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Community updated on battlefield status

By Staff, 08/24/17 2:28 PM

BATTLEFIELD 010

PRESCOTT – Friends of the Nevada County Battlefields are getting closer to reaching the goal to purchase more than 800 acres of the Prairie D’Ane Civil War Battlefield.

This was told to a packed house at the Nevada County Library Thursday morning.

Mark Christ, communication outreach director of the Arkansas Historical Preservation Program, gave a history of the preservation of Civil War battlefields, which started in 1989 when Congress stepped in to prevent the sale of a battlefield as a mall was going to be built on it. Congress created the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission, charging it to assess the conditions of 384 battlefields in the United States, including 17 in Arkansas. This information went into a report which also assessed the importance of each battlefield during the Civil War and their conditions.

Initially, Christ said, the AHP wanted to include Louisiana and have the entire Red River Campaign nominated, but this wasn’t possible, but the battlefields involved in the Camden Expedition were nominated to become National Historic Landmarks, including the three in Nevada County – Elkins Ferry, Prairie D’Ane and Moscow, though Prairie D’Ane and Moscow are lumped together.

Nevada County began trying to purchase the Elkins Ferry site, but it was in the hands of Hancock Properties and the owner wasn’t willing to break up the property and sell the battle site only, until 2010. Almost $1 million was raised, Christ said, to buy almost 450 acres. At the deed passing ceremony in 2015, Dr. Pat Hale offered to sell 880 acres of the Prairie D’Ane battlefield. The land was appraised for $1.4 million, with Dr. Hale “donating” $500,000, which left $900,000 to be raised to make the purchase. The Battlefield Protection Program paid half of the appraised value, or $700,000, which dropped the amount needed to buy the land to $200,000. At this time, he continued, slightly more than $30,000 is needed to close the deal, and this should be done by the end of the year.

With Prairie D’Ane being literally located just off I-30, he said, it’s an ideal location for a visitor’s center or Civil War museum, which would attract tourists. He told those gathered an interpretive plan was done of the Clark and Nevada county locations.

Once the land is acquired, Christ said, an archaeological study will need to be done. “There is a real economic development opportunity in these battlefields with heritage tourism. This could have a major economic impact on the local economy.”

Fiona Taylor, who worked with Southern Arkansas University on the archaeological study at Elkins Ferry, brought artifacts found from the site and talked about how a metal detector survey was done of the more than 400 acres last year. The idea was to find out about troop movements and defining where battles took place. She said there was a rumor of an abandoned wagon and, while wagon parts were found, they couldn’t be proven to be army issue.

The dig also searched for Native American artifacts. Most of what was found, Taylor said, was Civil War related. The actual location of the battlefield was located, and it’s not in the portion purchased, but is south of there. This land, she added, could be bought later on. Items found included an old bayonet, a six-pound canon ball and several rifle balls.

Peggy Lloyd, president of the scenic byway committee, said the National Scenic Byway Commission no longer exists, but there is an Arkansas Scenic Byway Commission. The group she’s with represents 10 counties in Arkansas involved in what became the Camden Expedition. Those counties are: Pulaski, Saline, Hot Spring, Clark, Nevada, Ouachita, Cleveland, Dallas and Grant. The group has talked with officials with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department about the route, which is being mapped.

As much as possible, she said, the driving tour route will stay on paved roads, but this won’t always happen as some of the sites are located off gravel county roads. Lloyd added, the Choctaw Nation is interested in the plan because members of its tribe fought in the Moscow rearguard battle.

Lloyd changed topics and told the group another grant has been approved to repair and clean tombstones at Moscow Cemetery. This, she said, will be spread over a three-year period due to financial caps on the grants. Work on the renovations will begin in late September, with plans to clean 75 stones.

Spurs, she said, can shoot off the scenic byway and go to other historic sites, such as Washington, the Arkansas state capital during the war, Fulton, where defensive forts still exist from the time period and Poison Springs, along with the WW II proving grounds.

During a question and answer session, Christ said the interpretive plan has several layers and it would probably be best to start with Prairie D’Ane because of its location, which would be a strong draw for tourists. He told the audience this site could be ready for visitors within a year.

He added, his agency holds easements rights on both battlefields and will be working with Nevada County on developing the sites. Other potential partners could also help, he said, such as the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and various foundations. The replica of a canon, he continued, will plan a big part in getting people to stop. The interpretive plans call for a visitor’s center on site, but the Depot and Museum could serve as such in the interim.

Christ said a study is being done for a state Civil War Museum and he will be recommending it be located in Prescott at Prairie D’Ane. He pointed out 26,000 people travel I-30 through Nevada County daily, and if 1 percent stopped and visited these battlefields, it would be a major industry for the area.

Mary Godwin, executive director of the Prescott-Nevada County Economic Development Office, said she hopes everyone realizes the potential these sites hold for the region as they could make Prescott a destination for people to visit.

 

 

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