Another utility scale solar project threatens historic land

Another solar developer has proposed a solar array project that, if approved, would be located in the study area for the Rapidan Front Landscape Study federal grant awarded to Friends of Cedar Mountain. This is the fourth utility scale project to be proposed in Culpeper County since 2018; all have posed a challenge to the integrity of the county’s historic landscape.

Maroon Solar (parent company Strata Solar) hopes to place solar panels to the east of Raccoon Ford Road, Route 617, north of Algonquin Trail. The proposed project area is 1700 acres. The map below shows the proposed location of the solar project superimposed on a Civil War era map that identifies Federal Army of the Potomac picket lines.

“MAP Showing the Picket Line of the FIRST and THIRD CAVALRY DIVISIONS, CAVALRY CORPS, ARMY of the POTOMAC, by Capt. V. F. von ROERBER” Picket lines marked in blue. Citation: United States War Department, Robert N Scott, H. M Lazelle, George B Davis, Leslie J Perry, Joseph W Kirkley, Fred C Ainsworth, et al. The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies. Washington, Govt. Print. Off., to 1901, 1880. Image.

Culpeper County’s Civil War history is extraordinarily rich, and there were troop movements in this project area during much of the Civil War. In addition, the project area is encircled by the documented historic sites of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, Morton’s Ford, and Brandy Station, which attract numerous visitors interested in heritage tourism.

In view of Maroon Solar’s proposed location, it is the opinion of the board of directors of Friends of Cedar Mountain that a county decision to move ahead with this project would undercut the cultural landscape and research study efforts already in progress to support our federal grant through the Department of the Interior’s American Battlefield Protection Program. The board of Friends of Cedar Mountain will ask for a hold on this solar project until our grant research team has the opportunity to complete their work and fully document the historic value of the area.

Culpeper Star Exponent article on Maroon Solar – November 8, 2020


Expert research team supporting ABPP grant

We are very pleased and honored that the following two individuals, well known for their expertise in historic research and preservation, will complete the research related to our Rapidan Front Landscape Study. The study is supported by an American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) grant, term 2020-2022. Grant research will look at the 1863-64 Union Winter Encampment that brought more than 100,000 soldiers to Culpeper County and covered almost half of the county. Research will also look at Somerville, Raccoon and Morton’s Fords, critical Rapidan River crossing points for both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War. Please refer to the map at the end of this post for the preliminary project study area.

Grant research team:

John S. Salmon, Project Historian for the Rapidan Front Landscape Study

John S. Salmon has been researching and writing about Virginia history for more than forty years. He holds a B.A. degree from the University of Virginia and an M.A. from the College of William and Mary, both in American history. He was an archivist (1972–1987) at the Virginia State Library (present-day Library of Virginia), where he compiled finding aids and guides to state records. In 1987, he joined the Virginia Landmarks Commission (now the Virginia Department of Historic Resources) as staff historian and state historical highway marker manager. He surveyed Virginia battlefields for the Shenandoah Civil War Battlefield Survey and the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission (1990–1993) and wrote The Official Virginia Civil War Battlefield Guide
(Stackpole Books, 2001) to 123 of the state’s battlefields including Cedar Mountain, Kelly’s Ford, and Brandy Station in Culpeper County.

After retiring from state employment in 2001, Mr. Salmon served as staff historian for the Tredegar National Civil War Center Foundation, helping draft plans for a national Civil War museum and learning center. Since leaving that position in the summer of 2004, he has served as a historical consultant. Mr. Salmon writes and edits marker and brochure texts for Virginia Civil War Trails, Inc., a nonprofit educational corporation. Since the mid-1990s, VCWT has created and installed more than 1,000 markers along driving trails linking Civil War sites in six states (Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee).

Mr. Salmon has written more than seventy National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) nominations in four states. In Virginia, his Civil War battlefields and sites nominations include Beaverdam Depot (listed 1988), Fort Riverview (1989), Brandy Station (1989), Bristoe Station (1991), Belle Isle (1995), Fort Pocahontas (1999), Milford (2004), Unison (2011), and Rose Hill in Culpeper County (2020).

