Battlefield Preservation Effort – Provides Access to Historic Site
On the brisk morning of April 23, 2013, Shenandoah University embarked on its newest venture— the preservation and protection of land along the Shenandoah River integral to the July 18, 1864, Battle of Cool Spring. These 195 acres of land, now known as the Shenandoah River Campus at Cool Spring Battlefield, were acquired by the Civil War Trust in 2012. Under the stewardship of the university, the land will now transition from a former golf course into an outdoor classroom for the university community and general public.
“For years we’ve been saying that Shenandoah is a magical name,” said President Tracy Fitzsimmons, Ph.D. “It’s a word that’s known across the country, and when people hear Shenandoah, we want them to think — river, valley, university. So it’s really quite perfect now to have, ‘Shenandoah on the Shenandoah.’”
The property will provide a wide range of educational opportunities, and co-curricular programs will be developed and implemented by the university’s Division of Student Life. This programming is fundamental for enhancing a connection to the region, while promoting environmental stewardship and the enjoyment of nature.
“It’s important, to me, as a space for folks to come and just take a walk, take pictures or ride their bikes,” said Cool Spring Site Manager Gene Lewis. “We have the river here, some streams, a couple of ponds; and there’s a lot of wildlife. The conservation easement, a legal way to protect this land, will ensure that it is here to stay; and people will have somewhere like this to come and enjoy whatever it is they want — relaxation, nature, a little bit of peace and quiet.”
This living laboratory will enrich university students’ lives and learning, and it will afford local schools and the public at large with opportunities to explore the region through historical and natural interpretation. “If these properties are not preserved now, they will be lost forever,” said Professor of History Warren Hofstra, Ph.D. “Future generations will be unable to appreciate what we now so abundantly enjoy and learn from in the natural and historical environment.”
This road to preservation and protection of the Cool Spring site is paved with an assortment of agencies and entities partnering together for a common cause. “The Civil War Trust is in the battlefield preservation business of preserving land, not owning it,” said President of the Civil War Trust James Lighthizer. “So, we’ve got the best of both worlds here. We got to preserve it, and now we’re handing it off to a wonderful organization — Shenandoah University — and they get to manage it, preserve it and educate people through this facility and land.”
The $2 million purchase price for the land was achieved through generous, competitively awarded preservation matching grants at the federal and state levels. Landowner donation and contributions from Civil War Trust members played a significant role as well. The American Battlefield Protection Program, administered by the National Park Service, contributed $200,000, while the Virginia Civil War Sites Preservation Fund put forward another $800,000.
Throughout this project, Shenandoah University also worked diligently with the offices of Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech and Virginia Director of Historic Resources Kathleen Kilpatrick as well as the Clarke County Board of Supervisors. The university looks forward to developing strong relationships with its neighbors around its new river campus, including Shenandoah Retreat, Rolling Ridge Foundation and Holy Cross Abbey.
Remembering the Past Through Preservation
The Cool Spring site is now protected from unsuitable or invasive development through a conservation easement held by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. “This is core battlefield,” said Virginia Director of Historic Resources Kathleen Kilpatrick. “It is a landmark. Core means this is where men actually fought and died, as opposed to encamped or prepared for battle. This is hallowed ground, but it also has a remarkable assemblage of natural resources here.”
Following the defeat of a raid on Washington, D.C., at the Battle of Fort Stevens, Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early retreated, crossing the Potomac River at White’s Ferry and the Blue Ridge at Snickers Gap. Elements of three U.S. corps — about 25,000 men under overall command of Maj. Gen. Horatio Wright — pursued and met Early’s rear guard at the Shenandoah River crossing of Snickers Ferry, near the farm of Cool Spring.
Although brief in duration, the July 18, 1864, Battle of Cool Spring was desperately fought, checking the federal pursuit for several days. The Battle of Cool Spring (also known as Island Ford, Parker’s Ford, Snickers Ferry or Castleman’s Ferry) resulted in more than 800 casualties and served as a prelude to the second major battle at Kernstown, which occurred less than a week later.
Historical Scholarship in the Shenandoah Valley
“The Shenandoah River and its valley are widely regarded as one of the most beautiful regions in the world, an inspiration for poets, writers, historians and painters for centuries,” said Dr. Hofstra. “This property will provide a living laboratory for students and their professors for the study not only of the American Civil War but also the longue durée of history from its New World origins in Native American prehistory to present concerns for landscape preservation, land-use, environmental protection and smart growth.”
According to Hofstra, the property will lend to larger studies of the Native Americans who lived in the Shenandoah Valley, European immigrants who settled in the area and the development of an agricultural economy, among other important historical themes.
Shenandoah University history students and faculty will gain firsthand experience as they work to research and create the interpretive historical signage for the Cool Spring property. They’ll also have the unique opportunity to plan and coordinate the 150th anniversary celebration of the Battle of Cool Spring in 2014.
Environmental Studies: Hands-on Learning
“It would be hard to imagine a piece of property in the Shenandoah Valley that has such a diverse mixture of habitats and plants, animals and geology as this property does,” said Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology Woodward Bousquet, Ph.D. “It’s got all the things that we want to show our students about the natural heritage of the region — we have a chance to explore mountain slope forests, ponds, rivers, floodplains, swamps and marshes — all right here on the 195 acres of Cool Spring.”
Environmental studies students will have endless hands-on learning opportunities at Cool Spring. They’ll catch crustaceans, insects and snails out of the pond and observe those species. They’ll make the trek to what was once Hole No. 3 to study the grand sweep of the current environment, and they’ll use their imaginations to picture individuals settling in the Shenandoah Valley and what the scenery was like during the Ice Age.
“There weren’t glaciers here, but can you imagine mastodons, saber tooth tigers and musk oxen where Interstate 81 is right now?” said Bousquet. “We’ll stand at the view point and talk about the grand parade of natural history as well as human history that’s gone through this valley.”
Teaching Outdoor Leadership & Education
The Cool Spring property and Shenandoah’s new Outdoor Leadership & Education program will make a perfect pair. “It’s a big playground,” said Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Outdoor Leadership & Education/Cool Spring Program Coordinator T. Grant Lewis, Ph.D. “People in my position dream of having something like this at their disposal in order to run classes, have a laboratory and make education more experiential and authentic. We can talk all we want about anything in the classroom setting, but out here, we’ll do a lot more of the application of what they learn in class in a field situation.”
Opportunities abound at the site, with plans to create high- and low-ropes challenge courses and build two to four yurts (a portable, dwelling structure traditionally used by Central Asian nomads). The yurts will provide teaching and meeting spaces, as well as bunking for overnight trips and shelter in inclement weather.
Planning for the challenge courses has already begun, taking into account the topography of the land and the space available. Lewis hopes to create courses that are both static and dynamic, allowing participants to move throughout the course on their own or to be tethered to another participant on the ground.
The courses and Cool Spring property overall can be utilized from a class standpoint, but also for a variety of programs with Student Life and the community at large. “The possibilities are whatever we can dream,” said Lewis.