Archive for Thursday, June 3, 2004

Black Jack site preservation plan unveiled

Battlefield to include historical displays, visitors center, recreational opportunities

June 3, 2004

Brenda Day couldn't be more excited about plans to turn the Black Jack Battlefield into an educational park.

In fact, Day considers the plans developed by the Black Jack Battlefield Trust a dream come true.

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"I think the plans are wonderful," Day, member of the battlefield trust, said. "It's exciting to me because it's the culmination of a dream.

"I've been studying Kansas history since I was a child, and I grew up thinking John Brown was a hero," she said. "To me, the Battle of Black Jack is a sacred place. It's a place that I think deserves to be preserved."

If other battlefield enthusiasts, such as Day, have their way and are able to raise more than $250,000, the site of the 1856 battle, led by John Brown, will not only be preserved, but become a 40-acre park that will house a visitors center, walking trails and educational displays.

Members of the battlefield trust unveiled a site plan for the Black Jack area last Thursday. Those in attendance included community members, preservationists and descendants of Brown, August Bondi and others who fought in the early-morning battle.

The Battle of Black Jack -- considered by many historians to be the first armed conflict between anti- and pro-slavery forces that started the Civil War -- is often not mentioned in history books.

But Day said the preservation of the area, which is located about three miles east of Baldwin, would help.

"It would take it's proper place in Kansas history," she said. "It's not only going to be preserved, it will be celebrated."

The battlefield trust purchased the 40-acre farmstead, which still houses the 1880s-era farmhouse, last year for nearly $200,000.

The trust still needs approximately $250,000 to pay off what is still owed on the purchase and refurbish the farmhouse.

Meg Babani, a landscape architect working on the project from Landplan Engineering, said the goal of the project is not just to preserve the battlefield site and protect it from urbanization.

Babani said the plan also hopes to focus on the agricultural aspect of the site, which at one time was a working farmstead with products ranging from maple syrup to row crops.

She said trust members also want to highlight the woodland and prairie ecosystems, complete with natural paths for hiking and walking.

Other ideas, such as picnic areas, educational displays and a visitors center, built on the original stone foundation of a barn destroyed by fire 20 years ago, are also included in the site plans.

Babani said future plans also include the possibility of connecting the 40-acre site with the Ivan Boyd prairie to the east.

"The battle probably was not only on just the 40 acres. The assumption is the battle likely took place over a much larger piece of ground," she said. "So there would be a battlefield complex."

Though members of the battlefield trust hope to have the 40-acre site ready for visitors by June 2, 2006, the 150th anniversary of the battle, Babani said it depends on the funding of the project.

But when the site is ready to accommodate visitors, she said she hopes there will be something for nearly everyone.

"My hope is the park will have enough variety to interest a broad variety of people and ages," she said. "That it will be a historical presence for everybody in the country."

Day said she's pleased the site will be more than just an empty field a handful of people might pass by occasionally.

"It's not going to sit there idle," she said. "It's wonderful it's going to be used and enjoyed."

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