Walmart has won approval to build a Supercenter on the edge one of the most important battlefields from the Civil War: the Wilderness Battlefield.
Wilderness was the location when Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant first met in battle, on May 4, 1864. Altogether, on both sides of the fighting, 160,000 soldiers total took part with approximately 29,000 killed or wounded. It was the beginning of the turning point of the Civil War.
Supervisors in Orange County, Virginia voted Monday night to grant a permit to the corporate giant, despite public outcry, especially from historians and Civil War buffs.
Jim Campi, of the Civil War Preservation Trust, is against it because,
What Walmart is proposing would absolutely transform the landscape. Walmart is proposing a superstore closer to a national park boundary than any previous Walmart, and this is right on the boundary of the national park.
Only one-quarter of the historic battlefield is protected, so the controversy has surrounded the question, “What is a battlefield?” Is the battlefield only where the war was fought, or was it where troops were deployed from or where they were taken when they were injured? (Interesting fact: General Stonewall Jackson’s arm is buried nearby.)
The 138,000-square-foot-store will not sit on the 2,773 protected acres of the Wilderness, but on the edge, overlooking the battlefield.
County supervisors point to the tax revenue and 300 jobs provided to the area by the big box retailer. Opponents cite the estimated 6,500 more cars skirting the Wilderness daily.
Even high profile names joined the rally cry against Walmart in this fight. Everyone from actor Robert Duvall to Virginia Governor Tim to congressmen from states that had big losses at Wilderness have spoken out against the plan. Historians like David McCullough and James M. McPherson argued against it. Even filmmaker Ken Burns, who set part of his Civil War documentary at Wilderness, fought the plan.
But Monday, county supervisors showed it was to no avail. They voted 4-1 for the store.
The rural county–population 32,000–needs the jobs and revenue, especially in this economy. District 2 Supervisor Zack Burkett, countered the protest with this,
If some guy wants to come in and put in a 59,000-square-foot porno shop, there’s nothing in our ordinances that lets us stop that. I think this will be an attractive development.
You can’t argue with that kind of logic.
I live about three hours south of the Orange County battle area. And here in Virginia, almost everything is historic. That’s not to disparage the fight for this site. I also live near one historical Civil War marker fastened to the building next to a Subway sandwich shop. (No, I’m not kidding.) That marks a “skirmish,” not a battle.
As far as fights like this go, I wonder: is it worth razing historic grounds for low, low prices? Is sprawl the “historical marker” we’d like to leave for our children and grandchildren?
Image: Koonisutra on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.
This really makes me angry. Really really.
I’ve visited that battlefield. The idea of a Wal-mart being there…oh my gods and goddesses….
I don’t understand the NEED for more Wal-marts, even from an economic,providing jobs point of view. Walmart eventually leads to the death of a town’s local economy. It will do nothing to improve life for citizens or provide a historical legacy.
Gregory Rankin says
“Always the lowest ethics every day. Always.” Walmart’s new slogan? No, but it should be. Here’s another example of their “profit at any price” mentality:
Goodbye Indian Mounds, Hello Sam’s Club
Goodbye Indian Mounds, Hello Sam’s Club
July 10, 2009
By Dan Whisenhunt for The Anniston Star via the Associated Press
OXFORD, Ala. (AP)—A stone mound on a hill behind the Oxford Exchange created by American Indians 1,500 years ago will soon disappear.
And whether Oxford’s taxpayers wanted it or not, they paid for its destruction.
Workers hired by the city’s Commercial Development Authority (CDA) are using the dirt from the hill as fill for a new Sam’s Club. The project has angered American Indians who, along with a Jacksonville State University archaeology professor, say the site could contain human remains.
Oxford Mayor Leon Smith and City Project Manager Fred Denney say it was used to send smoke signals.
The city’s CDA uses taxpayer money and assets to lure commercial businesses. The $2.6 million no-bid CDA contract for preparing the Sam’s site went to Oxford-based Taylor Corp. That money came from the sale of city property to Georgia-based developers Abernathy and Timberlake and from additional money provided by the city.
In Alabama, CDAs are exempt from bid laws, meaning contracts can go to whichever company the board chooses. Oxford’s CDA board and its actions have multiple connections to Smith’s political fundraising:
• At least three board members or their employers have contributed to his political campaigns.
