On-line Book
Cover book to Battling for Manassas: The Fifty-Year Preservation Struggle at Manassas National Battlefield Park. [Image of cannon in the battlefield]
Battling for Manassas: The Fifty-Year Preservation Struggle at Manassas National Battlefield Park


Table of Contents

current topic Foreword



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11


Appendix I

Appendix II

Appendix III

Appendix IV

Appendix V (omitted from on-line edition)

Appendix VI

Appendix VII

Appendix VIII

National Park Service Arrowhead


My first experience with Manassas National Battlefield Park was in late 1941, a short sixteen months after the park was established. I had recently turned eighteen, and with Adolf Hitler's armies deep into the Soviet Union, I was touring the country as a hitchhiker, certain that I would soon be in the military. I had gotten a ride from several young men in a Ford roadster just east of New Market in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. The driver stopped briefly at the Stone House, which at that time was a roadside store, before proceeding to the nation's capital. A Civil War enthusiast since the seventh grade—when living with my family on a ranch in Montana, I had named one of our cattle Bull Run—I reflected on the historical events that had occurred eighty years earlier.

I visited the battlefield park again in the winter of 1949-50, while I was employed by the Naval Hydrographic Office at Suitland, Maryland, during an automobile tour of Civil War battle sites and parks in the Washington, D.C., area. But it was not until the 1950s, at the beginning of a forty-year career with the National Park Service, that I came to know the Manassas park. During those two score years I experienced the park from three perspectives. The first was between 1955 and 1958 when I was a park historian at Vicksburg National Military Park and then between 1958 and 1966 when I was regional research historian assigned to the Southeast Regional Office in Richmond, Virginia. Although stationed at the Vicksburg Park, I had regionwide responsibilities insofar as Civil War-related research was concerned.

My first visit to Manassas as a public historian was in conjunction with a regional workshop for rangers and interpreters held in Richmond in October 1956, when I made a side trip to Manassas. At the workshop I met the Manassas park historian and several of his predecessors. During the informal evening sessions I gained valuable insights into the Manassas park, its place in the community, and its current superintendent, Francis Wilshin, and his predecessors, Joseph Mills Hanson and Jim Myers. Hanson commanded awe, Myers respect, but the jury was still out on Wilshin, who was a veteran historian but a newcomer to the superintendent ranks. In those happy days, the park was, like most National Park Service areas, an island in the community, and there were no concerns about burgeoning suburbia.

In November 1958, with the Civil War centennial approaching and the National Park Service in the midst of its Mission 66 program to update the parks' infrastructure, I was assigned to the Southeast Region as regional research historian in response to a request by Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant III, chairman of the National Civil War Centennial Commission. Grant asked the NPS to give priority to completing the programmed Mission 66 development at the Civil War battlefield parks by the one-hundredth anniversary of the battle commemorated. Most of the Service's Civil War parks, including Manassas, were then in the Southeast Region. The centennial for the Manassas park would be 2l July 1961.

Superintendent Wilshin had focused his energies on a major reenactment of the first battle of Manassas, and planning for Mission 66 development either lagged or was postponed in favor of the reenactment. Key managers in the Southeast Regional Office and in Washington did not appreciate how the superintendent allocated the park's resources.

The reenactment took place, after many vexing problems were mastered, as scheduled. The day was hot, dusty, and humid, with large crowds and traffic jams. Insofar as senior management was concerned, the reenactment was of no permanent benefit to the park, the Park Service, or the nation. Because of these views and the damage done to the landscape, the Service made an important policy decision: there would be no more reenactments on national park lands.

The second phase of my experience with Manassas National Battlefield Park began in April 1966 when I came to Washington as a NPS staff historian in the History Division, specializing in the Civil War and nineteenth- and twentieth-century political history. In this position I experienced the park from a closer perspective. I came to know the park, its superintendents, its interpretive personnel, and certain of its problems and needs.

In the late 1950s and the 1960s, the park and its staff and friends became mired in controversy—both on the local level and in the Washington area—because of external threats to the park's preservation and its interpretive mission. The "third" and "fourth" battles of Manassas ensued. Third Manassas was fought over the location of Interstate 66. Initial plans by the Bureau of Public Roads and the Virginia Department of Highways called for locating the four-lane limited access highway through the core of the park on a route adjacent to and parallel to Route 29. Superintendent Wilshin rallied important political allies and public opinion, and the highway, when constructed, passed to the south of the park, but in doing so it obliterated the pre-Civil War crossroads community of New Market on the Ball's Ford Road, a mile south of the park's visitor center.

The fourth battle was precipitated when military veterans concerned with the need to expand Arlington National Cemetery lobbied William L. Scott, then the U.S. congressman who represented the district in which the park was located. Representative Scott's proposal created an annex for Arlington National Cemetery on lands included in and adjacent to the Manassas battlefield park. After an acrimonious battle, in which Scott used his political muscle to have Wilshin reassigned, the cemetery proposal was tabled in favor of establishing a new national cemetery at Quantico, Virginia.

