Walmart no longer building store near Civil War battlefield

The U.S. retailer drops plans to build next to historical site. How did that ever seem like a good idea?

By Steve Szkotak
Published January 26, 2011 5:09PM (EST)

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. abruptly dropped plans Wednesday for a new store near a Civil War battlefield in Virginia after two years of opposition from historians and some residents.

Lawyers representing the nation's largest retailer made the announcement in Orange County Circuit Court at the start of a second day of arguments in a lawsuit to block the construction.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart had planned to build a 143,000-square-foot Supercenter near the site of the Battle of the Wilderness, which historians view as a critical turning point when the Civil War started to turn in favor of the North. An estimated 185,000 Union and Confederate troops fought for three days in May 1864, and 30,000 were killed, injured or went missing. The war ended 11 months later.

Wal-Mart had said the store would be within an area already dotted with retail locations and zoned for commercial use. Preservationists and some residents argued the store would infringe on the battlefield site and bring traffic and more commerce to Locust Grove.

Wal-Mart spokesman William C. Wertz said the decision to abandon the Wilderness site came after several corporate deliberations over balancing economic and preservation concerns.

"We just felt it was the right thing to do," Wertz said. He said the retailer would seek another site in Orange County.

Hundreds of historians, including Pulitzer Prize winner James McPherson, as well as filmmaker Ken Burns and actor Robert Duvall had appealed to Wal-Mart to find another place to build in the county of less than 35,000 people.

"I hope this sends a message not only to Wal-Mart but to other developers that the preservation community is willing to fight for historic sites," said Robert Rosenbaum, an attorney for residents and the preservation group.

In August 2009, the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved the special use permit Wal-Mart needed to build, but the National Trust for Historic Preservation and residents who live within three miles of the site challenged the board's decision.

Steve Szkotak

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