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Civil War Trust

What Might Have Been:

In Place of Battlefield Park, Plans Called for Massive Commercial and Residential Center
Hallowed Ground Magazine, Spring 2013

Chancellorsville
Signage on the Chancellorsville Battlefield helps guide tourists and pay tribute to those whose donations made its preservation possible.

Today, the Civil War Trust’s 214-acre First Day at Chancellorsville property — complete with walking trails and interpretive signage explaining the significance of fighting there on May 1, 1863 — is one of the organization’s greatest successes, a triumph of public-private partnerships and the search for win-win solutions. But, just over a decade ago, the situation for this incredible piece of hallowed ground looked remarkably different and grim.

Chancellorsville rendering
The walking trails that cross the property today are vastly different from the development that could have occurred, as illustrated in this rendering.

In 2002, the Dogwood Development Group proposed a “town” of 2,350 residential units and 2.4 million square feet of commercial and office space on a 790-acre former farm and nursery along State Route 3, west of Fredericksburg. Appalled by such large-scale development in this historic area, a group of seven national and local nonprofits — including the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust, Civil War Trust, National Parks Conservation Association and National Trust for Historic Preservation — came together to form the Coalition to Save the Chancellorsville Battlefield.

The plan drew vigorous opposition and public outcry over the threat that the development posed to this once-rural, but now rapidly growing, community, as well as the loss of a historic landscape. A candlelight vigil by 200 preservationists held amid gently falling snow during a Spotsylvania County Board of Supervisors meeting was dubbed “the prettiest protest I ever saw,” by one Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star columnist.  Ultimately, county officials denied the rezoning request that would have made the project possible. 

Chancellorsville event
Trust President James Lighthizer announces the formation of the Coalition to Save the Chancellorsville Battlefield at a July 2002 news conference.

Following defeat of the Dogwood plan, the Civil War Trust began working behind the scenes to permanently protect this beautiful battlefield. Working with local development firm Tricord Homes, the Trust was able to purchase 140 acres of the battlefield, but a large portion of land still remained under threat of development. In 2005, the organization began discussions with Toll Brothers, a national residential development firm, to purchase the remaining 74 acres of critical battlefield land. With public support, a solution was struck that would allow for preservation of the remaining battlefield, thanks to an increase in allowable housing density on the less historically significant land. This win-win solution was solidified through a rezoning application approved by the Board of Supervisors on November 14, 2006.  The measure passed with a unanimous 7-0 vote and was greeted with a standing ovation from local residents.

Thanks to the hard work of preservationists and the dedication of local citizens, what seemed impossible 10 years ago has become a reality: the scene of the first day’s fighting at the Battle of Chancellorsville will be studied and enjoyed for generations to come.

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