By Edward Colimore
John Godzieba, dressed as Gen. George Washington, arrives at Washington Crossing America's historic lands are disappearing - and the rate of loss will continue accelerating without quick action, historians and federal officials say.
More than 100 "nationally significant" battlefields and historic sites from the American Revolution and War of 1812 are already gone, a survey by the National Park Service has found. An additional 245 are in poor condition or fragmented, and 222 are in danger of destruction in the next 10 years.
While Civil War sites have tended to receive protection, many from the earlier wars are at risk. Some are nearby, including the sites of George Washington's crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776; the first Battle of Trenton on Dec. 26 of the same year; the second Battle of Trenton on Jan. 2, 1777; the Battle of Princeton the following day; and the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777, according to the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author David Hackett Fischer.
"These endangered sites are located on open land in suburban or exurban areas around our cities and large towns," Fischer said in congressional testimony in January. "As urban growth begins to revive after the great recession, real estate development is picking up again, and the loss of historic sites will increase with it, unless we find a way to deal with it."
Dealing with the problem is the aim of legislation, which passed the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources last week and is now going to the full House for a vote. The measure would provide federal matching grants to preserve battlefields from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, along with the Civil War.
"Each time a historic battlefield is replaced with a parking lot, a chapter of American history is obscured, and future generations lose an important window onto their heritage," said the bill's author, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, a Democrat from central New Jersey. "This bill would provide matching funds that would leverage private efforts to preserve our nation's past."
The legislation would build on the success of the American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP), which provides matching grants in support of private efforts to preserve Civil War sites. Since 1999, the National Park Service program has helped to save more than 16,500 acres of historic sites in 14 states.