Shepherdstown Battlefield easement placed on 24 acres of Potomac River Bluff
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Although the process has been slow, the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission continues to add to the land under a conservation easement, as it works toward getting all of the land involved in Shepherdstown Battlefield under a protected status.
On July 31, 24 acres of Potomac River Bluff were placed under a conservation easement with the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle, after a house from the ’60s on the property was torn down. Conservation easements already protect 26 acres of Historic Landmarks Commission land upstream, at the intersection of Trough and River Roads, where both armies had crossed the Potomac at Packhorse Ford and where the heaviest fighting occurred. In addition, the Land Trust of the Eastern Panhandle and the Jefferson County Farmland Protection Board hold easements on 57 acres of privately owned land further up Trough Road, protecting it from development.
According to Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission Chair Martin Burke, the commission has been working since 2011 to place easements on the battlefield, with the assistance of the American Battlefield Trust and the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program.
“We would like to turn it over to Antietam Battlefield, if they ever expand their boundaries,” Burke said. “Our actions, down on River and Trough roads, are all in preparation for a boundary expansion of Antietam Battlefield. We hope it will happen, but it’s a two-step process.
“First, there needs to be an act by U.S. Congress, that officially expands the battlefield boundaries. There’s about 500 acres in the battlefield expansion,” Burke said. “Could the Battle of Shepherdstown be a stand-alone park? The answer to that was ‘no.’ We have always felt that Shepherdstown Battlefield should be an expansion of Antietam, because of its geographic location, right across the bridge.
“There are a number of properties already under easement, and we continue to work with the other landowners in the area,” Burke said, mentioning easements are selling property interest, so houses can’t be built on the property. “There are a total of seven, eight landowners who I’m just about to call them, to see if they vociferously object to park expansion. That’s really what’s needed next, before calling on Senator Manchin, Representative Mooney and Senator Shelley Moore Capito.”
The easements and potential expansion of Antietam Battlefield will protect the legacy of the land constituting Confederate General A.P. Hill’s right flank in the 1862 Battle of Shepherdstown, where Hill’s forces dislodged Union troops who had pursued General Lee’s army after the Battle of Antietam. But an additional benefit of the conservation easements, is the impact the easement will have on the health of the Potomac River, according to West Virginia Rivers Coalition Eastern Panhandle Field Coordinator Tanner Haid.
“What happens on our land has a major impact on the quality of our water, and in particular our drinking water. There’s well over 100,000 West Virginians who depend on water from local rivers and streams — it’s a sizable population who require clean water,” Haid said. “We’re working with our partners here in Jefferson and Berkeley counties to further that initiative of conserving land.
“If we can protect land around our streams and around our rivers and our water intakes, and keep these areas with less pollution associated with them, keep that out of our rivers and streams, that’s inherently going to make our drinking water, when it comes out of our rivers and streams, cleaner,” Haid said. “This demonstrates the good work being done in Shepherdstown and West Virginia, to keep our streams clean, along with protecting the land’s historical significance.”