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Preserving Historical Land - A Neighborhood Steps Forward (Davis Tract)

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Preserving Historical Land - A Neighborhood Steps Forward
By Dr. Robert B. Moler
Davis Tract on Manassas Battlefield
Davis Tract on Manassas Battlefield
Source: Civil War Preservation Trust
click on map for larger view

This success story had many heros, but it is the members of the Sudley Mountain Stoney Ridge Civic Association who are the ultimate heros. They kept the project alive when it should have died. They made it move forward when it was at a standstill. Their commitment made believers of everyone involved. They made a most improbably victory possible.

On November 14, 2000 the deed to the 135 acre “Davis Tract” was conveyed to the Civil War Preservation Trust. This final act was the culmination of three years of effort by one determined individual, nine months of unstinting work by two others and the unprecedented support of a neighborhood Civic Association. This accomplishment was remarkable in many ways not least of which was the individual initiative that was required, and the extraordinary support that emerged from the Sudley Mountain Stony Ridge Civic Association.

The Davis Property was considered to be the most historically significant Civil War property involved in the two battles of Manassas not included in the Manassas National Battlefield Park. But it is outside of the Legislative Boundary of the MNBP and so the Park authorities could do nothing to preserve it. The threat of development had been hanging over it for decades. It was up for sale, but the sellers seemed unmotivated and the nearly illegible “for sale” sign was barely visible from Featherbed Lane, the gravel road that borders the property on one side.

In the fall of 1997 I met Greg Gorham and told him about the various organizations with which I was involved and invited him to join. In passing we talked about land use, roads, and other issues. He quickly got involved and supported the notion of preserving open space.

Shortly thereafter Greg discovered that the Davis Tract up for sale. He contacted the realtor and began negotiations to purchase it. However, there was a small difficulty - Greg didn't have the money even to fulfill the escrow requirement, much less come up with the $650,000 estimated cost of purchasing the land. Late in the year he came to me with the idea of having the Sudley Mountain Stony Ridge Civic Association get twelve of its members to donate $50,000 each. I had to tell him that donations of that magnitude were not realistic - at most only one or two families in the neighborhood had resources that would make that idea remotely possible.

Greg was undeterred. He continued to explore a variety of possible methods to achieve the goal of purchase of the property. This process continued throughout 1998 with no viable resolution. Greg kept forging ahead looking for alternatives. In early 1999 it became apparent that the historical nature of the property was the key to its purchase. The MNBP was interested but could do nothing directly. They suggested contacting The Conservation Fund. Nick Dilks in turn suggesting contacting The Civil War Preservation Trust. Various other groups were contacted and indicated that they might be interested.

Greg continued his efforts to get a Purchase Contract ratified, an event that appeared to be close to realization by February 2000. So Greg requested a meeting of the members of the Civic Association. They were interested in the prospect, but didn't see how it could be done. They were opposed to any developer involvement, one of the options suggested by Greg.

In March 2000 the purchase contract was ratified. Greg could now buy the property and had 90 days to come up with the money and a lot less time to put the required deposit in escrow. He called on the Civic Association again. This time they wrote checks to cover the deposit.

Both the CWPT and the TCF offered funds, but not nearly enough to cover the purchase. What to do! Enter Jack Hermansen president of the Civic Association. Jack was persuaded that buying the property was a terrific idea and offered to try to get the neighborhood mobilized. He begins a serious fundraising effort on several fronts. It was apparent that it has to be a multipronged effort. Jack talked about his plans to several members of the Civic Association who pledged to make major donations. A new meeting was held at Jack's house in June, with representatives of the MNBP, CWPT and even a bank present. The energy and enthusiasm was high. Jack discussed the prospects for raising the needed funds. It still looked daunting, but Brad Bradshaw, another member of the Civic Association, jumped into the fray and said he could raise the money. But time was short. The CWTP had offered $200,000 which left the Civic Association the task of raising about $450,000 before September 30th. The bank says that this was an interesting project and that they may be able to lend money - but they would need collateral of about 75% of the loan value. Now things got interesting. What kind of collateral - second mortgages. At this point Civic Association members stepped up in a way that astonished everyone present. They offered to take out mortgages on their homes! The total pledges exceeded $350,000, more than enough to make the 75% figure. Dr. Robert Sutton Superintendent of the MNPB and Elliot Gruber of the CWPT are astounded. They've never encountered anything like it.

While this process is getting underway some really good news has occurred. The National Park Service has given the Virginia Parks and Recreation Department a $200,000 grant earmarked for the purchase of the Davis Property. The CWTP has received confirmation of the historical significance of the property. A fierce encounter between Union and Confederate troops had occurred there - blood had been shed. It was more significant than anyone had expected. This important information puts a new light on the importance of preserving the property. The CWPT agrees to commit to providing $300,000 if the Civic Association can cover the remainder, about $120,000 (later increased to more than $130,000.) Maybe home mortgages wouldn't be necessary after all. Jack and Brad redoubled their efforts to raise the needed funds. Greg assigned the contract to the CWTP which will place a conservation easement on the property as soon as the final papers are signed and approved.

Civic Association members had pledged a large fraction of the needed amount and much of it had been transferred to the CWTP. But time is running out and some pledges have not shown up. It is already September and the study period will expire on September 30, 2000. In order to extend the study period for another month a $20,000 deposit will be required. Once again a member of the Civic Association comes to the rescue and provides the needed funds. Another crisis is successfully negotiated. The Civic Association is still about $20,000 short of its pledge near the end of October even though other members have made loans. The falling stock market is partly to blame, and a big increase in the sale fees and commissions accounts for a large part. A few pledges have failed to appear also. But the CWTP says they will lend the Civic Association the amount. They recognize that the Civic Association has gone above and beyond the call of duty and has achieved amazing results in the four months of its involvement. No one now doubts its commitment to the effort and its ability to raise the funds.

On November 14th Greg, the CWTP and representatives of the Davis Property sign the final papers. Finally Greg's dream had become reality. The “Davis Tract,” 135 acres of highly significant historical property has been preserved for posterity. The loans have not all been paid back, but fundraising continues.

This success story had many heros. Greg's dogged determination to make it happen despite running into brick walls time after time for two long years deserves the civilian equivalent of a purple heart. Jack Hermansen and Brad Bradshaw's herculean efforts to find support for the project achieved what many thought would be impossible. But it is the members of the Civic Association who are the ultimate heros. They kept the project alive when it should have died. They made it move forward when it was at a standstill. Their commitment made believers of everyone involved. They made a most improbably victory possible.