Brownlee fights to save state's 'diminishing' heritage
Publication Salisbury Post
Date April 13, 2004
Section(s) Area
Page 0
Byline Mark Wineka
Brief Brownlee fights to save state's 'diminishing' heritage

By Mark Wineka, Salisbury Post

By Mark Wineka, Salisbury Post

Salisbury historian Ann Brownlee has taken her fight to preserve as much of a Trading Ford Historic District as possible to Washington.

In late March, Brownlee sent a 14-page letter with two boxes of supporting documentation to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and asked it to intervene on behalf of the Trading Ford Historic District Preservation Association, a group for which Brownlee is president and founder.

Brownlee and the association want the N.C. Department of Transportation to reconsider its proposed alignment for a new bridge and eight lanes of Interstate 85 across the Yadkin River.

The DOT has no plans to change its design -- a future project that Brownlee says could be a final blow in destroying a historic and cultural landscape important to both Rowan and Davidson counties.

Because federal dollars will be used on the highway project, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation can make sure it complies with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

The law requires states to take into account what effect their road-building will have on properties listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places before any federal dollars are spent.

Last June, the N.C. National Register Advisory Committee voted 6-3 that four sites submitted by Brownlee and Catawba College history professor Gary Freeze were potentially eligible for the National Register and warranted further study.

"Further study," in this case, is not something done by the State Historic Preservation Office and would have to be conducted by a separate source or consultant.

Hirst: Take closer look

The four sites included the Trading Path and fords, the Yadkin Ford and Ferry, Greene's crossing at Trading Ford and the battlefield at Camp Yadkin.

The four threatened sites were added to the state's Study List as components of a historic district -- one that is threatened by the highway project, Brownlee has told the federal Advisory Council. A 1929 Trading Ford Monument off Old Salisbury Road also will be affected.

Kaye Hirst, executive director of Rowan Museum Inc., described Brownlee as "a very passionate woman," who is meticulous in her research. Hirst and Brownlee met recently with state Rep. Lorene Coates, D-Rowan, to update her on preservation concerns about the road project.

Hirst says the Trading Ford district in question is "absolutely an important historical area."

"We think the DOT should stop and take a closer look at what they're doing now," Hirst says.

Brownlee judges that she has spent more than 1,000 hours opposing the DOT's road plans since the fall of 2000. She has files of reports, correspondence and research and more than 200 e-mail messages between her and DOT representatives.

In her letter to the Advisory Council, she noted the start of an online petition with 524 names questioning the road project. Trading Ford association members also are circulating written petitions with 266 signatures, as of March 31.

On March 14, the association sponsored a public hike along one of the road traces near Trading Ford that drew 150 people. More than 100 e-mails supporting the Trading Ford area's preservation have gone to Raleigh, Brownlee says.

Last summer, both the Rowan and Davidson County boards of commissioners passed almost identical resolutions supporting preservation of the "Historic Trading Ford District."

Those resolutions ended by saying that the counties supported the Trading Ford association's efforts to preserve the district "from further degradation." The resolutions also supported "a compromise with NCDOT to preserve the Trading Ford District and span the river with the interstate in a manner so that the area and its historic sites can remain eligible for the National Historic Register."

Brownlee says last June was a good month, given the resolutions from both counties and the addition of four Trading Ford sites to the state Study List. "It's not the ballgame, but it was a heck of an inning," she says.

Since then, the news hasn't been as good for Brownlee.

'No visible remains'

In a July 22 letter to Brownlee, N.C. Secretary of Transportation Lyndo Tippett made it clear that his department was satisfied that it had done the investigations necessary to comply with Section 106.

The state DOT's Architectural and Archaeological units recommended that the 1924 Wil-Cox Bridge and archaeological remains of "Fort York" be recommended for the National Register of Historic Places.

But Tippett said the roadside Trading Ford monument and several Native American sites did not qualify.

Tippett added, "No visible remains or specific features of the Yadkin Ford/Ferry, the Trading Path or additional remains associated with the skirmish at Fort York were identified during the surveys and subsequent investigations."

Overall, Tippett told Brownlee that the locations as a whole "lack the ability to convey significance, since they do not reflect their historic context."

"The context has been changed," Tippett added, "due to numerous intrusions, including the creation of High Rock Lake, modern highways and utilities, manufacturing and power producing plants and physical disturbances related to flooding and large-scale earthmoving activities."

Tippett said the DOT did not see the need for any additional surveys at the time.

Different route

Brownlee wants the DOT to widen I-85 where it is over the Yadkin River, contending it would be far less destructive to the Civil War battlefield than building a new eight-lane highway through it. She says building four additional lanes on the northwest side (up river) of the existing I-85 also would save the Yadkin Ford Ferry and approach roads.

Brownlee contends there are ways to build the widened interstate that would lessen the impact on the Trading Path, and the Trading Ford monument could be saved by leaving access to Old Salisbury Road the way it is.

During preliminary design, Tippett said, "It was determined that the vertical alignment along I-85 was not sufficient to meet the design speed of 70 miles per hour."

To meet the design speed, the elevation of the road has to be raised, Tippett said, and I-85 has to be relocated farther south so the new lanes can be constructed at the appropriate elevation while traffic is maintained on the existing lanes of I-85.

Brownlee later asked Tippett to set up a meeting with county planners, DOT planners and preservationists in the area. He responded Aug. 28 that, although an additional archaeological survey was being conducted at the time, the DOT would not take another look at the proposed road alignment.

"This I-85 project has been extensively coordinated with federal, state, local agencies and the public," Tippett said. "As a result of the detailed design and environmental studies, the NCDOT feels that the proposed project minimizes impacts to all natural and human resources while providing a safe facility for the public."

Bad history?

A DOT addendum to an earlier archaeological report for the road project concluded that an earthwork was not a remnant of the Civil War battlefield. Brownlee still disputes that finding and questions the objectivity of the state's whole report.

Part of that report has a "cultural" section, giving a history of the area. Brownlee says it's filled with errors.

"It's just bad, bad, bad," she said. "...You need to know the historical context before you know what you're dealing with and, man, they don't understand our history."

Brownlee has asked the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to consider whether the DOT has overlooked the Study List sites of Trading Ford under "Criterion A," which requires consideration of properties associated with events, such as battles, or patterns of events, such as roads.

She also believes the Trading Ford monument is eligible under "Criterion F," which is commemorative properties.

Cultural landscape

In general, Brownlee says it's difficult in North Carolina to have historic and cultural landscapes recognized in their own right, and that the DOT routinely omits them completely from their Section 106 surveys.

"I realize that cultural landscapes are under-recognized nationally, but North Carolina lags years behind the rest of the nation," Brownlee wrote to the Advisory Council. "Our cultural landscapes are being lost, and North Carolina's heritage is diminishing."

Brownlee has said a Trading Ford Historic District corridor could easily extend for four miles, about a half-mile up river from the U.S. 29 and I-85 bridges and 3.5 miles down river.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or salisburypost.com.">mwineka@salisburypost.com.