Two National Park Sites Appear On “Most Endangered” List Of Historic Places

Proposed expansion of an airport poses a threat to the historic integrity of Minute Man National Historical Park, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation/Neil Lynch

Hallowed ground that absorbed the blood of colonials fighting for independence in 1775 and nearly a century later of Union and Confederate soldiers engaged in a civil war are among the top 11 “Most Endangered Historic Places” in the United States identified by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Today protected in Minute Man National Historical Park in Massachusetts and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park in Virginia, the landscapes face different threats to their historic integrity. In the case of Minute Man, there’s a proposed airport expansion that would intrude visibly and audibly on the site that protects the first battles of the American Revolution, and in the case of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania sprawl and development are choking the Wilderness Battlefield, according to the Trust.

At Minute Man NHP, the Trust said the proposed expansion of Hanscom Field “could significantly increase private jet traffic, leading to increased noise, vehicular traffic, and negative environmental and climate impacts.”

“I think when we think about [the Lexington and Concord battlefields], and we think about places that tell stories that are crucial to our understanding as a country, Minuteman National Park, Walden, and the other historic structures that are in that neighborhood, clearly, one of the important sites of American history,” said Carol Quillen, president and CEO of the Trust. 

“The expansion of the airfield, which is right up against the border of the park, would increase activity, it would increase noise, it would make it difficult for folks to go to the historic and natural landscapes to enjoy private reflection,” she said during a phone call Monday. “The proposed expansion seems to be fairly dramatic. And so, I guess what I would say is, before we interrupt the tranquillity and sacred nature of this space, let’s look at other options. There might be other options for us to consider before we do something that will be impossible to undo.”

This is not the first time the national historical park has been threatened by proposed changes to Hanscom Field, according to the Trust, which said that in 2003 the park “and nearby historic sites were included on the National Trust’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, helping ward off potential jet expansion at Hanscom.”

Ongoing development threatens the hallowed grounds of the Wilderness Battleground at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park/American Battlefield Trust, Lori Coleman

At Wilderness Battlefield, the Trust warned that “[P]roposed large new developments, including millions of square feet of industrial data and distribution centers and thousands of homes, may negatively impact important historic sites and landscapes and degrade the visitor experience.”

According to the Trust, while the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park protects most of the battlefield’s significant sites, “new developments have the potential to negatively impact important historic landscapes. In 2023, Orange County approved rezoning over 2,600 acres, some located within the historic battlefield boundaries, for the ‘Wilderness Crossing’ development. As approved, the project could include millions of square feet of data centers and distribution warehouses, commercial space, thousands of homes, and road construction on previously undeveloped land where soldiers fought and died. Advocates are concerned about potential visual intrusions, noise, and traffic around one of the most intact historic battlefields in the region, where nearly 500,000 visitors come annually for quiet reflection on a difficult chapter in American history.”

“It just seems to me that we should step back and take a breath and try to think more holistically about what we’re trying to achieve [in terms of travel, energy, and 21st century technological needs]. Clearly with Minuteman National Historical Park, and with the Wilderness Battlefield area, these are places that are irreplaceable and hold stories that matter to Americans and that help us understand who we are as a country,” Quillen said. “And I can’t imagine that we would destroy, or undermine, or compromise the integrity of these places without a lot of thought.”

At the American Battlefield Trust, David Duncan, the organization’s president, said “[W]e simply cannot allow this potentially catastrophic impact to occur when better planning and thoughtful consideration could preserve such a vital and irreplaceable historic site. We are not against development and know progress and preservation need not be mutually exclusive. We are grateful to the National Trust for drawing attention to the danger.”

The American Battlefield Trust, along with Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, and neighboring landowners, has filed a lawsuit challenging the rezoning. 

“The threat of Wilderness Crossing ripples region-wide and statewide, as it is likely to draw yet more electrical generation and transmission infrastructure to the Piedmont area, particularly the historic-site-rich Route 3 corridor,” said Piedmont Environmental Council President Chris Miller. “This designation for the Wilderness Battlefield Area epitomizes the threats to historic, scenic and cultural resources that result from the proliferation of data centers and associated energy infrastructure.”

The Battle of the Wilderness was fought May 5-7, 1864, and marked the first stage of a major Union offensive toward the Confederate capital of Richmond.

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