Guilford Courthouse
Administrative History
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The Pace Of Urban Development Quickens

During the years in which the park's planning documents were revised and the Bicentennial Development Project improvements were completed, northwest Greensboro continued to grow. On 1 December 1974 the Greensboro Daily News carried an article describing changes in the park community. This piece had an evocative headline: "A Noose Drops On The Battleground."

On all sides of the park, subdivisions have been built with businesses, residences and apartment structures crowding the park and covering much of the historic area.

The pace of urban development accelerated as the decade ended. Construction began on a 260-unit apartment complex on the park's northeast boundary in 1979-1980. Simultaneously the City of Greensboro proposed and received approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for a fifty-unit public housing complex to be built on Old Battleground Road about one-half mile from the park's southern boundary. U.S. Highway 220, locally known as Battleground Avenue, was widened from two to five lanes between Old Battleground Road and New Garden Road. Within a few years this process would be repeated on the stretch between New Garden Road and Cotswold Terrace. A shopping center was built on U.S. 220 about one mile south of the park. Closer to home a twenty-four hour convenience store was constructed across Lawndale Drive from the park's eastern boundary after developers "requested and received numerous zoning variances." As 1980 closed the Guilford County Zoning Commission received a request to rezone from "Residential" to "Highway Commercial" an eight and one-half acre tract on the northeast corner of the U.S. 220-New Garden Road intersection. This was viewed as a particularly serious threat as this property ran alongside the park's primary entrance, directly across New Garden Road from the Hoskins House on land where the British army had deployed before advancing against the American first battle line. [1]

This latter case was particularly ironic coming on the eve of the battle of Guilford Courthouse's bicentennial commemoration. The local media made much of this point with articles and editorials that were generally supportive of park values.

[A]s the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse approaches, so do contractors, bulldozers, and all those implements of what developers are prone to call improvement. [2]

Superintendent Danielson was quoted as saying that he viewed the developments along U.S. 220 with "dismay" and that he looked to "county zoning [authorities] to protect the property and provide an attractive entrance to the park." In the face of mounting criticism developer James Flynt revised his request seeking instead to rezone the property from "Residential" to "Institutional" classification. The County Planning Department, the County Planning Board (of which developer Flynt was a member) and the Advisory Board for Environmental Quality all recommended against this zoning revision. On appeal to the County Commissioners, however, the motion to rezone was granted by a near unanimous vote. Stung by mounting criticism in the wake of his victory, Flynt offered to sell his property to the National Park Service "at lower than market value," perhaps unaware of the Service's long-standing opposition to the acquisition of additional property on the battlefield's western approaches. [3]

Similar requests followed with identical results. Most notable was the rezoning from "Residential-Agricultural" to "Multi-Family" of an eighteen-acre tract on Cotswold Terrace, sixteen hundred feet north of the park. Superintendent Danielson attended the Planning Board meeting that considered this request but was unable to sway their judgment. [4]

It was in this context that Superintendent Danielson made a crucial decision. Given the unwillingness of local government to restrain development in the park community even at this time when bicentennial activities had elevated area interest in the park to previously unapproachable levels, the Superintendent concluded that it was pointless to oppose further development of the park's environs. It was his judgment that neither aggressive advocacy nor community consensus-building efforts would be likely to reverse County government's pro-development stance. Perhaps this was the case; but it was certainly so if nothing was done to protect park interests. From this juncture the park's fate was sealed. Management assumed the role of observer rather than participant in the process, typically employing the passive verb "to monitor" to characterize its actions. In 1982 the apartment complex "Marchwood" was completed and opened on the park's northeast boundary. The public housing project one-half mile south of the boundary on Old Battleground Road opened. A major medical facility broke ground next door. Work began on a condominium development, "Greene's Crossing," opposite the Hoskins house a quarter mile west of the park. On the northeast corner of U.S. 220 and New Garden Road a daycare center was unexpectedly built and opened. Management responded: "By actively monitoring these changes we will be able to protect the best interests of the park, its visitors and neighbors." The following year saw the construction of four multi-family housing units within one-quarter mile of the western boundary. All were built on historic ground, three contiguous with the park's boundary and the other alongside the park's primary entrance road. Management responded: "It was obvious in 1983 that by carefully monitoring these developmental changes the park was able to consider the best ways to minimize their impact to the park." [5] The procedure so monitored was the complete encirclement of the facility by numerous vehicles of urban encroachment.

