The Bennett Place State Historic site needs $310,000 by Halloween.
That’s when the state’s option expires on a 1.9-acre, industrial-zoned tract that lies right on the other side of Bennett Memorial Road and its Unity Monument commemorating the largest Confederate surrender of the Civil War. The state Cultural Resources office appealed for donations last week.
“If the site is not able to purchase the optioned land, it is possible that development will mar the historical context,” said Deputy Secretary Kevin Cherry.
Woods now cover the tract, helping isolate the historic site from modern development (aside from the power lines along Bennett Memorial Road). With screening trees around the site’s other sides, the woods create a period ambiance.
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“Just the idea of standing at the Unity Monument ... and looking behind it to a metal Butler building would not be a good thing,” Cherry said.
The optioned tract also contains a remnant of the 19th-century road between Hillsborough and Durham’s Station, which also crosses the current Bennett Place property. That is the route by which Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston and Union Gen. William T. Sherman traveled from their respective advance lines to negotiate surrender.
“It’s a historically significant piece of land,” Cherry said. “That patch of pines there, we feel fairly certain, is where Joe Johnston’s cavalry escort stayed while he treated with William T. Sherman.”
The state applied for a grant to buy the land across the street, but found out it did not get the money just “two or three weeks” before the option’s original Sept. 30 expiration, Guss said.
“So we were trying to go to Plan B to raise money,” he said. “There was no time to try to apply for another grant.”
The property owner, Bennett Place Business Park LLC, has granted the state an extension on its option until Oct. 31, and Bennett Place supporters were already “trying to beat the bushes and spread the word,” Guss said.
“We’ve had little trickles (of money) coming in,” he said, but he’s particularly disappointed that the Civil War Trust, a private foundation with 70,000 members that buys war-related land for preservation, did not help.
The Trust had helped the state buy land at the Bentonville Battlefield historic site, and Cherry said his office “early on” approached the Trust about Bennett Place. However, they found, the trust’s “technical requirements” are that land has to have been part of a battlefield.
“Bennett Place is not a battlefield. It’s just where the war for all intents and purposes ended,” Cherry said.
“Bennett Place has always been the Rodney Dangerfield of Civil War history,” Guss said, alluding to a comedian whose catchphrase was “I don’t get no respect.”