"Wilderness Wal-Mart" Near Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park Gets Go-Head From Virginia Officials

Planning officials in Virginia have given Wal-Mart permission to build a sprawling Supercenter near the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park. Kurt Repanshek photo.

An effort to keep Wal-Mart from building a Supercenter on hallowed ground near Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park has failed, with Orange County, Virginia, officials saying, "(T)his was a private deal between a private landowner and private business."

The vote brought quick condemnation from both the Civil War Preservation Trust and the National Parks Conservation Association, with both groups pledging to continue to try to stop the project.

The long-running battled that pitted Civil War preservationists against a corporate giant ended early Tuesday when the county's Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to approve plans that call for a nearly 140,000-square-foot Supercenter with accompanying retail outlets on land that historically was part of the Wilderness Battlefield.

“I am deeply disappointed by today’s vote. The Orange County Board of Supervisors had an opportunity to protect the battlefield by embracing a reasonable compromise approach to the Wal-Mart superstore proposal. Instead, they ignored rational voices on the national, state and local level encouraging them to work with the preservation community and local landowners to find a more suitable alternative location," said the organization's president, James Lighthizer.

“Today’s vote is not just a setback for preservationists. Orange County residents are losers as well. If the county had embraced the preservation planning process first proposed by the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition in January, there would have been an opportunity to mitigate the transportation and development impacts of the proposal. Instead, the board voted to repeat the mistakes made by other localities, who are now struggling to address the problems created by similar piecemeal development and rampant sprawl.

“The ball is now in Wal-Mart’s court. Wal-Mart better understands the nationwide anger generated by its proposal to build on the doorstep of a National Park. It is in the corporation’s best interests to work with the preservation community to find an alternative site. After all, building a big box superstore on the Wilderness Battlefield would belie recent attempts to portray Wal-Mart as environmentally sensitive. We are optimistic that company officials will see the wisdom of moving elsewhere," continued Mr. Lighthizer.

"The Civil War Preservation Trust and the other member groups of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition will now carefully weigh options for continued opposition of this misguided proposal. This battle is not over yet.”

At the NPCA's Virginia office, Catharine Gilliam said she was not surprised by the vote.

"This commercial development is improperly sited on land that is critical to understanding the National Park Service's interpretation of the Battle of the Wilderness for the American people. NPCA has actively participated and offered constructive suggestions to find alternatives that would protect the neighboring national park and allow a Walmart to be built on less sensitive land," she said. "It is not necessary to desecrate the land where a horrific battle took place less than 150 years ago in pursuit of profit and pavement.

"Although members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors announced repeatedly that they would vote to approve Walmart's application, even before the public process began, NPCA and our members, and other organizations in the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition, participated in the public process at every stage available," Ms. Gilliam added. "Despite last night's disappointing vote, we will continue to explore options to protect this important national park. This battle is not over yet. We continue to hold out hope that Walmart will do the right thing by relocating its business, and respect and protect Americas heritage and history."

Among those who urged Orange County to choose another location for the proposed Wal-Mart were U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.); Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (D) and House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell (R); actors Robert Duvall, Richard Dreyfuss and Ben Stein; and more than 250 historians, including Pulitzer prize-winning authors David McCullough and James McPherson and acclaimed documentarian Ken Burns.

According to the National Park Service, the Battle of the Wilderness was fought on May 5-6, 1864, with troops under both Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General Robert E. Lee engaged. "It was the beginning of the Overland Campaign, the bloodiest campaign in American history and the turning point in the war in the Eastern Theatre," notes the agency.


Walmart doesn't care about anything except money. This country has become so focused on greed and how they can line their pockets with the "old mightly dollar" that nothing else matters. I have never had the opportunity to visit any of our national parks on the eastern seaboard, but with corporations like Walmart coming in and taking over, they won't be there for me to visit in the future. I am sorry to say that many of the corporations in this country speak out of both sides of their mouth, including Walmart. They doesn't care about the environment and preserving this nation anymore than the current adminsitration of this country.

As a native Virginian, I am very disappointed in this decision. Wonder what kind of impact this Wal-Mart will have on the battlefields? One only has to visit Petersburg National Battlefield. You can see the Home Depot (or Lowe's... one of those) from the Dictator trail. Throughout the entire battlefield, the sounds of traffic and Fort Lee permeate what should be hallowed silence.

