Archive for Thursday, December 1, 2005

Work continues at Black Jack park

December 1, 2005

Work continues at the Black Jack Battlefield and Nature Park east of Baldwin as volunteers scurry to meet the deadline of its dedication on June 2, 2006, the 150th anniversary of the battle which sparked the Civil War.

Brenda Day, curator of the Baker University Archives, has been instrumental in the efforts to save the area from development and create the park, which could be on the national park listing and expected to draw tourists to Baldwin City.

"Black Jack Battlefield is a wonderful gift from the past to the present," said Day. "It's a very worthwhile project."

The Friends of the Black Jack Battlefield established a trust and purchased the 40-acre site about three miles east of Baldwin several years ago. Since then, efforts have been stepped up to gain additional funding to create the park.

Current efforts include cleaning up and clearing the area. Volunteers have been gathering for work days on Saturdays the last two months and the next one is Saturday, starting at 9 a.m. and lasting until around 2 p.m.

"The third work weekend is this week," said Day. "I think it's come along way. There's been lots of community service work being done out there by KU students. I wish I could get the Baker students and community members interested, too.

"The work is starting to show," she said. "Standing where the pocket park is, you can start to see a park."

Eventual plans for the area include a visitor's center, picnic areas, educational displays and walking trails. The site also includes the Robert Hall Pearson home, which has received spot on the Register of Historic Places in Kansas. The Battlefield Foundation hopes to restore it as a museum where the story of the Battle of Black Jack can be told.

Pearson fought at the Battle of Black Jack and also served in the Union Army during the Civil War. After many travels, he returned to the site, purchased the land, built the house, farmed and raised cattle.

"When Robert Hall Pearson built the house in the 1880s, it was pretty typical," said Dale Nimz, a historic preservation consultant at the time of the designation. "But, now it's uncommon.

"There were many houses built during that time," said Nimz. "But there are relatively few that have been preserved and are in good condition."

Pearson joined forces with the infamous John Brown and other anti-slavery proponents in 1856 to fight slave-state intruders in the Battle of Black Jack, which is just now becoming accepted as the first real battle of the Civil War, which didn't "officially" start until April 12, 1861 when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter.

Pearson, Brown and the other Abolitionists camped near Prairie City, which is west of present day Baldwin. They were going after the forces of Henry Clay Pate, a violent Pro-slavery advocate whose men had participated two weeks earlier in the sacking of Lawrence, known as Quantrill's Raid. The Abolitionist snuck up on the Pro-slavery men on June 2, 1856, and the Battle of Black Jack was waged. The Abolitionists captured most of Pate's men, who were turned over to Federal officials in Leavenworth who released them three days later.

But, history was made. Why Pearson returned to the area years later to farm is unknown. He lived there until he died in 1906.

"In the 1880s, he built a house that overlooks the site that is presumed to be the battlefield of Black Jack," said Nimz. "What's the interesting thing to me is why did he come back to that spot? Was it coincidence? It could have been. Was it that he could look out his window and imagine being in battle? Maybe. But he didn't provide any reasoning."

The Black Jack Battlefield Trust are working toward getting the Pearson home and the battlefield placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"I think this site has been a sleeper in Kansas for decades and people haven't paid attention to it," said Carol von Tersch, a trustee of the Black Jack Battlefield Trust.

Efforts have also been made in Washington for the national designation. Judy Billings, director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau, as well as others from the area have lobbied Congress and the Senate for a wide-spread area of eastern Kansas to be called the Bleeding Kansas and the Enduring Struggle for Freedom National Heritage Area. The area includes 26 Kansas counties and, of course, the Battle of Black Jack area.

All the areas are intertwined with the history leading up to the Civil War and another major part of that is the Santa Fe Trail, which also has several points of interest in Baldwin.

"You can't talk about one without the other," Day said of the Baldwin area's many historical places.

More information on the efforts east of town can be found on the foundation's Web site at www.battleofblackjack1856.org.

(Theworldco.info's Alicia Henrikson contributed to this story.)

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