A story in last week's Chronicle told of the purchase of the "cement mill" property about a mile southeast of Shepherdstown on River Road by the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission (JCHLC).
Much work was done by many people. I was eager to help.
I first learned about the significance of the area along Trough Road between River Road and Engle Moler Road from Dr. Mark Snell, Director of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War at Shepherd University. He had written a short book (a "monograph" in publishing circles) about the 118th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, called the "Corn Exchange" regiment because it had been raised at the Philadelphia Corn Exchange.
The 118th was in the van of Union General George McClellan's attack on Confederate General Robert E. Lee's rearguard after Lee had withdrawn across the Potomac from Sharpsburg in September of 1862. Until Dr. Snell told me about it I had no idea that part of the Battle of Antietam had been fought on what is now West Virginia soil.
The Corn Exchange was decimated in that battle, taking the bulk of Union casualties. The total casualties on both sides amounted to more than that in any other battle fought in West Virginia. (In military terms a "casualty" is a soldier killed or so seriously wounded as to take him or her out of action for a long period of time.) After much thought I determined that the site should be made a national park.
Several years ago I invited Ed Dunleavy, President of the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association (SBPA), to come to Charleston to meet with officials of the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT) to ask for a grant to help save at least part of the site of the Battle of Shepherdstown. Ed had never been to Charleston, so I didn't tell him how far it was, fearing he might not come.
The SBPA got $100,000. The next year we repeated the process and got another $100,000. In the meantime, folks were negotiating with the owners of an 18-acre parcel containing the cement mills. This location is where the Corn Exchange soldiers got to the (then) Virginia side of the Potomac and from where they withdrew to the Maryland side the next day.
With contributions from the Civil War Preservation Trust, the Save Historic Antietam Foundation, the SBPA and the JCHLC, enough money was raised to get within $25,000 of the agreed-upon purchase price (which had been reduced by the owners of the property).
I had committed $25,000 from my Community Participation Projects (CPP's). These are small blocks of money given to each state legislator to dispense as he or she wishes, within certain guidelines. But CPP money takes many months after it is allotted to become available. The attorney for the Jefferson County Commission (also the attorney for the JCHLC) told the JCHLC that it could not legally borrow money, so the JCHLC could not do so and wait for CPP money to replace it.
The JCHLC then asked the County Commission to contribute the $25,000, with the understanding that CPP money would replace it in a few months. The County Commission declined, by a 3-2 vote.
I had one more idea. I asked Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to give the JCHLC $25,000. He came through in spite of the fact that I asked him for the money right as he and his entire staff were preparing for the special legislative session he was about to call to pass a law regulating gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. Sen. Herb Snyder and Del.Tiffany Lawrence also lobbied the governor to give the $25,000.
Marcellus was a very complicated and highly controversial undertaking and I'm amazed that I could get the attention of anyone in the governor's office about the cement mill during the Marcellus fight. I'm very grateful to Gov. Tomblin for riding to our aid on very short notice. I think this demonstrates that Gov. Tomblin wants to do right by Jefferson County.
I first ran for the Legislature in 1978. I've won 16 elections for the House of Delegates and lost four (all four of the losses were before 1992). I believe I have by now figured out what is popular around here and what is not.
The idea of saving the entire Shepherdstown Battlefield site (not just the cement mill) is overwhelmingly popular.
As you might imagine, when I asked the governor for the $25,000 he asked me how popular it would be. My response was that the only thing he could do that would be more popular with the people of the entire Shepherdstown Magisterial District would be to make sure Shepherd University gets the money to build a parking garage.
Don't forget our two "town meetings" next week to discuss the upcoming Regular Session of the West Virginia Legislature. The first will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 3, at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies at Shepherd University and the second will take place on Thursday, Jan. 5 (two nights later) at the Bolivar Community Building on Panama Street in Bolivar. Each meeting will start at 7 and end by 8:30 p.m. (this is a slight time change from last week's announcement). Do come.