No surprise that a lot of people are very upset about the proposed Wal-Mart on the Wilderness Battlefield at the intersection of Routes 20 and 3. Like any Civil War enthusiast I have my concerns as well. Every year I bring my students to the Wilderness and Chancellorsville and plan to do so again in just a few weeks. I've spent countless hours walking the fields and finding my own personal meaning through the contemplation of the brave deeds of soldiers who fought so long ago. In short, I would be happy if there was no additional development in that area. Having traversed the highway between Chancellorsville and downtown Fredericksburg since 2000, however, I've grown skeptical that anything can be done to prevent it. Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting that nothing should be done to prevent it, but this latest push seems to me to be a rearguard action. And to be honest, I'm not sure how much weight my own view should have in deciding what to do with the land in question.
I read in a recent article that the area has been zoned for commercial purposes for the past 20 years. Given the development over the past 10 years did anyone really believe that this day would never come? At times I find it difficult to distinguish between the emotion over development and the fact that the developer in question is Wal-mart. [Check out Robert Mackey's piece at the Huffington Post and also see the comments to a recent post by Eric Wittenberg.] Mackey describes Wal-Mart as at "war with America" while Wittenberg describes this latest venture as an "atrocity." I should state for the record that I don't shop at Wal-Mart, not because I have a moral problem with the company, but because I tend to get lost in their stores and end up overwhelmed by all of their stuff. Yes, Wal-Mart has grown like a virus since the 1960s, but it seems to me that it is just another indicator of our "super-size me" culture rather than a perpetrator to be dismissed with an ominous and dark moral brush stroke.
The Civil War Preservation Trust has taken the lead in challenging Wal-Mart's plans. In the past I've given to the CWPT and I wish them the all the best in this latest effort. You can read their letter to the CEO of Wal-Mart, which offers the standard argument for preservation – as if anyone who isn't already on board will suddenly have this moment of insight and join the preservation movement. I came across this comment from a recent article in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star, which pretty much sums up my position and internal struggle with this issue:
It cannot be any worse than that flippin Sheetz and it's bright lights. Aesthetics?? Why was
that not brought up when Sheetz and McDonald's went in? Ferry Farm
Wal-Mart is only a half mile away from Ferry Farm and it's well off the
road just like this one will be. This is needed for Orange, it will
bring jobs, albeit low paying but it's a job close to home and a huge
tax base increase. Rt. 20 will never be widened to 4 lanes, not enough
people will sellout to give VDOT enough right of way.
I suspect that there are a significant number of people who agree with the basic outline of the above sentiment. Who am I to tell them otherwise? The land is not zoned as a battlefield, it is zoned for commercial development. We can make as strong a case for the historical significance of the land, but in the end it represents only one perspective and my guess is that it is a minority position. Battlefield preservationists should not make the mistake in thinking that they have a monopoly on what is best for this particular piece of land nor should they assume that those who support the project are not looking out for their own community's well being. It's not their fault that a battle was fought in their backyards.
In the end I hope that in a years time that I can bring my students to the Wilderness and Chancellorsville battlefields and continue to use the land for educational purposes. As I stated at the top of this post, I hope the Wal-Mart venture fails and may even cut a check in the next few days. However, I am under no illusion that my position on what should be done with this land is any more important than the viewpoints of those who live in Orange County and the surrounding area.