Someone who cares, you hit the nail on the head. Wal-mart sees nothing but dollar signs for THEIR registers. Whatever happened to their big campaign they had years ago that they took pride in buying AMERICAN!! Oh yea, they make more money by buying cheap foreign junk. Meanwhile AMERICAN manufacturers suffer. We are now left to buy the foreign junk because the better quality merchandise is not made here anymore thanks to Wal-mart. Thanks Wal-mart for looking out for nobody but yourself.
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I agreed with "Someone Who Cares" all the way to the fifth-to-last word. That is the only word I would change, substituting "previous" for "current."

I smiled when I read this: "'We are optimistic that company officials will see the wisdom of moving elsewhere,' continued Mr. Lighthizer." He must be very optimistic indeed, the most kindly thing that I can say. If it were up to Wal-Mart, their stores would stretch across this country, each one visible from the last, limited in sprawl only by similar ambitions on the part of Home Depot, McDonalds, and the like.

It was simply too little, too late to save this historic land from development. Without government intervention, or deep-pocketed philanthropic efforts, profits and self-interest (I deleted the word "greed") will overrule any quaint historical and environmental concerns, if any are to be found in today's world of business to begin with.

That is why we have government, to balance public needs with the drive to make "the almighty dollar." The current administration will have a much better track record at this than the previous one. But again, it was too late for Wilderness Wal-Mart.

I understand not wanting a Walmart here - but the article says that "This was a private deal between a private landowner and private business." I sincerely hope that no administration, present or past, will deem itself so allmighty that they can just stop a legal transaction because they don't want that business there or this business here! The federal government should not be in the business of settling such disputes - to me, it is even dubious that the county Boad of Supervisors would have the power to stop a legal sale of property.
Just because it is a good cause doesn't demand that the federal government step in and sort it out - The people who do not want the store there have every right to lobby Walmart and to offer alternatives but the very war you are trying to conserve was fought over the government telling states and individuals what they could and couldn't do! No need to start another war over it, just work with the land-owner(s) and try to find a solution - this is not a GOVERNMENT problem!

All those who spent time and money opposing the WalMart would have better spent their time and money raising funds to buy the land outright and donate it to the National Park Service. The real issue here is not WalMart. I would have been opposed to any sort of development encroaching on the rural nature of a battlefield whether it was a Walmart, a housing development or a hospital. And it's really not that a battle was fought there. Battles that were fought close to cities then are no longer peaceful places for contemplation. Think of Bull Run with the airplanes from Dulles screaming overhead and Interstate 64 right on its edge. Think of the Alamo, right in the middle of San Antonio. The larger issue is that this country and its open spaces, the very rural Jeffersonian nature of this country are being ruined by too many people and the consequent development.

While the county would have difficulty stopping the sale of the land, they likely have the discretion to deny the permits to build the structures, parking lot, etc. They could have deemed it better for the public interest if wasn't developed (I've seen video of the modest strip mall already there) to the extent Wal-Mart wants it.

A very sad day, indeed. I was hoping that the Board of Supervisors would be more sensitive to public opinion as well as historical significance. The preservation of our nation's history and the growth of the local economy need not be mutually exclusive. A study was published in the Fredericksburg paper awhile ago saying how many millions of dollars are brought in by tourists who visit the battlefields. By preserving this land, the county would have sent the message that they care about their history. Now they are just like other counties, who cater to the big corporations at the expense of local businesses (including the tourism industry).

Back in the 70's, the battlefields in the Fredericksburg area were among my favorites to visit. I actually find it painful to go there now--tons of traffic and rows and rows of strip malls. This latest development only makes it worse.

I guess I'll be spending more of my time (and money) at Antietam where the local township has had the good sense to see what a treasure they have and to preserve it.

I guess I do not understand the outrage here. Without being disrespectful, this is private property. To deny the right to use that in a reasonable way would be an unconstitutional "taking" of the rights of property owners. Last fall, there was the issue of oil/mineral leases contemplated next to parks in Utah. Those bothered me a lot more than the current dispute. In Utah, people go to the parks for the views, which would be lost. Here, there are no views lost; the battlefield still serves its purpose as a place to respect and honor sacrifices made by prior generations.
The Walmart hatred is off base. If anything, Walmart has been nicer than they needed to be in many ways, far nicer than almost every other big box store. I have not heard of others donating millions of acres of land for preservation like Walmart has.
If you want to discuss disrespect, consider the treatment of my ancestors. The land containing the pioneer cemetary in or near Junction City, Oregon has been purchased by an energy company, which relocated the graves and you now need special permission to go there. Once there, you encounter an overgrown jumble where you have to kick the grass and weeds aside to try to read the markers.
The Battlefield is intact. The constitution has been honored.

