Walmart Wins

smileyI can’t say that I am surprised by the decision to give Walmart permission to build a store just off of the Wilderness battlefield along Rt. 3 in Orange County.  As I’ve said before, this is a preservation battle that was lost a long time ago.  It was a decision to be made by the residents of Orange County and they made it.  Nothing was rushed, all sides were heard, and it looks like the decision of the board of supervisors reflected the will of the people living in the community.  Let’s hope that organizations such as the Civil War Preservation Trust have learned some valuable lessons and move on.

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28 comments… add one
  • Craig Aug 27, 2009 @ 12:24


    Trust me, we here in the historic corridor, as it is often called, understand the need for planning. Trouble is that the local governments have taken unfortunately short sighted approaches to the problem areas. The county I live in for example, is one of the ten fastest growing in the country. BUT, only within the last decade has it staffed a trained professional planner. And even then, only empowered the position to offer strongly worded rebukes. Fact of the matter is that some portions of the county have less than half the available office space occupied, as result of a massive building spree. The reason for the low occupancy levels is not the economy, as the rate of new rentals has actually increased as companies flee the beltway. No, it is because the developers provisioned in some cases triple what the market would bear. Why? Because if they didn’t set up the office complex at that time, under lax regulations and zoning restrictions, they would not have another chance. Thus we have “pre-staged” sprawl. All just waiting for the next round of refugees from the beltway. Or in some cases hedging bets that the government will require more office space as it expands. As many of my projects involve integrating Web 2.0 and introducing tele-commuting options to the mostly government-related clients, I live for the day we don’t have two hour drives into a formal work site.

  • SelenesMom Aug 27, 2009 @ 10:16

    As an Oregonian — with all the good and bad of land-use planning and public beaches that that entails — as well as a preservationist buff and a collateral descendant of one of the Gettysburg generals, I really think this is best viewed in a big-picture context. We can all go back and forth all day on who should have put a Wal-Mart where (as though there were some Wal-Mart shortage!) and what local people did or didn’t want it. Far better would be a conversation, probably on the statewide level, as to how to direct development for the next 50 to 100 years, taking into account population growth and preserving historical and natural sites and the rural way of life.

    Of course all sorts of arguments would break out, but most of them would be long before the fact. You folks back East might say that this can’t be done for all sorts of reasons, but we’ve been doing it my whole life. So there it is. I’ll throw it out there. As fond as I am of the various efforts to save this or that battlefield, I think what you really need is some better land-use planning in general, and pronto. Not just for your battlefields. For your golf courses, your high-rises, your senior care centers, the whole nine yards. Quit sprawling.

    JMTC 🙂

  • Ken Noe Aug 27, 2009 @ 5:34

    Kevin, like Mark, I was amazed that no one recognized the smiley face, as until the recent makeover Wal–Mart plastered it all over their stores, and employees wore it on their smocks. Not many Wal-Mart shoppers already, I guess, which doesn’t bode well for a boycott. I read it as sardonic, but then I knew that we both signed the petition.

    Mark, you need to add K-Mart to your list. As I’ve mentioned here before, a decade ago they happily built a store on top of a Confederate graveyard near Dallas, Georgia, with local government compliance. — Ken

  • Mark Snell Aug 26, 2009 @ 15:21

    Mr. Thompson,

    Just a wild guess here, but perhaps Kevin used the ‘smiley face’ because it appears in Walmart television commercials. I also hope you choose to never eat at McDonald’s, Friendly’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Ruby Tuesdays, or purchase items from Office Max, GNC, or other such retail stores, since those enterprises have been built on part of the field where Pickett’s Charge occurred and where Gettysburg’s Letterman Hospital once stood. Give Kevin a break–he’s merely stating the obvious. No of us wanted this to happen, but it did.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 26, 2009 @ 15:59


      Actually, that is exactly why I used that particular image.

