of those of the community at large. The Country Park was something like the recreational safety valve NPS planners hoped it would be, but it also contributed to an identity crisis that afflicts the park to this day.

Perhaps most significant of all are observations concerning NPS management tendencies and their effects on Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. The trend toward inconsistency in public statements regarding the park, first exhibited in reaction to MacClamroch's earlier land acquisition proposals, continued. In one context Director Wirth asserted the importance of the courthouse site. A short while later this position was reversed and it was decided that the park could function adequately without it. Of course the argument can be made that this was a tactical adjustment dictated by changing circumstances in the park community; that inflexibility in the face of an evolving environment is an undesirable management characteristic; and that in some circumstances it may be acceptable to dispense with even key sites as a problem-solving technique. But to the layman such apparent deviations from basic principles undercut one of the premises upon which the National Park Service stands: that there are sites that are of such importance in the history of the nation and its people that they should be preserved in perpetuity. That they are in effect, sacred places. How then, can a sacred site become unconsecrated? Is sacredness not an eternal verity? If it is not, is it not possible for reasonable people to conclude that Guilford Courthouse NMP really is no different than the Greensboro Country Park? In recent memory a member of the Greensboro City Council openly mocked the notion that park property was sacred and therefore unsuitable for use in the expansion of a neighboring roadway, as such attesting to the importance of consistency of principle and purpose regarding park resources.

Finally the evidence of this case (and others) will support the judgment that NPS management has on occasion subverted the interest of one park in the interest of the NPS at large. In at least one instance, a key decision in this case was made based on its perceived effect on the Blue Ridge Parkway, rather than its impact on Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. In this same general timeframe Superintendent Taylor reported an initiative to request that the North Carolina General Assembly appropriate funds to purchase lands designated in the park Land Acquisition Program. He did not specify whether this idea was his own or that of a local constituency group. In either case, he was directed to halt this effort, "as important as it is" because the Service was at that time working to obtain a similar State appropriation for land acquisition at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. [29] Of course such judgments are legitimate management prerogatives. In a world of limited resources they are, in fact, management responsibilities. Such assessments are inherently neither good nor bad. It is simply a fact that such judgments will be made; a fact that should be borne in mind by managers of small areas like Guilford Courthouse. Among their greatest responsibilities is the need to act as effective advocates for their parks. Small parks that lack such advocacy will inevitably suffer.

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Last Updated: 10-Feb-2003