Celebration at Antietam "Epicenter"
This autumn, the Antietam Battlefield is celebrating a plethora of milestones — as the federal park prepares to celebrate its 125th anniversary, the Civil War Trust is in the midst of an approximately $1 million investment at the site that includes securing three key properties and engaging in ambitious landscape restoration activities before turning the land over to the National Park Service.
The largest piece of this puzzle, the completion of a decades-long dream for preservationists, was celebrated at a September 30, 2015, news conference. Historians have dubbed this 44-acre property at the intersection of Dunker Church Road and Cornfield Avenue the “epicenter tract” for its central location and historic significance — author Dennis Frye has called the area “the bloodiest ground of the bloodiest day in American history.”
Speaking at the event, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor said, “This land is exceptionally important to the story of Antietam. It is rare to preserve a property of such historic significance, and I applaud the hard work of organizations like the Civil War Trust who help make sure we can continue sharing our country’s history with future generations.”
The Trust purchased the property from Lilli Wilson, who had lived there for many years with her husband Craig, following a national fundraising campaign. Prior to Craig’s death in 2014, the pair had determined that, when they chose to move, they would seek out preservation groups. The decision was influenced by military service within the Wilson family.
Since the Trust closed on the property late this past summer, volunteers from the Save Historic Antietam Foundation (SHAF) — which also contributed $50,000 toward the purchase — have cleared brush and a nonhistoric fence line from the landscape. A modern barn was removed in November, with the Wilson home slated to follow in early 2016, once it has been vacated. The Trust anticipates replanting the 3.5-acre portion of the East Woods that extended onto the property to begin in 2017.
“As with all our major preservation projects, we rely on our members and partners like SHAF to see this effort through to a successful conclusion,” noted Trust President James Lighthizer, whose work conserving land at Antietam began 25 years ago during his tenure as Maryland secretary of transportation. “Their unwavering commitment to the Trust’s mission is something that continues to inspire me.”
Even as the Trust and its partners celebrated this major milestone, additional projects at Maryland Campaign sites were already underway. The Trust was in the midst of a two-pronged effort to raise $412,000 toward purchasing and restoring an additional 6 acres at the East Woods, plus 43 acres at the nearby South Mountain Battlefield, when a unique opportunity arose to buy a 1.2-acre property at Antietam’s North Woods via public auction. To secure the funds to pay for the latter property, the Trust launched its first-ever campaign through “CrowdRise,” an online community-based crowd-funding platform. In total, the purchase and restoration of the two East Woods properties will cost an estimated $890,000, plus another $350,000 to acquire and restore the North Woods land.