  • Donald Thompson Aug 26, 2009 @ 12:40

    I’m curious as to why you chose to use a smiley face to accompany your post and why you seemed so accepting of the decision in favor of Walmart. Personally I’m not ready to “move on.” I will never step foot inside a Walmart again and am urging family and friends to do the same.


  • Woodrowfan Aug 26, 2009 @ 11:23

    Not surprising, sad, but not surprising. Another reason to dislike Walmart..

  • chris meekins Aug 26, 2009 @ 9:58

    Maybe I am confused, probably so. But are not battlefields preserved so that the action might be studied? I just checked a few mission statements and it seems to me to be the case. When we lose ground to development it is almost never recovered. I visited Marye’s Heights about a year ago (my first real park service visit) and was hard pressed to imagine open fields below in what is now a city – granted little could be done to stop that expansion. But it distracts from the understanding of the terrain, and the battle. Hopefully, Walmart will be a good neighbor – as they always claim.

  • Craig Aug 26, 2009 @ 3:41

    I visited Atlanta in 2001 with my wife who was attending an international conference and while we were there we visited the home of one of her colleagues. It wasn’t until nearly five years later that I learned my great great great grandmother’s younger brother fought at Leggett’s Hill in the Battle of Atlanta and that we had passed through the battlefield enroute to her colleague’s house. My ancestor’s sibling was wounded on what is now a freeway overpass not far from the middle of Atlanta. The city had only 6,000 people in 1860 and the battle took place up in the woods outside of town. If the Union victory there had been something the people of Atlanta had wanted to remember I’m sure they would have preserved it as some kind of historic battlefield park. I was able to locate it after the fact because preservationists have used what landmarks remain to post commemorative plaques at several hundred locations in and around the city, but the locality exerted its pull upon me long before the realization that it had done so reached me.

  • Craig Aug 25, 2009 @ 15:27

    I would say, for me at least, it is not some passionate, fetish toward the topic. I don’t go out of my way to say if R.E. Lee’s horse stood some place that it must be preserved. And I would draw a clear distinction between a site where an event occurred, as in your example of the Old Capital, and a battlefield. Is it important to “see” the room where Lincoln stood to gain an understanding of the event? Maybe. But I’d say less than 1% of the understanding of the event requires that “setting” to be seen. On the other hand if we are discussing a battle, the factor is much higher. Perhaps as much as half.

    I’ve known historians who would write an entire book about a campaign. Yet freely admit to never sitting foot on the field. The resultant narrative reads as if the battle was fought on some billiard table. I could perhaps excuse an author writing on ancient military history, or European history. But here in the US we have these wonderful resources set aside for the general public! Why not use them?

    Hence my stance that we should preserve what we can, as best we can, in order to understand the battle. If some believe that to be fanatical….. well there are worse things to be fanatical about!

  • Rob Wick Aug 25, 2009 @ 14:53


    And please allow me to clarify a point. I too don’t want to see the battlefields disappear and I wasn’t trying to suggest as flippantly as it might have appeared that it was somehow no big loss if it happened. I just sometimes have a hard time understanding the ferocity of some people when, as Larry pointed out, there are several historic sites that don’t exist any longer and there are far too many sites to try and preserve. Time does have a nasty way of marching on.


    • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2009 @ 15:09


      I figured as much. Thanks for the clarification.

  • Rob Wick Aug 25, 2009 @ 14:33


    As much as I like to see historic sites preserved, it seems to me some in the preservation community look at it with an almost fetish-like mindset. I’ve often said that if someone goes to Springfield and stands in the Old State Capital where they believe Abraham Lincoln made his “House Divided” speech, they are not in the same room where Lincoln was. The only original part of the capital building is the outside. Everything inside was built when the building was restored. Not being able to stand on the same boards doesn’t take away from what Lincoln said. The building (or the battleground) doesn’t have to be there for the history to be remembered.


    • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2009 @ 14:37


      I agree that the battleground doesn’t have to be there for it to be remembered, but it sure as hell helps. 🙂 Please don’t misunderstand me, I do not want to see the Wilderness battlefield disappear. I use the battlefields in the Fredericksburg-Wilderness corridor every year because they are incredibly important resources.