In August 1981 the City of Greensboro announced plans to annex the region on its northwest boundary that encompassed the park. This could have been a favorable portent, even though as Superintendent Danielson noted, the annexation would complete the formal urbanization of the park community. By the time the annexation process was completed in 1984 the City Council would contain at least one park friend who had achieved a measure of local notoriety through his work on the Guilford Courthouse bicentennial commemoration and had used this exposure as a springboard to elective office. By the time the annexation was completed, however, it was essentially too late. The park was an island in the midst of a bustling urban landscape and there was very little that government at any level could do to redeem this situation. The little that could be done to advance the cause of area historic preservation was accomplished first through local government's refusal to rezone the Hoskins House property to accommodate shopping center development; followed by the cooperation of the city, county and a community organization to purchase the site for use as a historical park. Park interpretive staff members assisted in this process by preparing the paperwork for the site's successful National Register nomination. [6]

The preservation of the Hoskins House illustrates that concensus-building can succeed in historic preservation efforts even in the face of vigorous urban development. It also suggests that if the development process had been delayed or slowed until the area was annexed, the park's interests might have been better served in hearings before city zoning and governing bodies than they were by the more conservative county authorities.

Superintendent Danielson was an advocate of the Antietam Plan doctrine of conservation through preservation of key sites. He believed that the park was large enough to interpret the story of the battle. In so stating he was in accord with a half century of NPS thinking with regard to the preservation of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park. Overlooked was the twin element of the Antietam Plan concept: preservation by purchase of key areas succeeds only insofar as surrounding properties can be maintained in approximation of their period usage. By ignoring this precept for a half century in the face of vital, continuously expanding urban development, generations of NPS planners and managers had set the stage for the urban encroachment problems that will dog this small park for the foreseeable future. In this sense Guilford Courthouse's proximity to Greensboro was, and is, its bad fortune. Clearly, however, these effects could have been moderated. Management could have contacted the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) whose comment was required under the National Historic Preservation Act for Federally funded projects that were likely to affect listed sites. The widening of U.S. 220, which was the keystone of development on the park's northern and western periphery was such a program. This highway clearly crossed battlefield property which, like the park property itself, was eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. As such it was subject to the safeguards afforded by the 1966 Federal statute. Furthermore, in crossing a battlefield the likelihood was good that graves would be disturbed, such as the well-documented British mass grave on the Hoskins property. If so, the comment of the SHPO was required before such graves could be opened or removed. At the very least preliminary archaeological surveys could have been required to reduce the likelihood of destruction of human or archaeological remains of the battle. This might have been assured by recourse to the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act of 1974. [7]

In evaluating park management's role in this process it should be noted that such actions would not have blocked the area's development. They might well have forestalled it until archaeological studies had extracted any potential data from the area. Certainly the preservation of such information would have been a worthy goal in itself. They might also have encouraged local governments to render zoning decisions more favorable to the park environment and mission. It is unfortunate that such efforts were not at least tried. For perspective it should be noted that a respected report from The Conservation Foundation indicates that in this period many park managers were unfamiliar with these types of resource protection resources or were unwilling to use them. Many were reluctant even to consult with SHPOs regarding critical issues and developments affecting their areas. [8] So the handling of this situation likely was not unique to Guilford Courthouse, and may have been rather typical for its time. More's the pity.

The Guilford Courthouse bicentennial commemoration was a diversion from the on-going processes of urban encroachment. It represented an unparalleled opportunity to educate the public as to the significance of the battle of Guilford Courthouse. It also spawned the park's first modern constituency group, and furthered the political careers of park friends. Seldom has a single enterprise offered such promise for advancing park interests on so many fronts.