County governments are allowed to take the size of a development into consideration. Some projects are simply out of scale for the neighborhood. That's what the permit process is supposed to be for.

Here's the location. Most of what's currently there seems pretty low key right now. From what I understand, part of the outrage isn't that the current boundaries of the NPS land will be disturbed, but that the battleground as a whole spilled out beyond the NPS boundaries and into what's now the proposed Wal-Mart site.


Here's the Park Superintendent with a map. You can see that the green areas are the actual park boundaries, while the historic battlefield looks to be far beyond just the park boundaries. I'm guessing that there's hope that some day the NPS boundaries can be extended.


Right now there's a fight over a proposed Wal-Mart in a town near where I live. While it would be a huge revenue source for the city, they're hesitant to approve it because of how it might change the city's character and impact traffic in a tight area.

To KevinM:

Actually, there would be views lost. The Walmart would impede the view from Ellwood, the Union HQ during the battle. Not to mention the light pollution at night and the increase in traffic noise.

I understand your frustration at the relocation of a gravesite in Oregon. I feel the same way about this site. You should realize that the area where the Walmart is going to be built is also a gravesite. There were hundreds, if not thousands of missing soldiers in the battle, laid to rest in unmarked graves. Who's to say that some are not resting where the development will go. y_p_w is correct in saying that the actual battlefield extends far beyond the park boundaries.

If it were a simple land sale, between buyer and seller, I would go with all the landowner-rights arguments. But this is *not* a simple sale - a special use permit had to be granted. This development is way out of proportion with the existing community and the character of the historical site. And as far as the "taking" of private land, what about the concept of "eminent domain"? Many times I've seen private land taken from the owners so that the town can build commercial space. The truth of the matter is private ownership is treated as an elastic concept - your town WILL take your land if it is convenient and profitable to do so! We shouldn't blame Walmart - at least they're honest about their motives. The Orange County Board of Supervisors have sold their collective souls and our history for tax revenue. Unbelievable! I wonder how it feels to be morally bankrupt.

Many of you folks are used to wide-open Western spaces. It helps to understand the pressure of high density. I'm sorry to have to tell you the only truly open spaces in Virginia are those designated AS parkland. I've lived in Virginia for 30 years and am sad to say I have seen what's left of our open spaces shrink year by year so that greedy developers can make a buck. Unbridled sprawl has taken its toll - the air is bad, the water tastes like chlorinated plastic, and the acreage recently taken (by eminent domain, hello) for highway expansion is truly sinful. And all for money.

RE: reference to Jimi W. "This is not a government problem"... Wrong! Even if the land was owned and deemed "National Parks" or "National forest" it can still and will be sold if "the money is right" Case and point: Tonto National forest in Arizona. Highway 87 north from Mesa, AZ approximatley 17 miles N.E., you travel through the Fort McDowell Indian reservation and the next sign you came upon was the "Welcome to Tonto National forest"... Not any more. The sign is gone and now... There are several roads cut through the desert wilderness that traverse the highway going up to prime real estate and upscale stucco homes dotting the once majestic mountain views of Four Peaks mountain. Just another one of those "a good deal for everyone" that MOST everyone looses and a developer capitalizes on the opportuntiy. Though not really his fault as we the public must have been a sleep at the wheel. Where were the tree hugger's when we needed them... Oh thats right it's the desert, no trees, just 100 year old saguaro cactus.

CivilWarBuff, you might be more acquainted with the protocol - what would happen if Walmart's builders happen to bulldoze up some buried relics? Would there be a review? Would it halt the project? Would it become an "archaeological site"? Seems to me this could be a real possibility.

I'd note that the Forest Service is under the purview of the Dept of Agriculture and has a far different mandate than the NPS. Their mandate is more in line with the Bureau of Land Management in regards to commercial uses such as timber harvesting, mining, or collecting. Sometimes they strike a balance with some areas under their jurisdiction as designated wilderness. Many of the prime ski resorts in the US are on Forest Service land and numerous pricey vacation homes have been built with long term leases on the plots.

There's probably no place in the country where the FS has such a direct impact on residential communities as the Lake Tahoe Basin. They own plots of land between homes and own much of the land private residences sit on. Still - the Lake Tahoe area is one where they have pretty much stopped any commercial timber harvesting altogether. My understanding is that there were attempts to declare the area a National Park in the early 20th century, only to be shot down in Congress. This was long before the large scale development we see in the are today - as there were some vacation homes as well as logging companies that were running out of trees to cut.

Do you still want to shop at Wal-Mart? I'll think twice before I do! In my area there are many alternatives. How can these government officials vote to build on this historically significant land? Have they no pride? Have they no patriotic feelings? Their action is very disturbing.