Mr. Salmon also wrote a Multiple Property Documentation form, “The Civil War in Virginia, 1861–1865: Historic and Archaeological Resources” (2000). In addition, he wrote a Preliminary Information Form (DHR) for “Rappahannock River 1862 Northern Virginia Campaign Rural Historic District, Fauquier County” (2011). He also wrote the historical narrative for “The Upper Rappahannock River Mapping Project: The Civil War in Culpeper and Fauquier Counties, 1862–1864” (2014) for Rivanna Archaeological Services. For the same firm, he wrote the historical narrative for the Ball’s Bluff Battlefield and National Cemetery Boundary Expansion, Loudoun County (2016).

Glenn Stach, Preservation Landscape Architect and Planner, Stach PLLC.

Mr. Stach is a subject expert practicing within the narrowly focused field of cultural landscape preservation and planning, with concentrated expertise in battlefield preservation. His ten-year involvement supporting battlefield preservation in Culpeper and Orange counties (with projects at Wilderness, and all six nationally recognized battlefields in Culpeper) afford him a healthy grasp of the cultural landscape and its many Civil War era features.

Mr. Stach recently completed a comprehensive analysis of Confederate Encampment sites across the Rapidan from the study area on Clarks Mountain and in the process collected compelling contributing source material investigation for this study area. Additionally, Mr. Stach led a viewshed study encompassing much of this study area that demonstrates the interconnectedness of the wartime wig-wag signal station network across this region and historic and contemporary relevance to viewshed integrity and preservation. In 2014 Mr. Stach was hired by VDHR to lead battlefield friends development efforts across the commonwealth, a project funded by the ABPP that has had a profound effect on the organizing and support for battlefield resources in Culpeper. Mr. Stach will support John Salmon in mapping the resources of the grant study area, bringing his analysis and cultural landscape perspective (KOCOA) to the study.


Opposition to utility scale solar on historic land

October 4, 2020 update to the information below: On October 2, the conditional use permit for Greenwood Solar expired. Greenwood Solar representatives asked the Culpeper Board of Supervisors for an extension and discussion of the request reportedly is slated for the Board’s November meeting. There is a bill currently in the Virginia House that would grant a two-year extension to any projects with conditional use permits. It is not clear yet what the fate of that bill will be, or whether Greenwood will have recourse to continue to pursue their proposed solar project, which if built would be located in the area of historic study supported by a American Battlefield Protection Plan grant to FCMB. Our grant project is proceeding as planned; the consultants hired by FCMB to support the grant have begun their research work.

In October 2018 the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors approved a proposal by Greenwood Solar, now a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, for a 1000 acre utility scale solar project straddling Batna Road south of Route 3 in the county’s Stevensburg district. As of mid-July 2020, the 100 megawatt project is in the site plan stage of review by the Planning Commission as well as state Permit By Rule review.

This industrial scale project is placed squarely in an area of historical significance to the Civil War, with Brandy Station battlefield to the north and Morton’s Ford battlefield to the south. The project area and the Area of Potential Effect around the project area saw many troop movements and encampments, including the Winter encampment of more than 100,000 Union troops during 1863-1864. The project is bounded on one side by the Old Carolina Road, a historic byway dating to the pre-Colonial era. Notable properties adjacent include 19th century Rose Hill on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places, and 18th century Salubria, also on the National Register of Historic Properties. Both are within the project’s Area of Potential Effect.

After being awarded an American Battlefield Protection Plan grant in May 2020 to study the Rapidan Front and winter encampment area where the project is planned to be located, FCMB’s board has come out strongly in opposition to the solar project. Installation of more than 300,000 solar panels will obliterate the cultural landscape, negatively impacting grant study efforts.

Since early May, the board of Friends of Cedar Mountain has communicated with the county Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors, Planning and Zoning director and town administrator to share the following:

  1. Our application for a grant to study the Civil War’s Rapidan Front including the 1863-1864 encampment.
  2. The awarding of the grant in the amount of $86,700.
  3. A map of our grant study area with a superimposed image of the Greenwood Solar project clearly showing the “integrity hole” the solar project would create in the solar project landscape.