  • Craig Aug 25, 2009 @ 14:01

    Kevin, that’s a rather harsh rebuke of the preservationist camp. Sounds like you are saying the CWPT should just quit while they are ahead. I’ve not seen the absolutism that you cite here present in the preservationist community. Would you care to elaborate? Perhaps offer some examples?

    Most I’ve encountered voice the sentiment I raised above – just that we’d like the chance to view and understand the battlefield. There’s simply no better primary source this world has to offer. Granted, the development around a Chantilly or Franklin makes that difficult, but what historian in his right mind would think of writing about an action without attempting to gain the measure of the ground?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2009 @ 14:18


      Granted I am casting a wide net and did not mean in any way to point a finger at the CWPT. It looks like we have some disagreements on this issue so why don’t we just leave it at that. I agree with you that the battlefields are a wonderful primary source, I just choose not to write off people who disagree with me. It’s a complex issue. As always, I appreciate your comments.

  • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2009 @ 12:29


    I tend to agree with you. What troubles me is the way in which the camps divide up on this issue – especially those in the preservationist camp. Either you are for battlefield preservation or it’s the case that you don’t care about your history/heritage. Well, maybe they don’t care about such things or perhaps it’s a bit more complicated than that. Either they do not identity the past with the Civil War or it could be that they do include in their personal memory, but see other thing as competing with the idea of preservation.

    I don’t remember reading much about the residents of Sharpsburg setting aside parcels of land for commemoration; rather, they got back to work trying to use the land to improve their lives.

  • Larry Cebula Aug 25, 2009 @ 11:20

    In think this is all a bit precious.

    History moves on. We preserve what we can, but history moves on. There is hardly a patch of ground that was not the site of some important event or other, and we cannot “save” them all. And think of the important historical sites in major American cities–the modern high rises around the site of the Boston Massacre, for example. Do we say the site is ruined? There is a weird philiopietism in declaring that Civil War battlefields are “endangered” or “desecrated” if a Wally World goes up across the street.

    And where does it stop? There were thousands of Civil War engagements, many of which covered thousands of acres. Do we pick the most important 500 sites for preservation? And do we preserve the battlefields themselves, or try to maintain historically appropriate views from the battlefields into the surrounding countryside? The task is endless, and so is the hand-wringing.

    I’m all for green spaces, and if we can combine history with aesthetic concerns to keep the world a bit more verdant, that is great. But I am not seeing this as any big loss either.

  • Mike Aug 25, 2009 @ 8:53

    That is so Sad Kevin . Shame on those people in Orange County. You sold US history for the almighty dollar.
    I was heartbroken when I visted Franklin Tenn this summer and found that the Tour guide had to take us into peoples back yards and to see a union tomestone on the edge of a Tractor Supply Company Parking lot was too much to take.

  • Craig Aug 25, 2009 @ 8:14

    Kevin, I think you understand the difference between a calendar time and process time. In this case, saying we had two years to voice concerns is somewhat misleading. All I’d ask is the preservation minded audience be given a fair bite at the apple. It is not my locality, so I don’t get standing to say one way or the other. But from what I hear, from those who did have standing, the preservation movement was muffled somewhat by the process, as process time was not allocated reasonably.


    • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2009 @ 8:18


      I’m sure you are right.

  • Craig Aug 25, 2009 @ 6:11


    The lesson learned here is how little people value the most important primary resource we have regarding the study of the Civil War – the land itself. Sadly that is a lesson we must repeat every three or four years.

    From what I saw, a lot of good people brought reasonable options to the table. None of those were discussed to the degree the decision required. So to your point that this was not rushed, the facts are otherwise. Too many meetings were held in the dark in order to push this through. Reality is the real threat to the battlefield is not the Wal-Mart, but what that edifice will require in terms of infrastructure. It is not long now until Hwy 20 is a four lane through both the Wilderness and Mine Run battlefields. And VDOT has yet to offer a contingency for that situation.

