Pennsylvanian works to save historic war site

WASHINGTON (AP) — Patrick McGuigan, who manages a Pennsylvania town where British and American troops clashed 221 years ago, is waging a war of his own.
He has 18 months to raise $2.5 million to buy the Paoli Battlefield, a Revolutionary War site in Malvern, Pa., and save it from the spread of concrete and asphalt that has claimed other historical sites just like it.
“If the sale doesn’t go through, we’re going to lose a part of our history forever,” McGuigan said. “You get one clean shot at something like this. Otherwise, you’ll spend the next 10 centuries regretting that it wasn’t done.”
Interest in battlefield preservation rebounded after Congress spent more than $118 million in 1988 to protect 558 acres of Civil War grounds in Manassas, Va., from being turned into a shopping center.
The National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program was created as a result, and Congress directed it in 1996 to survey Revolutionary War sites for their historic significance. The study has not been completed.
“There are a lot of (Revolutionary War) battlefields up north that have been developed,” said Tanya Gossett, the service’s preservation planner. “As each year goes by, we lose a little bit more.”
The Park Service said 384 Civil War sites remain fully or partly intact, but far fewer Revolutionary War grounds exist because many of those battles were fought in Northeastern areas that have been heavily developed. The agency has no official count of Revolutionary War sites, but efforts to preserve them are ongoing.
ù In North Carolina, an apartment complex recently sprung up near the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park on a field crossed by British soldiers, said park historian Thomas Baker. Officials are now trying to encourage civic leaders to buy historic lands as they become available.
ù The city of Peekskill, N.Y., has delayed a condominium project while it gathers archeological evidence on the historic significance of a site there.
ù A New Jersey community group received more than $4 million in state grants and bonds to buy some 300 acres of land where the June 28, 1778 Battle of Monmouth was fought. The parcels sit on the edge of New York’s suburban sprawl.
“The pressure of development is so great that in some instances you literally have to fight to preserve the land,” said Richard Walling, president of Friends of Monmouth Battlefield.
The Pennsylvania site, where more than 50 Americans died in September 1777 while trying in vain to prevent British capture of nearby Philadelphia, has been owned by the Malvern Preparatory School for 75 years. The private school wants to sell the 40-acre tract of woods and farmland and use the proceeds to expand its endowment, but officials agreed to give the community a chance to buy the land before offering it to developers.
McGuigan’s group, the Paoli Battlefield Preservation Fund, has raised more than $400,000 since April 1997 from the county, businesses and individuals, including $500 from schoolchildren during a fund-raiser. During ceremonies Saturday, McGuigan made a second payment of $99,000 from the preservation fund to supplement an earlier $1,000 payment.
Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., whose district includes the battlefield, is pushing legislation to authorize federal funding and make it part of the nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park. He said the site deserves federal protection because “that war was one of the most important wars in the history of our country.”
McGuigan said he was hopeful he could raise the remaining $2.1 million from corporations and foundations — even if Congress doesn’t intercede.