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Posted September 26, 2011 | comments Leave a comment

Preservation plan unveiled

Group announces restoration strategy at Hackwood House

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- When Bill and Claudia Britz's neighbors moved in, the normal worries about middle-of-the-night rowdiness and cleanliness were absent.

The noise, in fact, was never a concern. The upkeep of the property was only a matter of time. The clock started ticking on Saturday.

The Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation unveiled a three-year plan to restore about 570 acres of the Third Winchester Battlefield and turn it into an educational resource for the public, fit with interpretative trails as well as Civil War-era farm use.

Several speakers announced the plan to an invitation-only crowd on the back porch of the Britz's 1777 house, known as the Hackwood House, a private setting on 23 acres of a separate portion of the battlefield.

"I was raised in northern Illinois, so I thought the Civil War was already over," said Britz, who has restored three other houses and moved to Winchester 12 years ago. "We have become Civil War buffs."

Many more will have the opportunity if all goes according to plan at Third Winchester.

That goal is the largest undertaking the foundation has taken on by itself, executive director Denman Zirkle said. The target figure is around $1.47 million -- $750,000 to complete restoration of all battlefield properties and install interpretative trails and markers; $420,000 to permanently secure the property; and $300,000 for a maintenance fund.

Zirkle said the idea is to turn the battlefield into the "pride of every citizen" in the area.
"It's our responsibility to do it," he said.

Among the speakers was historian Jeff Wert, who rattled off a brief history lesson and spoke from his 33-year experience teaching high school students to note that what interests the next generation most is the human tales of the war, and not so much details of tactics and strategy.

"It's so important that these human stories are transferred," he said.

Third Winchester is worth the effort for many reasons, said Nicholas Picerno, the outgoing chairman of the foundation's board of directors. It was the largest of the battles in the Shenandoah Valley, with 8,600 out of 54,000 men who fought dying, he said.

Among the participants were future presidents Rutherford Hayes and William McKinley.

"There is something that remains here," Picerno said.

The plan is to be complete in time for the 150th anniversary of the battle on Sept. 14, 2014. An advisory committee has been formed, and some work has begun -- an archaeological field study and the preparation of an historic landscape analysis and restoration design. Among the final pieces to be complete in 2014 is a "ghost structure" to mark the Huntsberry House, which is an outline of a building that no longer exists.

While officials pictured such things Saturday, they absorbed the current beauty around them. Britz's property includes a 1775 guest house, restored barn and above-ground pool. When he needs a vacation from work, he goes home, he said. Some battlefield visitors swing by, too, but they are not supposed to; it's private property.

In a few years, those history seekers will have more to occupy their time.

"It's a big project," Zirkle said. "It can be done. I'm convinced of it."

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