Should Fredericksburg Lecture Orange County on Historic Preservation?

No surprise that The Free Lance-Star of Fredericksburg decided to comment on this past weeks decision in Orange County to allow Walmart to build just off of the Wilderness Battlefield.  The editorial comes down hard on both the four Orange County supervisors who voted in favor of Walmart as well as Walmart’s business practices.  The editor accuses the supervisors of engaging in “ornery provincialism against the forces of decent compromise” and characterizes Walmart as motivated by an “insatiable hunger for world retail conquest” as well as other corrupt business practices.

What I fail to see is how such an editorial is even possible given the reality of commercial development and urban sprawl that can be found all along Rt. 3, outside Fredericksburg. Does Fredericksburg really have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to developing historically significant ground?  More importantly, what I would like to know is how many of those large outlets on Rt. 3 contain commercial chains whose business practices rival or even outpace those of Walmart’s.   It seems to me that the values that led to the decision of the Orange County Board of Supervisors to grant Walmart its petition are the very same that can be found along Rt. 3 in Fredericksburg.  In fact, one could easily argue that it is the people of Fredericksburg who paved the way for Walmart.

19 comments… add one
  • Craig Sep 1, 2009 @ 10:45

    Kevin, as always, apology accepted.

  • Sherree Tannen Sep 1, 2009 @ 8:03


    You’re welcome. Thank you for a very thoughtful post!


    Thank you as well. I like your idea of historical preservationist groups joining with environmental groups to achieve similar goals. I don’t understand the reference to neo-confederate groups, though, so I will leave that issue for you and Kevin to discuss. I thought Kevin’s post presented all sides, and felt that Kevin took into consideration the needs of local residents at length, so we are reading the post differently.

    You are right that the words used by the Dukakis staff to describe the citizens of West Virginia became the dominant issue with our staff. We registered our complaint by refusing to help with the phones and walking out, as I said above. I am not certain that that helped our overall goal, but that is what we did. Perhaps there are several lessons in this example from the past about the need to learn the skill of compromise. Insulting–or worse, patronizing–the opposing side, will get you nowhere. Walking out doesn’t help either. Who knows how many times this scenario appeared, and was repeated, in the failed Dukakis bid for the Presidency?

  • Kevin Levin Sep 1, 2009 @ 7:23


    Thanks for a very thoughtful comment.


    I truly apologize for leaving you in the dark as to my thoughts about this particular editorial, but to compare this with what I’ve said in the past about neo-Confederate groups seems like a reach.

  • Craig Swain Sep 1, 2009 @ 6:23

    Sherree, you mention something in your comment that was directly analogous to the comments I was making above. Yes, the communication, and in particular the words we chose are very important to how the message is received. I like your example of the Dukakis campaign work, with the disdain by some on the staff with regard to the phone work. I’m guessing a lot of the basis for your observation was the choice of words used by those people to describe the constituents.

    The questions and concerns I’ve raised here in this discussion, by myself and others, are to the clarification, in order to understand, Kevin’s stance. You see, some of the words and phrases used in the dialog to describe preservationist is somewhat similar to words and phrases he and others have used to describe, of all things, neo-Confederate groups. So it is hard to break out if “those people” are some specific organization, a generalization, or a perception.

    You also bring into the discussion the environmental movement. For the life of me, I’ve never understood why there is not a closer mesh between battlefield preservation and environmental groups. The physical ends both seek is largely the same. It is the politics, perhaps, that is the divide. What I do admire is how CWPT has maintained a strict non-partisan stance, leaning toward neither the elephant or donkey. Which is how it should be, IMO.

  • Sherree Tannen Sep 1, 2009 @ 4:49


    Without wading into this debate (which might require combat fatigues), the language chosen by the writer of the editorial you link to is not helpful. To describe the council members of Orange County as agents of “ornery provincialism against the forces of decent compromise” contains so many assumptions and judgments on the part of the writer–who has articulated the position of certain segments of the population–that the battle lines for future debates on future possible development will no doubt be more rigidly drawn.

