A major historic site in Durham — where the largest and last surrender of the Civil War took place — needs to raise $310,000 by Halloween to purchase two acres of land surrounding the area.
Kevin Cherry, deputy secretary of the Office of Archives and History at the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, said historians hope to save the land to preserve the natural environment of Bennett Place.
An attempt to secure a grant to purchase the land failed, and the site is now relying on donations.
For years, the surrounding land remained off the market. While not a part of the site, the woods served as a backdrop for visitors.
“One of the most important parts of North Carolina history was the Civil War and not just for North Carolina, but for the whole United States,” Cherry said. “The site where the Civil War, for all intents and purposes, ended is truly of national significance.”
On April 26, 1865, Joseph Johnson surrendered confederate troops on the Bennett family farm. The land they are hoping to preserve serves as the backdrop for the Unity Monument, which was erected in 1923 and represents the re-unification of the North and South.
“It is very important that we maintain that monument in the appropriate historical context,” Cherry said. “The state of North Carolina maintains 27 different state historic sites. Those sites tell a specific story about North Carolina, and if you link them all together, you can tell North Carolina history.”
Joseph Glatthaar, a UNC history professor who specializes in American Civil War and American military history, said he considers Bennett Place to be one of the most significant sites of the Civil War era. He said developing any surrounding land would negatively impact visitors' view of the site.
“When you change the area just off these properties, you really do alter the landscape,” he said. “It just destroys the experience to a great extent.”
Glatthaar said maintaining sites allows history to be remembered accurately by future generations.
“Once it’s lost, it’s lost forever,” Glatthaar said. “You need to preserve things for better or worse. Can you imagine if they had destroyed all the concentration camps in Germany, leveled them and built over them? Can imagine how many Holocaust deniers there would be if we didn’t have the remnants?”
Keith Hardison, director of the Division of State Historic Sites within the Department of Cultural Resources, said the development of the surrounding land would sacrifice the historical culture for visitors.
“We realize that development is a natural phenomenon. It is going to happen," Hardison said. "We’re trying to insulate our sites from development in the immediate vicinity.”
He said that by purchasing the land, they can ensure it will remain untouched.
“We will purchase it with intention that it will never be built upon. It is to remain woods, and it is to remain the natural environment, so that when you come down that stretch of road, you get the feel that you are going into another century,” Hardison said.
“We’re cautiously hopeful. We don’t have any guarantees at this point.”
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