Stevensburg Civil War history markers installed

Following the roads of present-day Culpeper County, the distance between Raccoon Ford and Stevensburg to the north is just over 7 miles. Although clearly not neighbors, similarities create a linkage between the two localities.

Both are located along the historic route of the Carolina Road, the byway that early travelers followed from Pennsylvania to South Carolina. Both villages and their immediate surroundings saw significant military action during the Civil War, and both were overtaken by the Union Army’s winter encampment during 1863-64.

Today, Raccoon Ford and Stevensburg are small and quiet communities melding village and rural landscape. Each has faced the challenge of utility scale solar development proposals, inappropriately planned for productive agricultural and historic land and inappropriately sized in excess of 1000 acres. This challenge as well as others — residential and commercial development, roadway construction or widening — erase the landscape that brings to life the story of a place, making it all the more important to share local history and its contribution to our country’s heritage.

With this in mind, we share an article by journalist Clint Schemmer in the February 19, 2019 edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent highlighting the history of Stevensburg .

Controversial plan for large solar farm near Culpeper to be reworked

After sustained opposition from March through late August 2019 by a local group to a utility scale solar project proposed for the agricultural and forested areas surrounding Raccoon Ford, the developer, BayWa, pulled the application. This development occurred shortly after the citizens’ group had gathered in Raccoon Ford to review their efforts and learn more about the area’s significance from a local historian.

Below is an excerpt of an article by journalist Clint Schemmer on the meeting and application withdrawal. The article was originally printed in the Culpeper Star Exponent; a link is provided after the excerpt for a full look at the article.

RAPIDAN — People from across Culpeper County and Virginia came to the Raccoon Ford area Sunday evening to advance their campaign against a 1,600-acre power-generating facility proposed there.

And in less than 24 hours, California-based solar developer BayWa yanked its application for permission to build a multimillion-dollar, utility-scale solar plant on farmland and woodland near the Rapidan River.

Coincidence? Surely. But heartening, still, to members of Citizens for Responsible Solar and their guests, as well as the tour’s hosts — the Foshay family of historic Greenville plantation. They’d come to rally their spirits in anticipation of weeks of intense work before the county planning commission held a public hearing on BayWa’s proposal.

Ron Maxwell, director of the Civil War films “Gettysburg,” “Gods and Generals” and “Copperhead,” encouraged those present to continue their efforts to protect historic lands from incursions such as solar development.

The complete article can be read here.

Solar project threatens historic mansions, landscapes along Rapidan River

On June 30, 2019, the Culpeper Star Exponent published an article describing the impact a proposed 1300-acre utility-scale solar project would have on the antebellum properties surrounding Raccoon Ford.

An excerpt:

RACCOON FORD—Before war came, Congressman and secessionist Jeremiah Morton designed three mansions along a few miles of Algonquin Trail in southern Culpeper County.

The stately homes withstood armies’ fighting, encampment and occupation during the Civil War, and still stand today. Restored by their owners, they have storied pasts and anchor former plantations near the Rapidan River, named by a Colonial governor for Queen Anne of England.

Farmland surrounds the graceful houses—Greenville, Struan and Sumerduck—in an area on the Rapidan that’s mostly untouched by time and steeped in early history, including that of Indians and African-Americans. The countryside also yields many accounts from the War Between the States.

“Where else in the country do you have a Civil War laboratory like this? Nothing has changed,” Civil War historian Clark “Bud” Hall said during a visit to the mansions of Algonquin Trail.

Change could be coming, though, as county officials consider allowing a utility-scale solar plant to be built on 807 acres of agriculturally zoned parcels along the rural route.

Cricket Solar LLC, the project’s developer in Irvine, California, says the green initiative will generate enough electricity to power 15,000 homes a year.

The Culpeper County Planning Department is reviewing revisions to an application submitted in December by Cricket that would place more than 270,000 solar panels in the Raccoon Ford area.

Read the full article

Raccoon Ford flooding … now, and then, and now

The Rapidan is a temperamental river when there are heavy rains, and the Raccoon Ford area is particularly susceptible to flooding. In 2018, Raccoon Ford Road in Orange County across the Rapidan from Raccoon Ford was closed 6 times due to flooding. Midway through 2019, there has been only one road closure, but the water level in the river has risen precipitously during several of the year’s rainstorms.

The following clipping from 1902 indicates that this is a longstanding issue.

More than 100 years later, the road bed continues to be “encroached upon.” Over the last year, the Virginia Department of Transportation has repeatedly undertaken stabilization projects on the river bank alongside Raccoon Ford Road. Our bets are on Mother Nature.

A Western Visitor to Raccoon Ford

In late March of 2019, Donald Brown of Colorado stopped at St. Paul’s Church, located roughly one mile from Raccoon Ford on Algonquin Trail. He had driven across the country to visit Raccoon Ford. His great grandfather was a Private in Company C of the 4th New York Cavalry Regiment who fought and was captured by Ewell’s Confederate troops at Raccoon Ford on September 16, 1863.

After being unhorsed and captured, Mr. Brown’s great grandfather, Private John W. Brown, was marched under guard to Orange Courthouse, and there put on an Orange and Alexandria Railroad train to Gordonsville.  At Gordonsville he was then transferred to a Central Virginia Railroad train that took him to Richmond.  He remained a POW there until January 6, 1864 when he was paroled under the Dix-Hill Cartel exchange agreement.  At City Point, Virginia he was handed over to Federal authorities and boarded a side wheeler steamboat and sailed down the James River, eventually ending up in a Union Hospital in Annapolis, Maryland.

Private Brown rejoined his cavalry unit in time to participate in the Gettysburg Campaign, until reaching Hanover Junction June 30, 1864.  The 4th New York along with the 2nd Brigade was detached and sent to Manchester, Maryland where it picketed the surrounding countryside until July 3 when it was sent to Westminster, Maryland.  On July 4th, the New York Volunteers joined Kilpatrick’s Division in pursuit of Lee’s retreating army and participated at Monterey Pass and many other engagements until Lee had re-crossed the Potomac River. 

Ron Vecchioni, who owns and is refurbishing St. Paul’s Church, showed Mr. Brown the original, now sunken, Raccoon Ford road trace on the church property and told him that his great grandfather had ridden his horse down that very path 150 years ago and likely stopped and rested inside the very church he was standing in front of.  It was an emotional moment for Mr. Brown. He then eagerly went inside to take numerous photos and look at the few exhibits in the church.

Raccoon Ford and the surrounding landscape have remained largely unchanged over the years. Because of this, visitors delving into area history have a unique opportunity to take in the same topography that was settled and cultivated, as well as marched on and fought over, during years past. This experience can be powerful for those, like Mr. Brown, who are researching family and find themselves able to walk in their ancestor’s footsteps, taking in the unchanged views of rolling hills and river bluffs.