    In the 1980s I worked for an environmental group in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia–one of the most polluted valleys on this planet. The head of our very small organization was an attorney who was one of the original core group that comprised Ralph Nader’s “Nader’s Raiders” team, when Nader stood for something that I could understand. In our group, we worked hard to try to get local men and women to understand that they did not have to choose between clean air and water and a job–that this was a “Sophie’s Choice”, an analogy we used because the movie “Sophie’s Choice” was popular at the time. (In other words, this was not a choice at all, just as Sophie’s proffered “choice” to pick either her daughter or her son to send to a gas chamber was not a choice.)

    Many people contributed their hard earned money to our organization–people who could not afford it–and we took their contributions seriously, and lobbied state legislators relentlessly to get the chemical companies to clean the valley up. We didn’t win, but we gave the people hope, and the leader of our organization was elected to the House of Delegates through door to door campaigning by our staff, and by “lit drops” of campaign literature, sometimes at 2 am to beat the opposition to it. The goal was to get our guy in the legislature where he could do more than just lobby, and we succeeded in accomplishing that goal. Where subsequent legislation went after that, I don’t know, because I moved and lost contact with the staff.

    During the Dukakis presidential campaign, members of our staff at the environmental group were asked to help with the phones for the campaign, and also to help get out the vote, because the Dukakis campaign staff was having a difficult time. We soon discovered why. Many on the campaign staff (but certainly not all) could scarcely contain the disdain that they felt for the local people. Soon, our staff tired of this attitude and we refused to help with the phones. Several members of our staff were not from the area, but from Maryland, and some from DC, and they had all gained deep respect for the coal miners and workers in the chemical plants of West Virginia.

    My point in bringing this up is that if communication is truly to be open and productive, all sides will have to learn to understand and respect one another better than they apparently do. Even that may not help, either, when it comes to feeding a family. I have never been a supporter of Wal Mart. Local businesses do go under when Wal Mart comes to town. I used to compare Wal Mart to the “company store” as in, “I sold my soul to the company store”. My family has plenty on the table to eat at night, though.

  • Craig Aug 31, 2009 @ 14:22

    So when you say “…one could easily argue that it is the people of Fredericksburg who paved the way for Walmart.” And follow with, “I would go as far as to suggest that Fredericksburg actually loves Walmart-style capitalism.” Then later clarify that, “My comments are addressed to those people of Fredericksburg whose views are reflected in this particular editorial.” I guess we are really triangulating on the audience here. Perhaps it is all the intellectual browbeating from my Tindall inspired professors, but I hate vagaries in any debate. Yep, another agree to disagree. Oh well….

    • Kevin Levin Aug 31, 2009 @ 14:28


      I very much appreciate the time you spend keeping me intellectually honest and logically consistent even if it means beating to death what are fairly straightforward observations.

  • Kevin Levin Aug 31, 2009 @ 13:21

    Of course they are broad brush strokes. I never suggested that we should consider the paper as speaking for the people of Fredericksburg. That would be pretty stupid. If it were a signed editorial I probably wouldn’t have said much of anything, but it is written in the name of the newspaper. My comments are addressed to those people of Fredericksburg whose views are reflected in this particular editorial.

  • Craig Swain Aug 31, 2009 @ 5:26

    Again, I think we are painting broad brush here. One editorial writer in one paper does not speak for the people of Fredericksburg. Anymore than the actions of a development firm that built the “Central Park” mess represents the feelings of those in Fredericksburg today.

    Yes there are all sorts of issues in Fredericksburg outside of the preservation topic that need be discussed on their editorial page. However, I think it telling that the editors opted to run this piece. As if those looking over the market surveys realize they have an audience sympathetic to the preservation issue. (and like many local newspapers, realize that their audience has become over-saturated with many of the more national in scope current event issue driven stories.)

