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 Introduction

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 Battlefield Park
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Historic Preservation and Use

Headlines reading "Storm over Manassas," "Battling over Manassas," "Where Men Fought and Fell," and "Hallowed Ground" could have been published in the aftermath of the two Civil War battles fought in 1861 and 1862 along Bull Run near the rail center at Manassas Junction. These titles recall the great losses suffered by both Federals and Confederates as they confronted each other in the first major land engagement of the war and, later, in the contest that paved the way for Confederate General Robert E. Lee's first invasion of the North. Victory for either side would be hard won and the lessons long remembered. [1]

But these headlines actually refer to a more contemporary battle over Manassas. In January 1988, the Hazel/Peterson Companies aroused nationwide concern for the integrity of the Manassas National Battlefield Park when it announced its intention to add a 1.2-million-square-foot regional shopping mall to an originally proposed office and residential park. This commercial complex would have stood on the historic land where General Lee had established his headquarters during the Second Battle of Manassas. Mall opponents ultimately won this battle in the fall of 1988 when the U.S. Congress employed a rarely used procedure called a "legislative taking" to acquire the contested land, but the fight had been difficult and the cost high, as much as $134 million to buy the 550 acres of land from the Virginia development firm, its president John T. ("Til") Hazel, and the other parties who had begun developing the land. [2]

The controversy over William Center, Hazel/Peterson's name for the disputed tract of land, was quickly followed in 1993 by another national debate centered around the Walt Disney Company and its proposed historic theme park. Disney's America, with its accompanying hotels, campgrounds, residential subdivisions, and commercial complexes, would have been located just 3.5 miles from the Manassas National Battlefield Park. Supporters in state and county government welcomed the expected tax benefits and new jobs that Disney promised. Opponents, who included residents in surrounding counties and a national coalition of historians and preservationists, believed that Disney's theme park would unleash urban sprawl that would choke the battlefield park and leave the remaining open spaces clogged with traffic. National Park Service officials saw a double-edged sword with Disney: a willing negotiator interested in aiding the federal government in its quest to reduce congestion in the battlefield park and a magnetic company that would draw new development and new problems to the surrounding landscape. Disney retreated in the face of sustained protests that threatened the company's cherished public image. The national park waits for the next development proposal.

The controversies surrounding the William Center and Disney's America were the most recent in a long line of "third battles" of Manassas. This history examines the resulting national debates over a federal highway, national cemetery, two theme parks, and land acquisition and boundary expansions for the battlefield park. What should be emphasized is that each of these battles was national in scope. The battlefield park at Manassas is exceptional in this regard. Its location near the nation's capital ensures that even minor disputes reported in local newspapers gain the ear of congressional members. The transformation of its surrounding countryside from rural outpost to suburban center guarantees that development pressures will continue to spawn concern and controversy over the welfare of the park. The battlefield park has inspired a dedicated group of individuals who are not afraid to act on perceived threats to the park. Other sites within the national park system might have encountered similar threats, but few have attracted the same level of national attention.

This national attention has given Americans the opportunity to debate the intricacies of historic preservation and decide what course to support for the future. By telling the stories of the individual preservation struggles at Manassas National Battlefield Park, this book serves two purposes: first, it explains the legacies of park managers, developers, local and state governing boards, and citizens who determined how not one, but by example all national park sites have been protected. Second, this book examines the complexity of the idea of historic preservation as it has been practiced in one national park. Historic preservation has often been defined by its sometimes conflicting roles of protecting a resource and using the resource to educate the public about its significance. The example at Manassas National Battlefield Park makes clear that a wide range of potential and acceptable uses of parkland exists and that standards of acceptability have changed over time.

My central argument in this book is that historic preservation works, but that it requires vigilance and commitment on the part of all Americans. People directly assigned the task of preserving park areas must cast a wide net and actively recruit support from as many sectors of the surrounding population as possible. By building a foundation of support early, many crises as experienced at Manassas battlefield park might be forestalled or minimized. Preservationists will find in this book an understanding of the complexity of the historic preservation concept, which they can then use as a blueprint for combating future preservation battles. Civil War enthusiasts will find a compendium of lessons learned that can be applied to other historic grounds threatened by development or neglect. Policy makers will use this book to understand the motivations of different groups involved in preservation and development issues and so will gain insights on the best approaches of dealing with these diverse interests. Historians of national parks will use this book to augment scholarship on battlefield parks and other historic sites, an area often bypassed in favor of the superlative western national parks. Developers and local planning commissions will find that historic preservation is a serious force in the United States, one that can work to their benefit if they are willing to be partners with preservationists.

The overall status of Civil War battlefield preservation in the United States makes clear the urgency of historic preservation at the close of the twentieth century. The Manassas battlefield park is one of thirty-one existing units in the national park system containing Civil War battlefields. According to the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, established by public law in November 1990 to assess the status of all Civil War battlefields, only eight of these thirty-one sites are substantially complete in the area preserved through ownership or scenic easement. The remaining twenty-three parks contain only a fraction of the core historic area of each battlefield, leaving the unprotected land open to development. The advisory commission also found that a total of 384 conflicts represented principal battles during the Civil War and thus some protection of the site was justified. Only 58 of these 384 sites of principal conflict fell under National Park Service jurisdiction. The federal government's preservation of the most significant lands associated with the First and Second Battles of Manassas is truly remarkable. [3]



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