• Taylor Corp., under the ownership of Tommy Taylor, has received thousands of dollars in city contracts for non-CDA work. Taylor donated $1,000 to Smith in 2004 and $1,000 in 2008.
• Abernathy and Timberlake donated $1,000 to Smith’s re-election campaign in 2004.
• Montgomery-based Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood donated $500 to Smith in 2004. The CDA gave the company engineering contracts for the exchange. Denney said the CDA paid the company $45,000 for engineering work, part of which paid for a University of Alabama study on the American Indian site.
Eligible for National Register of Historic Places?
The Anniston Star newspaper has so far been unable to obtain a copy of the University of Alabama study, but a letter from the Alabama Historical Commission’s deputy state historic preservation officer indicated the university did not think the site was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The state Historic Preservation Commission did think the site was eligible for the National Register.
City Project Manager Denney said the report’s authors found little at the site. Mayor Smith has said there is nothing wrong with the connections between himself and the CDA. He has described Taylor as a, “good friend.”
Attempts to reach representatives for Taylor Corp. and Abernathy and Timberlake on Monday were unsuccessful. The Birmingham office of Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood declined comment.
CDA members contacted by The Star declined comment, referring questions to board chairman Dwight Rice. Attempts to reach Rice on Monday also were unsuccessful.
Chervis Isom, a Birmingham attorney representing Abernathy and Timberlake, said the company isn’t involved with the hill or the fill dirt.
“If the dirt were contaminated in some way we’d certainly have an interest in that,” Isom said. “Where the CDA got the dirt I’m not sure. We don’t have any control over that.” He added he does not think there is any problem with the dirt.
Denney said workers will remove about one-third of the hill and cover it with grass. The city eventually will develop commercial business on what remains of the hill, he said.
A September 2008 proposal by Taylor Corp. describes the demolition in vague terms. “This item includes undercutting two building pad footprints …” the report reads. “The City has agreed to let us spoil the undercut material on their property across the new bridge.”
Denney said the line in the proposal refers to the hill. “The agreement was we’d furnish the soil,” Denney said. “The city would furnish them a place to get it.”
The City Council transferred the property containing the hill to the CDA in February. Councilwoman June Land Reaves, who voted against the transfer, said she did not understand the hill property was a part of it.
“I never heard any discussion about dirt being taken from the hillside or a reason why that was being done, but it seems to me like a lot of cities capitalize on the history they have … but (we do not seem) to do that,” she said.
Too Late for City Council Intervention
Council President Chris Spurlin said it’s too late for the City Council to intervene at the site. He said he hated the bad publicity, but said there is no proof the site holds human remains.
“The CDA has the authority,” Spurlin said. “They’re trying to do what’s best for the city. I don’t see no reason in buying fill dirt from someone when we have that hill available.”
In a follow-up story, The Anniston Star later reported:
OXFORD, Ala. (AP)—City officials have ignored another protest over the city’s decision to destroy a stone mound on a hill behind the Oxford Exchange created by American Indians 1,500 years ago.
Tony Castaneda, of Anniston, and Sharon Jackson, of Fruithurst, who say they are Indian elders, presented Mayor Leon Smith with a petition Monday containing more than 600 signatures of people opposed to the site’s destruction. The Anniston Star reported Tuesday Smith became agitated when the two arrived at City Hall, took the petition and went back inside.
Castaneda and Jackson collected more signatures at City Hall that evening. The state Historical Commission says the mound is the largest of its kind in Alabama. The city paid to have part of the hill taken down for fill at a Sam’s Club.
Dan Whisenhunt is a reporter at The Anniston (Ala.) Star. This story was distributed by the Associated Press.
Copyright © 2009 Reznet.
Reznet is a project of The University of Montana School of Journalism.
PROTEST IN OXFORD AL.
August 30, 2009 @ 2pm
PLEASE SEE EVENT LINK FOR MORE INFO:
Julius Neelley says
When, I repeat, WHEN does the great, national Walmart boycott campaign begin?
What other way is there to stop the desecration of a historically significant landscape and hallowed ground?
Jim Spruell says
Sadly, Wal-Mart’s disregard for history is nothing new. Their store in Canton, Georgia is built on a Cherokee burial ground.