    I think it interesting the author exposes the hollow threat of bad publicity (and to a degree public boycotts ) against Wal Mart. We bandy that about like it is some weapon to be feared. Yet rarely has it worked. Wal Mart will lose more money by pulling their adds from the Glen Beck show than any preservation group might off set, so where’s the leverage? Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wal Mart actually lost more revenue by not advertising in the time slot on Fox News than it would gain from a year of operating the Wilderness Wal Mart.

  • James F. Epperson Aug 31, 2009 @ 4:37

    Maybe Fredericksburg is simply pissed they didn’t get the Wal-Mart!

  • Mike Aug 30, 2009 @ 12:05

    Sounds like a case of the Pot calling the Kettle Black.

  • James F. Epperson Aug 30, 2009 @ 4:56

    There was a time when Salem Church stood out as you drove along Rte. 3; now, it is tough to find amidst the sprawl. And Fredericksburg is going to lecture others on preservation?

  • Andrea Jones Aug 30, 2009 @ 4:46


    One of the things I love about the battlefield parks is being able to get a feel for the actual landscape. The major problem with the battlefield parks from my perspective is that they often incorporate only the areas of the most intense fighting (and sometimes miss even that) which means that I am often offered a choice between trespassing to walk an entire battle, or leaving out the opening and closing maneuvers. And once the terrain has been utterly leveled for a shopping center, it’s useless both to professional historians and amateur Civil War enthusiasts alike. So depressing.

    Thank you for the kind words re: my Sesquicentennial Madness blog. I split it off from my personal blog because the people reading there were mainly in it for the dog stories, heh.

  • Paul Aug 30, 2009 @ 4:09

    The city of Fredericksburg may not have a leg to stand on, but these editorial accusations are not leveled by the city, are they? It is the opinion of the town’s paper, i.e., one or several people who may, in fact, be ardent preservationists themselves. Perhaps the paper feels the same way about Rt. 3 in general as it does about the Wal-Mart issue?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 30, 2009 @ 4:19


      Good point, but I was assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that the paper speaks for a certain number of Fredericksburg’s residents. My short commentary was in response to a newspaper’s choice for a Sunday editorial. I assume there is plenty going on in the Fredericksburg area that is worthy of reflection, but they chose to comment on this particular issue.

  • Andrea Jones Aug 30, 2009 @ 3:58

    Spotsylvania County is headed much the same way along the Rte 3 corridor, see also the recent expansion of the strip mall that includes Home Depot and Giant Foods (it occurred to me after my last comment that the Harrison Crossing development there is outside the posted city limits of Fredericksburg). I’m intensely grateful the CWPT got ahold of the First Day at Chancellorsville land, it along with Salem Church may end up being the last bits of the authentic landscape a person can see.

    I might object less to the development if it didn’t involve utterly obliterating every feature of the landscape in the course of building.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 30, 2009 @ 4:05


      I agree with you re: the piece of land from the first day of Chancellorsville. I used it in one of my recent trips with my Civil War students. It’s a dynamite stop that really allows for careful consideration of topography and battle.

      Ultimately, I am much more concerned with the physical layouts of our shopping centers and what they reflect in our culture. They tend to be right out of the box and, as you say, destroy any distinct features of the landscape. By the way, great idea for a blog. I tried to maintain a separate blog just for sesquicentennial concerns, but it proved to be too much.

  • Kevin Levin Aug 30, 2009 @ 3:41

    I would go as far as to suggest that Fredericksburg actually loves Walmart-style capitalism. They’ve managed to carve out every last little niche to make room for it along Rt. 3.

  • Andrea Jones Aug 30, 2009 @ 2:52

    That editorial gave me a bitter little chuckle as well. I drive Rte 3 from King George, VA out to the Chancellorsville battlefield twice a day in the course of my commute, and Fredericksburg hasn’t really got a leg to stand on re: ugly sprawl on significant land. I’m sure they’d point to the preservation of earthworks & addition of interpretive signs by the Home Depot as evidence of F’burg’s relative virtue.

    Condemning Orange County’s Walmart from the home of the Central Park Shopping Sprawl (which includes its own Super Walmart) just makes my eyes bug out a little bit.

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