A more dangerous threat to the park surfaced in 1973 when the Marriott Corporation acquired a nearby 513-acre tract. Marriott planned to build a Great America theme park on this land, to open in time for the nation's bicentennial in 1976. The Marriott proposal was supported by the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, who sought to increase the country's tax base. Senior NPS management, however, took a neutral stance. This, which can be called the "fifth" battle of Manassas, led to legislation signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on 13 October 1980, expanding the park's boundaries. The new boundaries included the Brawner tract within the park, but not the Marriott property. The legislation represented a compromise: the NPS had to forego inclusion of the Marriott tract to secure the county's support for the expansion legislation.

On 1 November 1981 I became the Park Service's chief historian. This signaled the beginning of the most important phase of my involvement with the park. From then until my retirement in September 1995, and particularly during the nearly thirteen years that I was chief historian, Manassas National Battlefield Park was at center stage in the national debate between those determined to protect the park and the public lands that had been consecrated in blood and those who favored development, property rights, and unplanned suburban sprawl.

The sixth of the increasingly bitter struggles over who "owned" the battlefield park concerned the proposed construction of an expanded facility for stabling horses used for ranger patrols. This led to a bitter internecine fight that divided the park staff, then reached and convulsed the National Capital Region office and the Washington office of the National Park Service, and finally pitted senior Department of the Interior officials against National Park Service Director William Mott and his staff. Before the debate was played out, the press, the Congress, and the vice president's office be came involved.

The "seventh" battle of Manassas involved a proposal by the Virginia Department of Transportation to add turning lanes at the Route 29—Route 234 intersection. Although this plain would address the severe traffic congestion, it would critically impact a key interpretive area. Director Mott refused to consent to the construction of the turning lanes, and the problem was addressed without significantly altering the landscape.

In late January 1988, the "eighth" battle of Manassas erupted with the announcement that Hazel/Peterson Companies, which had acquired the Marriott tract, had been granted a zoning variance by Prince William County to construct the William Center, a 1.2-million-square-foot regional shopping mall. For the next ten months, Manassas National Battlefield Park, the value of the nation's Civil War heritage, property rights, open space, and national versus local interests held center stage as the public, the media, the NPS, and Congress debated the issues. In the end, on 10 November 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed into law a bill instituting a legislative taking of the William Center tract by the United States, with the compensation to the owners to be determined by the courts. When the court set the price, it exceeded $130,000,000.

A "ninth" battle of Manassas was only five years in the future. In autumn 1993, Michael Eisner, chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company, announced plans to construct and open a theme park—Disney's America—on land the corporation had optioned northwest of the I-66/Route 15 Haymarket interchange, three and one-half miles west of Manassas battlefield park. This aroused a firestorm among open space advocates, many historians and preservationists, and no-growthers, and it attracted national media coverage. County and state officials gave the project their enthusiastic endorsement. Battle lines were drawn, and in June 1994 Sen. Dale Bumpers convened a congressional hearing on Disney's America. The hearing lasted most of the day and was held before a standing-room-only audience. The decision of the senators was that this was a local issue. Disney and the NPS returned to discussions about how to mitigate the impact of increased traffic in the area of the park. But in late September 1994, concerned about the strength of the opposition and damage to its public image, Disney withdrew its proposal.

The late-twentieth-century battles over Manassas—particularly the William Center and Disney struggles, involving as they did critical land-use, preservation, and planning issues—played out before a nationwide audience and involved Congress. The publicity and resultant rancor caught the NPS, local governments and planners, Congress, and the public unprepared.

Could these battles have been avoided and what do they hold for the future? This is the story that Joan Zenzen documents in a perceptive and balanced account. In researching the story Dr. Zenzen has assiduously combed the paper trail, and, unlike others who have written on the William Center issue, she interviewed major players on both sides of the debate, including Senator Bumpers, John T. ("Til") Hazel, Kathleen Seefeldt, Jerry Russell, and Annie Synder.

While the struggle over who owns Manassas National Battlefield Park and who controls public policy relating to it in the years since 1980 will command most attention, Dr. Zenzen does not ignore the people, long gone, who dreamed the dream. Her description of the park's establishment, its development, the personalities involved, and earlier battles for its protection and interpretation are insightful and invaluable.

Joan Zenzen "tells it like it is" and lets the chips fall where they may. Battling for Manassas will command a wide audience. It is must reading for all public officials, developers, land-use planners, preservationists, and land rights activists who in the future will find themselves arrayed on opposite sides of emotional issues, particularly those significant to the fate of the nation's battlefields consecrated as they are in blood.

Edwin C. Bearss
Historian Emeritus, National Park Service



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