Sailor's Creek Park Adds To Synergy

Published 2:36 pm Thursday, July 7, 2011

Editor, The Herald:

I read with interest and enthusiasm your recent reflection on the combined economic and cultural impact of the pending completion of the Robert Russa Moton Museum and the High Bridge Trail State Park. Indeed, we are blessed. The foresight, planning, and labors of a spectrum of our citizenry–both paid professional and volunteer–have helped Farmville to realize important quality of life objectives of its 10-year Master Plan, especially in these two undertakings. Already, I personally have enjoyed the physical benefits of High Bridge Trail walking, some 400+ miles to date. I also have had the stimulating intellectual and social experience of working with other volunteers in an initial grant program for the RRM Museum in the fall of 2009.

Perhaps it was an unintentional oversight of your editorial not to recognize the even greater synergy of the benefits to our town and region by not including in your analysis a cultural and physical resource 15 minutes from downtown Farmville? I mean, of course Sailor's Creek Battlefield Historical State Park, which straddles converging Amelia, Nottoway, and Prince Edward County lines.

Let me explain.

Sailor's Creek Battlefield affords the visitor a unique convergence of cultural, historical, and physical experiences. First, and most obvious is its historical preservation of a key turning point in the war in Virginia. Beginning in the 1930s, and now during the American Civil War Sesquicentennial, it significantly reminds us that for the first time in four years of bitter war, one of the two great contending armies in Virginia finally “grabbed the other by the throat” and would not let it up again to fight effectively another day. A well-designed new visitor's center has been constructed on the battlefield site over the last 12-months. It soon will feature state-of-the-art exhibits (being developed by the same professional firm that is doing similar work for the RRM Museum). These exhibits also will provide narrative coverage of the two battles at High Bridge and the military operations in and around Farmville, to include the Battle at Cumberland Church.

However, importantly for all of our citizens in town and region, the breadth and scope of the exhibits will go beyond military history. They also will embrace the cultural, economic, and social environments of the mid-19th century in this region. This interpretive vision gives accessible relevance to a common history–supported by important narratives, artifacts, and interpretations for all of our citizens and for visitors from afar.

Case in point: I share with some personal excitement, the emerging documentary evidence that Robert Russa Moton himself possibly was born at the Hillsman Farm (His father and mother were married in that house by his autobiographical account.) before being transported as a young child by his father and mother via mule wagon shortly after the war from Amelia County to grow up in Prince Edward County. This historical event creates a special nexus of local history at the most important site on the battlefield per se. The Hillsman Farm House served both as brief military headquarters for both sides on April 6, 1865, and more notably as a Federal field hospital, treating some 500 casualties of both sides immediately after the battle.

Furthermore, the Civil Rights Heritage Trail intersects with the route of Lee's Retreat Driving Tour at multiple points of converging interest in the region. The latter has been part of the local cultural infrastructure since 1995, with two stops on High Bridge, six on Sailor's Creek, and two in Farmville. By the end of August, both of these “trails of historical import” will be displayed to greet the visitor to the new center.

I also would be amiss if I did not briefly mention Twin Lakes State Park and its excellent lodgings and conference facilities. Of historical and cultural importance, they feature carefully researched and artistically rendered dedicatory plaques that were created by Governor's School students, produced by Farmville Printing, and presented to the State Park Division during the 50th Anniversary (1948-1998) of the founding of Prince Edward State Park. These plaques adorn designated rooms and lodgings at the Park, respectively by name, in honor of the its initial African-American staff.

Finally, through the labors of our chief Ranger, and park ranger and staff, the Sailor's Creek Battlefield Historical State Park is being environmentally opened up with interpretive walking trails that are accessible and safe for visitors seeking an outdoor experience in their historical investigations.

Also, multiple points of interpretation have been benchmarked on a user friendly drive through route, to include Marshall's Crossroads, the Confederate Overlook site at Little Sailor's Creek, the Hillsman Farm House, Holt's Corner, the beautifully restored antebellum Locket House, Double Bridges, and Pleasant Shade. The latter is where Robert Russa Moton took his youthful steps in preparing for his career as a national educator, advisor to several U.S. presidents, and speaking presenter at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. in 1922, His “home site,” an overseer's cabin at Pleasant Shade, awaits efforts to preserve and restore it.

Thus, while the thesis of your recent editorial is a correct one, your argument overlooked the synergy of an even fuller constellation of economic, cultural, and social opportunities and resources immediately available to our citizens.

Sam Wilson, Jr.


(Editor's note: The synergy shines even brighter than that. As we have noted in previous editorials-most recently in our May 13 issue-in addition to High Bridge Trail, Sailor's Creek and Twin Lakes, our region also has Bear Creek Lake, James River, and Holliday Lake State Parks, the greatest one-area collection of state parks in Virginia, six of them that contribute to our economy and quality of life).