If this was just a "private transaction between a buyer and a seller", why did the Orange County Board of Supervisors have to vote on it??

Isn't anything in this country worth protecting anymore??? What, we have a miserable 1% of all land protected & we tell the Amazon indians to stop cutting down the rainforest and be more responsible - oh wait a minute we do a much worse job of protecting anything in this country. Poor Teddy Roosevelt is probably turning over in his grave in disgust!

While it was a private transaction, local zoning regs came into play that the board had to address, and apparently one required approval of a variance to allow such a large supercenter.

Does anyone in America care about anything but money. Cash for clunkers. First time homeowners. Bail out the banks. Too big to fail. National health care..... I think soon I should be able to make a living by just selling my vote to the highest bidder!

To 'I feel your pain!' - in this case it was NOT government owned land nor part of any "National Parks" or "National forest." And Anonymous - the county voted to let WalMart build there, not to allow the land sale - granted Walmart would not have bought the land without the approval to build - but, this is AMERICA. If Walmart didn't think they would make money there, they wouldn't want the land - I would bet that it IS a good place for a Walmart...
I am not a fan of the walmartization of the nation or the dwindling of places of honor - the government COULD have stepped in and offered more money and BOUGHT the land, they didn't. But to just arbitrarily say that Joe can't build here because Mary doesn't like it ???? I think city/county councils abuse their rights as it is - less government is better government (that was Reagan, not me).

So, if your neighbor sells his land next door and the new owner is going to build a sewage treatment plant, that is OK? Its a private deal after all!

From my understanding of Wal-Mart's business practices, they will often scoop up land before they have any assurance that they can build on the site. That's usually contingent on a good price.

This was the store site I was talking about, in Hercules, California. The city had originally setup up this shopping area for a 64,000 square foot building, but Wal-Mart's initial plans were for a 143,000 square foot store. The city even tried using eminent domain to buy the land back for $16.6M, but apparently that got overturned by a judge; it was something about the city not demonstrating that it could achieve higher tax revenues which is key to a city being able to enforce eminent domain. As of now I don't think ground has broken. I haven't really heard anything recently other than it being stuck in court.



They're fighting really hard with this one. Even though here's a case where the city and the local population have made it clear they don't want it, I think they're spending all this money on legal fees simply because they don't want to be told they can't build it.

"So, if your neighbor sells his land next door and the new owner is going to build a sewage treatment plant, that is OK? Its a private deal after all!"

You bet it's ok if the buyer is the government (as many sewage treatment plants are government utility monopolies) and forced your neighbor to sell his land using eminent domain.

Don't forget, People, the government claims a monopoly of the use of violence. Your possessions, your land, your life are property of the State and can be taken--through violent force--at anytime to serve to the State's whims.

How appropriate this topic is related to the "Civil" War, just one example of the State's claim on its citizens' lives.

I certainly sympathize with not wanting to lose historic areas, but my question is, if it was part of the battlefield, why was this property never made a part of the park site? If so many people didn't want it developed, why not band together and purchase the site from the owner and donate it to the park? It seems very easy to villanize Wal-Mart and say "how dare they develop here" when in fact, they have just as much right to build as anyone else. I read an earlier article on this on a news website, and it mentioned that many in the county spoke in front of the officials in favor of the Wal-Mart.

Wow, this is a good debate! [On another board, I would be clicking the popcorn-eating smilie icon at this point].
Well spoken on all sides, but I stick to my opinions posted earlier.

WOW...someone else with some brains and thoughts.. I totally agree with you. Greed and power and patriotism is dead. No respect for this country and its past and heritage. Shame on you Virginia for letting something like this surface much less be approved.

Hi Bat,

I'm not sure of the legal protocol--I think it depends on if what they find are human remains or just artifacts. If they found human remains, that would definitely put a temporary halt on the project until they could be studied and removed, but I don't think it would be a permanent stop. As for artifacts, I know of an instance near Harpers Ferry where a developer was digging a trench and dug up some artifacts--they were removed (and probably sold) but no archaeological study was done--they just kept right on digging.

Ah, but what about good ole Kelo vs. New London , 2005?

Supreme Court upheld the forced sale of private property as emminent domain even if the resulting development was not for public use.



Why can local government seize private property to help the profitability of corporations, but not to preserve areas of concern to the public? If emminent domain can be streched to help housing developments, why can it not it be used help a battlefield where thousands of Americans died in our own country? I guess this is not a good enough "public puropose"

Too often it's all about business, LASMHHTLIM.