    I’m still encouraging the WWF and other organizations to step up their search for rare and endangered species at the site. Where is a Red Cockaded Woodpecker when you need one!

    • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2009 @ 6:19


      Perhaps they do value cultural/historic resources less, but that does not necessarily mean that what they do value is of lesser value. To your point about the time frame, I guess in an ideal world we could always argue that more time is needed. Still, this has been in the works for at least the last two years. Beyond that I agree with you that it is going to cause traffic problems and will lead to a general deterioration of the visitors experience. Thanks for the comment.

  • James F. Epperson Aug 25, 2009 @ 4:45

    That area has changed so much in the last 35 years. I remember visiting my brother in Charlottesville (he was in grad school, getting his poli-sci PhD) and we took a day to drive from there to Spotsylvania and tramp around—utterly pristine. A few years later, in the early 80s, my girl friend (now wife) and I drove from Athens, GA to DC to visit friends, and stopped at Fredericksburg to look around. I remember Salem Church, which now is lost amidst the shopping malls that have sprouted up. I’ve taken friends to tour the Wilderness a couple of times, and every time the development is creeping westward.

    Development happens. It is inevitable. What we can hope for is intelligent development that pays attention to the historic nature of the ground. Unfortunately, too many city and county officials are more interested (not entirely w/o cause) in their local tax revenues. The Walmart per se is not the problem; the problem is the traffic it will create and the pressures this will put on the parks. I am frankly more disturbed by the condo community opposite the Tapp Clearing, but that has been there for years.

    We have to take our victories where we can get them. Some years ago the state of Georgia wanted to four-lane US 27, which runs right through the Chickamauga battlefield. It took a battle, but the money was found to build a by-pass around the park, something that not only saved the park, but made tourism there a lot safer (no more 18-wheelers speeding through the park on the same road as tourists).

  • Eric Mink Aug 25, 2009 @ 4:35

    Yes, Kevin, I did have doubts about what the outcome might be. Similar issues have had different conclusions in the past. The effort to influence a land use decision at Chancellorsville a few years ago was an uphill fight that seemed to be going against the battlefield preservationists. It came down to similar hearing, but ended positively for the preservationists.

    As you said, you signed the CWPT’s petition. Therefore, I will assume you sensed an importance to this issue. “As I’ve said before, this is a preservation battle that was lost a long time ago,” just seems to me to be a little inconsiderate, the morning following the board’s decision. It does strike me as saying “I told you so.”

    What do you think should be the valuable lessons the CWPT can learn from this decision?


    • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2009 @ 4:51


      There is an “I told you so” message to my short post. Just drive down Rt. 3 and the meaning out to be as clear as day. As I said before, I am not surprised by the decision given the current economic situation and the perception that WalMart will bring jobs and tax dollars to the county. I am sorry if you think that I am sticking it to anyone out there.

      To be honest, I can’t say much about what lessons the CWPT should take away since I am not directly involved in battlefield preservation. That said, I assume that their close involvement in this has led to important insights into how to approach similar challenges in the future. I’m not really sure what you want me to say.

  • Eric Mink Aug 25, 2009 @ 3:11

    Thanks for the “told you so” post, Kevin. I’m sure the Civil War preservation community feels much better this morning.


    • Kevin Levin Aug 25, 2009 @ 3:24


      Please…did you really have any doubt as to what the final decision would be? You must think that I am happy about the decision. Nothing could be further from the truth. I signed the CWPT’s petition along with much of the rest of the historical community. Every year I bring my high school students to tour Civil War battlefields and you will find no stronger advocate for the important work carried out by people like you in the National Park Service.

      At the same time Walmart played by the rules and followed the letter of the law. It was a decision that needed to be made by the residents of Orange County and they made it. If you expected what I assume will be a growing chorus of self-righteous babble about how no one appreciates American heritage and sacrifice you can forget it.

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