Preservation News: South Mountain Battlefield at the Center of Controversial Proposal

On September 14, 1862, portions of the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia dueled for possession of three passes through South Mountain in Maryland. A Federal victory, both sides together lost around five thousand casualties in the battle that precluded the single bloodiest day in American history: Antietam. Today, the battlefield sits on land owned and preserved by the State of Maryland. However, that may change.

The War Correspondents Memorial sits in Crampton’s Gap at Gathland State Park and South Mountain Battlefield. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

The Washington Redskins of the National Football League hope to build a new stadium in Prince George’s County, Maryland along the Potomac River. Sadly, the land they hope to develop is currently under control of the U.S. Department of the Interior as Oxon Cove Park.  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Oxon Cove not only includes the early-19th century Flemish and Italianate Mount Welby home, it also has many historic structures and equipment that tell the history of farming and medicine in the United States. The park is also notable for its natural resources and wildlife.

The trade deal, nonbinding, between Maryland and the U.S. Department of the Interior began in September 2017. If Congress approves and the Department of the Interior trades the tract of land to the State of Maryland for the Washington Redskins, the state’s Department of Natural Resources will then donate South Mountain State Battlefield and Gathland State Park to the National Park Service. The battlefield and park are roughly 2,500 acres in total.

Oxon Cove Park and Farm in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Courtesy of the Washington Post.

Proponents of the exchange believe the state would increase revenue and attract new businesses and communities. According to Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, developing Oxon Cove “has limitless potential, including family attractions, new homes, retail, and businesses that will bring visitors and investment to the state while enriching the surrounding communities.”

However, there are many opponents to this deal, particularly in the name of historic preservation. Audrey Scanlan-Teller of the Central Maryland Heritage League said, “South Mountain battlefield will be mothballed by the NPS because of lack of funding, leaving the story of the battle resulting in more than 5,000 casualties untold, and all the state and private funding and untold hours of effort that went into making the park what it is today will be lost … Maryland already has two NFL stadiums. Oxon Cove Park is a green oasis and farm museum in an area already bursting with development. It is a limited resource that should be preserved and enjoyed by citizens.”

We will continue to monitor the situation and keep you all updated. However, in the meantime, what do you think about this proposed trade?

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