Article written by Clint Schemmer; published May 11, 2022 in the Culpeper Star Exponent.
Data-center development increasingly threatens some of Virginia’s major Civil War battlefields, leaders of four U.S. and Virginia preservation groups said at a press conference Tuesday on the Manassas battlefield.
Preservation Virginia, one of the nation’s oldest historic-preservation groups, called out the danger in its 2022 “Most Endangered Sites” report released Tuesday.
The report cites specific threats to Manassas National Battlefield Park and Culpeper County’s Brandy Station Battlefield from recent data-center proposals.
As part of the coalitions opposing these data centers, the American Battlefield Trust stresses how such projects can ruin pristine Civil War landscapes prized by visitors. The centers use gobs of electricity, impinge on historic viewsheds, require paving, increase runoff and create noise, the trust said in a statement Tuesday.
Unlike the housing or commercial developments that have infringed on battlefields in decades past, data centers are a new, 21st-century consideration that communities and conservationists are still learning how to address, the national nonprofit group said.
“We want the local officials in these counties to understand that as with any type of development, preservation and data centers are not mutually exclusive,” Trust President David Duncan said. “These communities can have both, but it all depends on the careful consideration of location. With its highly regarded report, Preservation Virginia has empowered this important message and turned attention to an issue that is far from over in the commonwealth and throughout the country.”
Locating data centers within technology corridors and away from culturally sensitive areas would convey how local governments value and support the preservation of their irreplaceable historic resources, the conservationist said.
Preservation Virginia’s annual “Most Endangered” warnings stretch across more than 20 years, and have helped prevent the loss of nationally important historic sites, including parts of Spotslyvania County’s Wilderness battlefield.
“Inclusion on the Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places list can have a profound influence in bringing organizations and individuals together to forward solutions and resolve threats. This year’s list is no exception,” Elizabeth S. Kostelny, CEO of Preservation Virginia, said in a statement. “The resources included reflect a range of issues and opportunities as Virginia continues its tradition of honoring its past while planning for the future.”
Kostelny, Kyle Hart of the National Parks Conservation Association, Chuck Laudner of the American Battlefield Trust and Raquel Montez, acting superintendent of Manassas National Battlefield Park gathered Tuesday afternoon at the park’s Brawner Farm—heart of the Second Manassas battlefield—to highlight the issue.
Manassas National Battlefield Park is under grave threat from a rezoning requested for a massive data-centers district to be built a stone’s throw from the park.
Culpeper County recently approved Amazon data centers on 230 acres of historic farmland near Stevensburg despite public outcry and concerns expressed by the trust and a coalition of eight other national, regional, and local organizations. Adjacent landowners are suing the county Board of Supervisors in hopes of overturning its 4-3 rezoning decision; the six property owners claim the board violated state and local laws.
The Stevensburg development on State Route 3 would be built beside two nationally significant properties—Salubria, an 18th-century manor house on the National Register of Historic Places, and Hansbrough’s Ridge, a Virginia State Landmark that played an important role in the Battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863.
Last summer, activists encouraged the Prince William County supervisors to reconsider the footprint of the county’s data centers.
If the proposals are approved, they would invite industrial development near both of Prince William County’s National Park Service sites—Manassas National Battlefield Park and Prince William Forest Park—a possibility that the trust and eight other national, regional and local organizations adamantly oppose. Later this year, the Board of Supervisors is expected to decide on a Comprehensive Plan amendment to rezone the land along Pageland Lane.
Preservation Virginia said its Most Endangered Historic Places program has a track record of success. Last year, the listed sites included Rassawek, historic capital of the Monacan Indian Nation; River Farm, headquarters of the American Horticultural Society; and the Warm Springs Bathhouses, the oldest spa site in the United States.
All were saved from insensitive development and neglect, the group said. Since Preservation Virginia’s program began, more than 50% of its listed sites have been saved, 10% were lost, and the remaining 40% are still being monitored.
Other sites on 2022’s list include Dunnington Mansion in Farmville; Green Valley Pharmacy in Arlington; Havelock School in Warsaw; Ivy Cliff Slave Dwelling in Bedford County; Parker Sydnor Cabin in Mecklenburg County; Preston-Crockett House in Smyth County; Reedville Grand Order of Odd Fellows Lodge/African American School in Northumberland County; Saint Paul’s Chapel Rosenwald School in Brunswick County; and William Fox Elementary School in Richmond.