County adds, expands historic parks for Civil War sesquicentennial anniversary

Two historical parks would be expanded and a new park will be developed if the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, during two public hearings in August, deems them consistent with the comprehensive plan. Referred to as substantial accord, the approval process is relatively painless unless someone objects, requiring the government bodies to further consider the impacts of the new or expanded parks.

George Fickett, archivist for Chesterfield and a major advocate for preserving Civil War sites said, “Thirty-five years ago no one knew these Civil War sites existed.”

Mr. Fickett said many of these important batteries and rifle pit locations have gone by way of bulldozer blades for subdivisions. Fickett has been working diligently to preserve what Civil War history that is left. Currently there are 11-Civil War sites that have been saved.

The new location and expansions are Branches Bluff, Battery Dantzler and the Howlett Line Park.

Branches Bluff Civil War Park, considered part of the 39th Illinois Union Army Action, would be a new park located on a cul-de-sac at the rear of the Branches Bluff development.

Stuart Connick, Jr., director of planning and construction services, for the Park and Rec department said, at this time the road doesn’t reach the proposed Branches Bluff park site. But according to Finer Homes, the developer that donated the land, the 2.5 acre park, which contains about 120 feet of earthworks, could be accessible for April 2014; the 150 anniversary of the Civil War in Chesterfield. The important thing, he said is to save this Civil War site.

The earthworks, rifle pits dug by the troops for protection, were at the right (west) end of the Confederate Army outer line of the defenses at Drewry’s Bluff. As the Federals made three failed attempts to break the Confederate line they called a retreat. The 39th Illinois didn’t get the message and charged north and were surrounded and defeated by the Confederates dug in at Branches Bluff.

The park will consist of an interpretive trail that would parallel the earthworks with appropriate signage, and will loop back around to the cul-de-sac.

Two residents of the Branches Bluff neighborhood attended a community meeting, last week, on the park and the only concern was traffic.

“My kids said ‘Wow we live by a Civil War site’ so, from an interest standpoint, it’s really neat,” said Robert Leinberger, Jr., “Would there be any kind of extra traffic flow or something like Petersburg Battlefield has.”

Mike Golden, director of Parks and Rec said that the park will have a minimum of traffic; just a few cars occasionally, although there would be a little more traffic during the county’s Civil War anniversary next year.

While the Branches Bluff location will be a new special purpose park, Parks and Rec will be adding acreage to the Battery Dantzler and Howlett Line Civil War parks. There would be 11.5 acres added to the Howlett Line Park, which would include off-street parking at the end of Wood Duck Lane and roadside parking along Howlett Line Drive.

The current park site includes a substantial amount of earthworks and a trail beginning at Howlett Line Drive. The added acreage would continue the interpretive trail and would wind along the works; cross a section of wetlands with a bridge and continue to parking at Wood Duck Lane. Interpretive signage would be posted along the trail.

“What you have on this site is a piece of Union line that had started at Battery Dantzler on the James and crossed the Bermuda peninsula and ended at the confluence of Swift Creek and the Appomattox River,” Fickett said. “It was three-and-a-half miles long and at one point there were 15,000 Confederate troops occupying that line.” The Confederates took the line on May 20, 1864.

Area residents were concerned with upkeep. How would Parks and Rec maintain the new acreage while the current park was unkempt? Golden indicated that the park would be maintained much the same as some of the county’s larger parks. Fickett added that volunteers would maintain the park once it was developed. “We can get volunteers like Boy Scouts working on their Eagle and so on that will volunteer to do cleanup and so on.”

The community meeting for Howlett Line and Battery Dantzler were held at Marguerite Christian Elementary School. When the Howlett portion of the presentation was complete, most of the 20 or so in attendance, left, leaving only a few to hear the Battery Dantzler presentation.

The current Battery Dantzler Park is only about 2.25 acres and the access to the earthwork batteries is about 20 foot wide. The park takes in only the first two batteries. The added 15-acre parcel will make it possible to extend the trail; winding down along the earthworks that once held at least five canons and then loop back to the existing trail.

Like Howlett Line and Branches Bluff parks, the trails will feature interpretive signage.

All of the parks are relatively low maintenance; no restrooms or other amenities will be built at the parks.

The Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors are scheduled to review the substantial accord at public hearings on August 20 (Planning Commission) and August 28 (Board of Supervisors).


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