Culpeper County outlined in orange; Friends of Cedar Mountain grant study area in yellow; Greenwood Solar 1000-acre utility scale solar project in green

In each of these communications the FCMB board asked for a stay on the project pending completion of the grant.

Board representatives also have attended two Planning Commission meetings. Board representative Karen Boushie was present at the Planning Commission’s July 8, 2020 work session on the project (no public comment period was available). She and board member Brad Forbush attended the Planning Commission’s August 12, 2020 meeting. In the public comment period during the August meeting, Boushie reviewed the board’s previous correspondence with the commission and again asked for a hold on the project until the grant can be completed. She also noted:

“Communications from Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources support a hold on Greenwood Solar to allow full pursuit of area study. We cite the DHR letter dated May 7, 2019 that responds to the solar project architectural survey. This DHR letter refers to 9 resources that “could contribute to a historic district that does not yet exist due to a lack of context studies.” Our grant will provide the needed context studies.

The same DHR letter also recommends additional surveys be done at a property at the Batna/Algonquin crossroads and at Mountain View Farm – these two areas also are within the scope of our grant.”

In her comments, Boushie also asked for confirmation that the Commission had received the cultural assessment that is part of the developer’s permit by rule application, saying, “A reading of this report confirms that the area merits the deeper research that our grant will support.”

Board member Brad Forbush submitted a statement via email. His email was misplaced by the Planning and Zoning office and will be read into the record at the Commission’s September meeting. In a brief statement, Forbush reviewed the widespread interest in Culpeper’s history as evidenced by the number of tours he gives to visitors from many different states. These include, California, Hawaii, Kansas, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and of course, Virginia.

Anyone who would like to send a comment about the project to the Planning Commission before their next meeting on September 9 may do so by following these instructions for email, voicemail and postal mail submissions.

Culpeper Star Exponent: Interior Department funds Rapidan Front study in Culpeper

The article excerpted below was written by Clint Schemmer and published in the Culpeper Star Exponent on May 17, 2020. The article describes the awarding of a preservation grant to Friends of Cedar Mountain to support a cultural landscape assessment to study the nationally significant Civil War landscape along the Rapidan River front, extending north to the Union Winter Encampment area of 1863-1864 and the Cedar Mountain Battlefield. Visit to read the full article.

The U.S. Department of the Interior is funding a study of Culpeper County’s “Rapidan Front” area of Civil War battlefields and historic sites.

The Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, a local nonprofit group, will receive $86,740 to research Culpeper’s Racoon Ford, Morton’s Ford and Sommerville Ford battlefields, sites that were fought over in 1863 and 1864 during the American Civil War.

The three battlefields and related historic sites, lie along the Rapidan River, which separated the Confederate and Union armies during that period.
Interior Secretary David L. Bernhardt announced the grant Friday during a visit to Gettysburg National Military Park, part of a $3 million package of grants from the nation’s American Battlefield Protection Program.

“Battlefields such as Gettysburg are sacred sites where Americans gave the last full measure of devotion,” Bernhardt said. “These grants enable us to partner with communities and organizations to preserve these places and connect visitors with their historical importance.”

Culpeper County resident Diane Logan, president of the Cedar Mountain friends group, expressed its appreciation for the Interior Department’s support.

“The Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield are thankful for the opportunity this grant award has given us,” Logan said Saturday. “We realize and appreciate the many layers of Culpeper’s rich Civil War history, and are excited at the prospect to explore, research and document events and historical sites that contribute to the full story of battle-torn Culpeper.”

Culpeper Star Exponent: Cedar Mountain group asks Culpeper to delay Greenwood solar project

The following article written by Clint Schemmer was published in the Culpeper Star Exponent on May 6, 2020. Please visit the article link or read below.

A long-established Culpeper-area citizens group has stepped into the fray over a 1,000-acre solar-energy facility planned near Stevensburg.

The Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, steward of part of that 1862 Civil War site, is asking Culpeper leaders to delay the county’s consideration of the project until it can finish an ongoing historical study of the area proposed for solar development.