Sponsored by the park and the Guilford County Bicentennial Commission, activities included an off-site reenactment involving more than 1200 "troops"; a play-writing competition that led to the production of the winning entry, "Rise and Fight Again"; educational programs and instructional materials provided to every Guilford County school; and the publication of a history of the battle by Eastern National Park and Monument Association (ENP&MA) in cooperation with the park. Special exhibits were staged; poster and essay contests were held. Commemorative activities concluded with a formal program in the park on Sunday 15 March 1981 with General William Westmoreland as keynote speaker. Attendance at bicentennial programs included 20,000 for the 14 March reenactment, 11,000 at sixteen performances of the play, and 8,000 at the 15 March commemorative exercises at the park.

Critical to the success of these programs were the energy, organizational skills and fund-raising abilities of a corps of nearly one hundred civic leaders who worked in conjunction with park staff to stage the commemoration. Sixty thousand dollars were raised by donation to fund these programs, with ENP&MA making the largest single contribution in the amount of sixteen thousand dollars. Park staff was expanded by the addition of a full-time Bicentennial Coordinator (one-year appointment) and by filling a vacant interpreter's slot, providing human resources for year-round logistical support and for expanded programming.

Not surprisingly, the reenactment was the most popular commemorative event as gauged by attendance. The park had originally planned a program of tactical demonstrations by the recreated First Maryland Regiment similar to those in staged in 1976. This unit dropped out of consideration for the 1981 program when the Guilford County Bicentennial Commission refused to approve the expenditure of sixteen thousand dollars to pay for the First Maryland's transportation to Greensboro. Instead a decision was made to stage a reenactment at a privately-owned battle-related site three miles west of the park. Reenactment units were invited to participate in return for meals and the right to pitch their encampments in designated areas of the park. The park Bicentennial Coordinator spent considerable time explaining the space limitations of the park as well as the safety requirements of NPS-6 that in combination were the grounds for staging this event outside of the park. There was no indication that these justifications were seriously questioned. The reenactment was very well received and was not marred by accidents or loss of life. As such, it was a success. In fact the entire bicentennial observance was considered to be a triumph. [9]

From the park's perspective the bicentennial produced two key results. Through programming and extensive media coverage the battle of Guilford Courthouse and the park had received impressive public exposure. The park had also found a number of new friends, many in community leadership positions, whose support might be critical in the future. Both of these outcomes should have served the park well. However, the old park demon inconsistency once again intervened and within a few years the new friends had been transformed into implacable critics and even rivals.

This process began innocently enough. Following the bicentennial some members of the community organizing committee were anxious to build upon the success of the 1981 commemoration. To this end, they formed "Salute To Freedom" (STF), a park support group whose sole purpose was to stage patriotic programs at Guilford Courthouse NMP on 4 July and 15 March each year. The problems that followed were rooted in the determination of STF to make battle reenactments the centerpieces of their commemorations. Park management, anxious to maintain good relations with STF and its influential membership, approved these programs under the guise of "tactical demonstrations," without regard to the prohibition of such activities contained in NPS-6, the Service's black powder safety regulations. The objections of the park's Black Powder Safety Officer (BPSO) were also disallowed, placing that employee (a GS-6 non-supervisory interpreter) in an untenable professional position. [10] From 1982 through 1984 there were annual "tactical demonstrations" held on the third line field. Participants generally numbered fewer than two hundred. These events were undeniably popular with the public, but they were also in gross violation of NPS policy.

