A desire to preserve a 175-mile corridor of historic sites may serve as a catalyst to protect open space and improve land use planning throughout a large chunk of the Bay watershed’s rapidly developing Piedmont region.

In June, the National Trust for Historic Preservation called the corridor, dubbed “The Journey Through Hallowed Ground,” as one of its 11 most endangered historic places largely because of sprawling development overtaking the countryside between Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Virginia.

But the nonprofit organization also said that a public-private collaboration would work to improve the protection of historic areas and rein in development along the corridor, which generally runs along Route 15 and also contains some of the region’s prime farmland.

“There aren’t many places that encompass a greater variety of significant historic sites—from Founding Fathers’ homes to Civil War battlefields—or that face a more serious range of threats,” said Richard Moe, president of the trust. “Without comprehensive planning to manage sprawl and encourage appropriate growth, much of the region’s heritage could be paved over.”

The corridor, once a trading route for Susquehannock and Iroquois tribes, includes six U.S. presidential homes, the largest collection of Civil War battlefields in the nation, 13 National Historic Landmarks, two National Heritage Areas, 13 National Park units, 73 National Historic Districts/Places covering more than 1 million acres, scenic rivers and landscapes, and other historic and cultural sites.

A new organization, also called the Journey Through Hallowed Grounds, is forming as a consortium of national historians, business leaders, politicians, preservationists and environmental groups who want to find ways to balance new development with historic preservation in the region in ways that protect historic, scenic and natural legacies.

Some of the groups objectives:

  • receive congressional designation as a National Heritage Area;
  • become established as a National Scenic Byway between Gettysburg and Monticello;
  • promote heritage tourism in the corridor;
  • establish programs to help teachers along the corridor learn about, and use, the heritage provided by their “backdoor” classroom; and
  • explore the creation of a special trust fund to protect land from development.

The initiative has won support from many regional lawmakers, including Sens. John Warner, R-VA, George Allen, R-VA, Paul Sarbanes, D-MD, and Congressmen Frank Wolf, R-VA, and Todd Platts, R-PA, as well as many historians who regard the corridor has one of the greatest collections of historic sites anywhere.

“This is the ground of our Founding Fathers,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough. “These are landscapes that speak volumes—small towns, churches, fields, mountains, creeks and rivers with names such as Bull Run and Rappahannock. They are the real thing, and what a shame we will bring on ourselves if we destroy them.”

A second Chesapeake watershed site on the trust’s list of endangered places is Camp Security, in York County, PA. The camp is one of only a handful of prisoner-of-war camps established during the Revolutionary War, and it is the only such site that remains largely untouched.

Between 1781 and the end of the war in 1783, more than 1,500 captured British soldiers and their families were confined at the camp, which included a prison stockade and a village of log huts. The trust said that archaeological excavations of the site could yield a wealth of information, but that opportunity could be lost because of a planned residential subdivision on the property.