Local history buffs are well aware that Holy Cross Abbey, built on the Cool Spring property, stands on the site of the Battle of Cool Spring (18 July, 1864). They are also aware that Federal troops were encamped across the River within the survey of Judge Parker’s House.
Local residents would be aware of recent occupations of the property–and controversies surrounding the land’s use. The former golf course was recently proposed new life as a recreational park that would preserve the site as a Civil War Battlefield. That proposal presumed a considerable and annual financial investment on the part of Clarke County; residents of Shenandoah Retreat were also concerned about their privacy and security with such a neighbor. That plan was voted down. But a very happy development resulted from Shenandoah University’s interest in the property. This past Wednesday, 23 April, the property was entrusted to the responsibility of Shenandoah University. It will be accessible as a recreational area–but only from dusk to dawn–but will primarily function as an educational, historical and environmental site.
I found it very interesting that at this Preservation Ceremony, the historic significance of the battlefield was identified as a tragic episode of our history. As one of the guests, a native Virginia, said to me, “There were no winners in that War.” The words differed from speaker to speaker but the message was clear: by preserving this site as historical we are owning the pain of our past, an education in itself!
Kathleen Kilpatrick, the Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, underlined the co-operation, the partnership, involved in a project of this nature. Her Department is constituted to support, encourage and foster such projects which spells out partnership, the voluntary co-operation of all parties involved. It is not a question of legislating or enforcing such efforts and Clarke County has an impressive record for preserving, through easement, such preservation of our resources. The vision and imagination on the part of the University is an exciting example of what can happen partnership really occurs.
During the “ceremonial preservation commitment” when the responsible parties signed an over-sized version of the agreement with the Civil War Trust, representatives from The Shenandoah Conservatory Choir sang “Oh, Shenandoah”. The dynamic President of the University, Tracy Fitzsimmons described this as a dream come true: Shenandoah students singing “Shenandoah” on the banks of the Shenandoah. I know it is part of her vision that their students come to know and cherish the unique culture of this location.
Was that one of the bald eagles, who nest in the sycamore’s on the Abbey’s side of the River, circling overhead as the Choir sang? An eagle had indeed been cited before the ceremonies began. But that presence, that natural benediction on the proceedings, is a symptom of the healing of these shores. One of the guests did not hesitate to point out to me that nature was already re-asserting herself over the once chemically-treated and manicured golf course lawns. The land will gradually–and intentionally–be restored to it’s bio-diversity and natural balance.
Across the River, we at the Abbey are proceeding step by step through the negotiations will will one day preserve our part of the battlefield in easement and, in another project, protect the two streams feeding into the River. With our new neighbor across the way, a significant track of land along the River will be green space for native species of flora and fauna and for future generations. May they truly learn the value of our God-given creation and carry this endeavor forward.