Sunday, January 28, 2007

To Preserve or Not to Preserve: Will the Civil War Survive?

Wide breadths of lush green open fields, dotted with stately trees, winding roads, and sporadically marked with humble buildings; a developer’s dream where the possibilities for profit are only dependent on how many houses can be squeeze onto the location. However, above described scenery on the left is the typical view that numerous tourists appreciate every year in their visits to the Civil War battlefields spread throughout the United States. As the years pass and generations become farther removed from the nostalgia of the Civil War and its historical ramifications the struggle to protect the sites were America was forever changed intensifies. The debate that rages among developers and preservations is: which locations are to be saved and how much must be saved?

Developers rest on the appeal of economic advantage in the form of surplus of jobs for the community as their primary tool of negotiation to develop around the battlefields. However, in a 2003 economic impact report conducted by the independent consulting firm of Davidson Peterson Associates, commissioned by the Civil War Preservation Trust, found that of the 13 Civil War battlefields they surveyed all were economically advantageous. It found that the battlefields support on average 295 jobs, bring in about $1,178,923 in state revenue and finally $597,307 in local revenue. Although the battlefields may not produce the expansive wealth either a casino or multiple luxury homes would produce, the Davidson report supports that the historic sites are still economically supportive to the local communities.

In addition, to the economic support that the battlefields uphold they also provide the states, and nation as a whole, with transportation into a time when the nation was split against itself teetering on the verge of destroying the nation. The ground that the tourists walk on became graves for the numerous men that fell in the heat of battle. Just as Abraham Lincoln described in his address at the dedication of Gettysburg the fields became “consecrated” by the men who gave their lives in the battle, holding their remains ever interned in the lush fields of today. It is not only the enduring words of President Lincoln that holds the importance of the battlefields in history. Each one of the battlefields must fit within the guidelines of the National Park registrar to be considered of historical importance and worth preserving. The fields must meet the three basic criteria of identification, verification, and registration. The criteria requires that the land be placed in its historical importance, checked by several researchers, surveyed, and finally registered with the National Park Service determining the dimensions of presentation.

The culmination of the dispute over the quality and quantity of the preservation of American history came in the form of an argument over one, if not the, most famous and popular battlefields in American: Gettysburg. Crossroads Gaming Resort and Spa proposed a casino to be constructed adjacent to the battlefield claiming that they would bring with them economic benefit while respecting the historical integrity of the Gettysburg battlefield location. David LeVan the CEO of Crossroads Gaming informed USA Today in April 2006 that, “It’s not on the battlefield. It will not be visible from the highest point of the battlefield…We believe the two can coexist.” On the other end of the debate stood the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) which believed that the addition of the casino would bring urban sprawl to the battlefield lessoning the sacredness of the events that took place. The CWPT collected over 34,000 signatures in opposition to the establishment of the casino from the surrounding community helping to bring the December 2006 decision by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board to deny Crossroads a gambling license, halting construction of the resort. Despite the fact that the resort company can appeal the decision to the state supreme court, to date the project is canceled.

In the debate between preservationists and developers there remains the question of whether or not the expanses of land that were once such dynamic locations of the fate of the United States is whether or not it is economically sound for the communities to preserve them and how much is sufficient to save to honor the memory of the events that took place on the site. The answers ultimately lie in the fact that though the fields do not amass the amount of money that casinos or housing developments, but they still sustain a stable amount of revenue. However, the amount of the land that is “worth” saving is that which should be enough to allow for the proper respect to be paid to the resting places of those fallen men. The evidence in support of preserving the battlefield falls heavily in favor of the economic and historical importance for the nation as a whole, instead of yet more uniform housing and greedy monetary gain.

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