Archive for Thursday, May 25, 2006

Park site will become nature preserve

Cleanup efforts will put battlefield to use

May 25, 2006

When abolitionist and pro-slavery forces clashed nearly 150 years ago on the night of June 2, 1856, they fought between two wooded ravines on a 40-acre piece of land east of Baldwin.

The landscape features of what became known as the Black Jack Battlefield are still relatively intact. Black Jack Creek, although dry, is still there. So are the ravines and the woods.

A man named Robert Hall Pearson fought with the abolitionists under John Brown that night. Sometime in the 1880s he purchased the land where the battle was fought and built a house there.

The house still stands. Its most recent occupant was the James Cavender family. The late James Cavender's wife, Alice, sold the house and the property in 2003 to the Black Jack Battlefield Trust.

"I'm glad they are doing what they are doing and going to save the house," Alice Cavender told the Journal-World in November 2003. "There are a lot of old memories there."

Black Jack trust members plan to turn the site into a battlefield and nature park. The house will be renovated but returned to the likeness of its 1880s origin. There was never a furnace in the house, so there is no ductwork, trust member Kerry Altenbernd said.

"It's old. It's not changed a lot, so it would not be too difficult to put it back to its original character," Altenbernd said.

The house may eventually be used as a temporary battlefield visitor center, Altenbernd said. Trust members are still discussing whether to have a permanent visitor center on site or elsewhere. If at another location, visitors could be bused to the battlefield, he said.

In the early 1970s, the Cavender family donated a quarter-acre of land to Douglas County. The land became the Robert Hall Pearson Memorial Park. Fenced and gated, the park features a picnic shelter and quartz monument noting that the property was the site of the first battle between free and slave state forces. The marker was made by an Oklahoma company and paid for by the city of Baldwin at the turn of the 20th century. For decades, the monument sat on the other side of the road that runs along the battlefield until it was moved into the park.

Underneath the Pearson Park sign is another sign that lists the names of the battle's combatants.

The battlefield park also will serve as a nature preserve. In the future, a natural resources survey will be conducted by Kelly Kindscher, Kansas University associate scientist with the Kansas Biological Survey.

"He will decide what we need to do to get rid of any invasive species and what species we need to bring back," Altenbernd said.

Later this spring or early summer a contractor for the county and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will clean up sites to the north and west of the battlefield that were once used as a dumping ground.

"We have a lot of things we need to do before we can open it up to the public," Altenbernd said. "It's going to be a couple of years."

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