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DHR Easement Protects New Culpeper Battlefields State Park

Photograph by Wendy Musumeci/DHR, June 8, 2024.
Photograph by Wendy Musumeci/DHR, June 8, 2024.

The new state park encompasses land that bore witness to six Civil War battles as well as the struggles, joys, and turmoil of many Virginians.

By Wendy Musumeci | DHR Easement Program Coordinator

In March 2008, I made the first of what would become many site visits to the Fleetwood Heights portion of the Brandy Station Battlefield in Culpeper County. On that beautiful spring day, I tenuously walked along the shoulder of U.S. Routes 15 and 29 to photograph a Virginia Highway Marker and sweeping views of the pastures and cropland that DHR was about to place under historic preservation and open-space easement. Although tractor trailers and cars whizzed past me, the essential rural and agricultural character of the land was not diminished. The importance of this place--not only as the site of multiple Civil War battles, but also as the home and resting place of many different people--struck me in a profound way. Since starting my job as DHR’s Easement Program Coordinator in 2006, I had visited various historic properties throughout the Commonwealth. But this land was unique, not for what was built upon it, but for its landscape and the stories that it held.

Photograph by Wendy Musumeci/DHR, March 6, 2008.
Photograph by Wendy Musumeci/DHR, March 6, 2008.

Over 15 years later, I returned to Fleetwood Hill on June 8, 2024, to attend the dedication ceremony for the new Culpeper Battlefields State Park. Creation of the park was approved by the Virginia General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Glenn Youngkin in June 2022. Upon completion, visitors to the park will experience more than 2,200 acres of land that witnessed the Civil War Battles of Cedar Mountain (1862), Rappahannock Station I (1862), Rappahannock Station II (1863), Kelly’s Ford (1863), Brandy Station (1863), and the Hansbrough Ridge Winter Encampment (1863-1864). The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) recently concluded Phase I of the park’s development, acquiring and opening roughly 263 acres of land to the public. Of this, 168.07 acres will remain protected by a perpetual historic preservation and open-space easement co-held by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources (BHR) and DCR. Easements held by the BHR are administered by DHR staff. The BHR previously held six separate easements on this land, recorded between 2007 and 2018. As part of DCR’s Phase I acquisition for the park, the six easements were consolidated and amended into one jointly held easement. A similar framework is anticipated for each future phase of the park.

Ribbon cutting at Culpeper Battlefields State Park 2024
Governor Glenn Youngkin and other stakeholders take part in the grand opening event of the new Culpeper Battlefields State Park. Photograph taken June 8, 2024/Courtesy of The Office of Governor Glenn Youngkin.

Listening to the speakers at the dedication ceremony, I was reminded of our collective responsibility to protect historic sites, places, and spaces. Conservation of this landscape at Brandy Station represents decades of efforts by individuals, historians, local and national nonprofit organizations, friends’ groups, and county, state, and federal agencies. Each easement DHR placed on portions of the property required hours of due diligence and negotiation with landowners and grant funders. Additionally, as administrator of the easements, DHR staff complete annual monitoring visits, conduct archaeological survey, review scopes of work for battlefield landscape rehabilitation, provide technical assistance, and steward the property’s historic resources that embody all periods of Virginia history.

For the past few years, my colleagues and I worked closely with DCR as they developed Virginia’s 43rd state park. Participating in this process offered us a unique opportunity to partner with a sister conservation agency in the Natural and Historic Resources Secretariat and assist with a complex real estate acquisition. Since 2006, the BHR has been the primary public body holder of historic preservation easements on Virginia battlefields. Today, DHR administers perpetual easements on 5,300 acres of land in Culpeper County, the majority of which is associated with Civil War battles and sites. Through the consolidated and amended easement recorded as part of DCR’s Phase I transaction, we have formed a partnership with DCR that will guide future stewardship of the park’s many historic and archaeological resources.  We are excited to adopt a new model and share easement stewardship responsibility with DCR, as preservation is truly an organic endeavor that does not stop with acquisition.

As I reflect on all the times I have walked over this land, I encourage you to visit Culpeper Battlefields State Park. June is nationally recognized as #GreatOutdoorsMonth and the perfect opportunity to #GetOutside and visit the park! Once you are there, look beyond the grassy slopes, the rows of crops, and the fences that secure cattle grazing in pastures. Read the interpretative markers that explain the Civil War period history of the surrounding land. Look through the viewing scope toward the expanse of Fleetwood Hill and remember the large cavalry battle that raged on and around this tactically important landform. Hear the clink of sabers and pounding of horse’s hooves that foretold the death of many soldiers on this very hill on June 9, 1863. Try to envision the frame house and outbuildings that stood on this knoll at that time of the battle. Picture the Army of the Potomac’s military encampment of November-December 1863, rows upon rows of frame tents, campfires, men cooking and eating together. Consider all the individuals that have walked and toiled over, loved, and lived on this land. Observe the gravestones beneath a small stand of trees that mark the lives of Calhoun Barbour (1825-1848) and Montague Thompson (d. June 20, 1853, aged 5 months). Recall the Enslaved men, women, and children who were forced to work in these fields as the summer sun beat down. Imagine the Indigenous peoples who used the stream known as Flat Run as a source for drinking water and sustenance. Walk along the mown grass trail and appreciate the open space. Think of everyone who has touched this land, bringing their struggles, joys, and turmoil with them. Culpeper Battlefields State Park is a place of conflict and suffering, a place of recognition and remembrance, a place of storytelling and education, a place of outdoor exploration, a place of environmental stewardship rich with natural, archaeological, and cultural resources. May it inspire us to learn from one another as we move forward.

For more information about Great Outdoors Month check out Our Virginia Outdoors or Virginia DCR.

Culpeper Battlefields State Park Governor Youngkin with DHR staff
DHR’s Director and several Easement Program staff members attended a dedication ceremony on June 8th to celebrate the opening of Culpeper Battlefields State Park. Pictured from left to right: Ken Rutherford (Board of Historic Resources Member), Julie Langan (DHR Director), Wendy Musumeci (DHR Easement Program Coordinator), Governor Glenn Younkin, Megan Melinat (DHR Preservation Incentives Division Director), and Brad McDonald (DHR Archaeologist-Easement Stewardship Coordinator). Photograph taken June 8, 2024/Courtesy of The Office of Governor Glenn Youngkin.

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