The end came following the 1984 reenactment when a new Chief of Interpretation and Resource Management directed that there would be no further reenactments on park property. The Superintendent voiced his support for this decision. There followed a firestorm of recrimination from the leadership of STF. Arguments cited in favor of continuing the reenactments included the obvious popularity of these programs; their unblemished local safety record; and STF's history of providing insurance coverage, which they argued shielded the park from potential liability. Most telling of all from their perspective was the observation that reenactments continued to be performed at other national parks. Many of Guilford Courthouse's corps of Volunteers In Parks attested to this latter fact, having taken part in park-hosted reenactments at various Southeast Region sites. Unable to accept the apparent inconsistency in park management's decision to withdraw its approval from a previously sanctioned event, and unwilling to accept even the word of the Southeast Region's Chief of Interpretation that such displays were forbidden by NPS-6, most of the volunteers disassociated themselves from participation in further park-sponsored events. [11]

Following a series of stormy meetings in which no compromise could be reached, STF disbanded. Shortly thereafter it was reorganized under the name "Guilford Battleground Company," suggestive of their sense of mission as rightful heirs to Judge David Schenck's battlefield commemoration philosophy. Their newly defined purpose was to preserve the Hoskins House and to stage annual reenactments of the battle of Guilford Courthouse. They succeeded on both counts. The modern GBGC raised funds and sponsored archaeological excavations on the Hoskin's House grounds, successfully lobbied to prevent rezoning of the site, and brokered a cooperative arrangement between private donors, City and County governments to purchase and restore the property to its eighteenth century appearance. Upon completion it was christened Tannenbaum Park in honor of a local benefactor, a City managed facility ostensibly dedicated to the depiction of life in eighteenth century Guilford County. In fact it was equally dedicated to the perpetuation of the annual reenactment of the battle of Guilford Courthouse. From 1985 to 1987, while Tannenbaum's seven-acre site was under restoration, the reenactments were staged on soccer fields at the nearby Jaycee Park. In the spirit of accommodation National Military Park management permitted the participating "troops" to camp on the battlefield. As previously noted, park interpreters were also instrumental in preparing the successful National Register nomination for the Hoskins House Historic District.

Tannenbaum Park formally opened in 1988. The Hoskins House had been restored to its probable period appearance. A collection of outbuildings were erected on the site, some newly constructed and others period structures removed from other sites. A small tract was planted in typical crops and herbs. The Guilford Battleground Company launched a successful fund-raising drive to erect the Colonial Heritage Center, described in their first four-color brochure as a place that would "teach visitors about their cultural and ethnic heritage and allow them to see, touch, smell, and taste the realities of eighteenth century North Carolina." The finished facility placed great emphasis on hands-on exhibits that proved popular with young visitors. Beyond these structures, the hallmark of this city park is capsulized in their slogan, "Tannenbaum Park is living history . . . throughout the year." Tannenbaum promised monthly living history programs, about equally split between eighteenth century domestic and manufacturing arts, and military exhibitions. Their hallmark was the annual (later expanded to semi-annual) reenactment of the battle of Guilford Courthouse. These events proved to be extremely popular, regularly attracting thousands of spectators to a site that offers little visitor parking.

Tannenbaum's popularity tends to exacerbate Guilford Courthouse National Military Park's long-standing identity problems. The community seems about evenly split between those who think that Tannenbaum is the site of the battle of Guilford Courthouse, and those who think that Tannenbaum is a unit of the National Military Park. Over time City management has worked to distance itself from the influence of the Guilford Battleground Company and to move Tannenbaum's agenda more in line with its premise of depicting domestic life in eighteenth century Guilford County. National Park management has attempted to cooperate by sharing information and expertise as requested, and by continuing the modern tradition of permitting reenactors to camp on the battlefield, and reenactment spectators to park along the area's tour road. [12]

The intensification of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park's identity crisis was but one of several outcomes of the period spanning the late 1970s and the 1980s. Seemingly it was the least significant outgrowth of that era. Compared to management's passivity in the face of local urban development and the inconsistency that led directly to the alienation of the park's volunteers and most valuable constituency group, the continuation of a half century's tradition of local uncertainty as to the park's identity and purpose would seem almost unworthy of note. Unfortunately, it was this very process that laid the groundwork for one of the most serious incidents of vandalism ever inflicted upon an American historic site. As bad as this was, the damage that was inflicted in this case was exacerbated by later decisions and consequent actions that seem to represent the almost inevitable outcome of fifty years of NPS management attitudes toward the preservation of Guilford Courthouse National Military Park.

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Last Updated: 10-Feb-2003