On Monday, the all-volunteer friends group wrote the Culpeper County Planning Commission and the county Board of Supervisors asking them to halt the Greenwood Solar project so it can continue its study and learn if it will receive a federal grant this fall.

Development of the Greenwood Solar plant, which the Board of Supervisors approved in late 2018, “would create an integrity hole in the center” of the friends’ study area that could jeopardize other sites from being recognized as historic, the group said.

In January, the friends applied to the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program for a grant to fund research on what it’s calling the Rapidan Front, largely undeveloped land where the battles of Raccoon Ford, Morton’s Ford and Somerville Ford were fought and where elements of the Union army camped in the winter of 1863-64. The program is expected to announce its grant awards in August or September.

This study continues research begun in 2016 to identify threats to the Culpeper area’s nationally significant Civil War battlefields and cultural and agricultural landscapes, the friends said.

“If the (Greenwood) project proceeds as presented at this time without consideration to the historical and cultural value of the land it encompasses, it will render the area ineligible for National Register of Historic Places consideration not only for important Civil War sites but Colonial, African-American and Native American as well,” Diane Logan, president of the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield, told the Culpeper Star-Exponent.

The friends group was raising private funds for its research in advance of the ABPP grant, but the COVID- 19 pandemic has temporarily halted that effort, Logan wrote Culpeper officials. “But we are committed to proceeding with this project as soon as possible,” she told them.

“We urge Culpeper County officials to put a halt to all industrial-scale projects on agricultural land, specifically the sites impacted by our grant application,” Logan wrote the governing board and Planning Commission. “We cannot lose our historic landscape, including the Union Winter Encampment boundary. Once the land is gone, it is gone forever.”

The ABBP grant would finance research to develop and enhance Culpeper historical tours, including landscapes and venues, and support agriculture, Logan told the Star-Exponent.

The study would highlight the importance of farming in Culpeper then and now, she said.

“It is the oldest business in our county and the most sustainable, not only for the health and welfare of our citizens but for growth and development,” Logan said. “Not to mention, agriculture has preserved the beautiful vistas that we enjoy today.”

The Rapidan Front research is documenting the historic resources of the encampment and the Rapidan, Raccoon Ford, Morton’s Ford and Somerville Ford battlefields, she said.

The project would open more resources for heritage tourism, a valuable industry that lures many visitors to Culpeper, and create economic development opportunities for small businesses such as campsites, water recreation and guided tours, the friends group wrote the boards’ members.

“FoCMB is aware of development threats to Culpeper’s historic landscape, particularly from potential industrial-scale solar facilities and housing development that would directly affect the outcome of the 2020 grant application,” it cautioned. “Such development would result in loss of landscape integrity that would render much of the Rapidan Front as no longer National Register-eligible.”

A newer Culpeper-area group that has been fighting industrial-scale solar development in Culpeper County praised the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield’s effort.

“Citizens for Responsible Solar applauds the efforts of Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield to preserve the land. We stand with them in opposing the development of this historic site beyond what it is zoned for, which is agriculture,” Citizens for Responsible Solar President Susan Ralston told the newspaper. “Industrial-scale solar has its place on land zoned for industrial use, marginal or contaminated land or land which is sparsely populated.

“The Greenwood Solar site is part of the land identified in the Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield’s grant application and is already a well-documented historic treasure,” Ralston said.

In 2016, Friends of Cedar Mountain Battlefield met with its regional partners to discuss threats to Culpeper’s historic lands and identify priorities for preservation. Threats to its battlefield landscapes range from housing subdivisions to industrial-solar development to other utility projects, they determined. Looking forward, they set goals for heritage tourism, education, preservation and stewardship.

The Greenwood solar project was approved just before midnight on Oct. 2, 2018, after a three-hour public hearing. The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to grant a conditional-use permit for Florida-based NextEra Energy Resources to build and operate its utility-scale solar project on up to 1,000 acres near Stevensburg. NextEra acquired the project from Texas-based Greenwood Energy.