Historic concerns raised over site of proposed course
Publication Salisbury Post
Date June 05, 2005
Section(s) Area
Page A1
Brief By Mark Wineka

Salisbury Post

Add the proposed High Rock International Raceway to Ann Brownlee's growing list.

In her fight to protect, recognize and promote the Trading Ford area's history and tourism potential, Brownlee has taken on the N.C. Department

By Mark Wineka

Salisbury Post

Add the proposed High Rock International Raceway to Ann Brownlee's growing list.

In her fight to protect, recognize and promote the Trading Ford area's history and tourism potential, Brownlee has taken on the N.C. Department of Transportation, Alcoa, Duke Power and now the road course.

One almost needs a scorecard to keep up with Brownlee's efforts.

But if the sites within a wide Trading Ford district were successfully developed, Brownlee contends, Rowan and Davidson counties could share in a rich heritage that includes:

n A Revolutionary War site similar to Guilford Courthouse.

n A Civil War site similar to Bentonville or Averysboro.

n Restored fords and ferries.

n The Trading Path, which Brownlee compares to the Natchez Trace.

n Wagon roads predating the formation of Rowan County.

n An Indian site or sites comparable to the Town Creek Indian Mound.

n A rebuilt 1818 covered bridge.

n The 1890 railroad bridge.

n The 1924 Wil-Cox Bridge.

n The 1957 Interstate 85 bridge, because the Federal Highway Administration has said the interstate system may be potentially eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

n Gov. John Ellis' family cemetery.

n A restored slave cemetery.

n Historic buildings associated with the Jersey settlement, including Beallmont and Jersey Baptist Church.

n A 1567 Spanish fort.

Brownlee says such a "heritage tourism area" could draw considerable attendance and have an economic impact matching Old Salem or even Colonial Williamsburg.

For several years, Brownlee has challenged the DOT's plans for building a new Yadkin River bridge and widening I-85 through the Trading Ford area. Her work led to the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation's intervention in the project.

The council requested that the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places make an independent determination on whether several sites and a larger Trading Ford district would be eligible for the National Register.

As of last fall, the Keeper requested significantly more information from the DOT, which has yet to respond.

Meanwhile, the road project has been taken off the DOT's funding list because of budget problems in Raleigh. It may not resurface on the DOT's transportation plan until at least 2012, according to some estimates.

But Brownlee still waits for a decision from the National Register.

Duke Power recently announced that it is considering a $350 million expansion and modernization at Rowan County's Buck Steam Station, located in this same Yadkin River area. The project would primarily be a natural gas-fueled, combined-cycle facility. The expansion would represent an "intermediate-load" facility.

When Duke considered the Buck site in 2001 for an expansion into a peak generating facility, it led Brownlee to found the Trading Ford Historic Preservation Association. In a decision unrelated to Brownlee's concerns, Duke later backed away from that Buck Steam Station expansion and built a plant in South Carolina.

From surveys Duke conducted on the property in 2000, Brownlee says, it's obvious the company is unaware of the Revolutionary War activity that occurred on its property, the location of Trading Ford and the many historic road traces still remaining.

Alcoa is in the midst of its relicensing process for the 38-mile Yadkin Project, which includes the Trading Ford district that Brownlee wants to be recognized. She has sent two letters to Magalie Roman Salas, secretary of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, outlining her concerns about Alcoa Power Generating Inc.'s eligibility study for the National Register.

The study is one of the requirements in obtaining another federal license for the hydroelectric project, up for a 50-year renewal in 2008.

Brownlee complains that three Section 106 surveys have been conducted in the past five years by the DOT, Duke and Alcoa, and "cultural landscape features" of the Trading Ford area have yet to be considered by various consultants doing the surveys.

Cultural landscape features include things such as roads, fords, ferry sites and battlefields -- things in which the Trading Ford area is rich.

Alcoa's consultant has recommended in his report that a small section of the Trading Ford area may be eligible for the National Register. "It truly is excellent, as far as it goes," Brownlee says of the report. "He did an awful lot of really good work."

But Brownlee says the Tennessee consultant leaves out the top of the project area, which has important history and cultural landscapes. And in 38 miles along the river that the project area takes in, Brownlee adds, she would anticipate that more than the Trading Ford area is eligible for the National Register.

Brownlee believes protection of cultural landscapes should be part of Alcoa's Shoreline Management Plan.

But the most immediate concern for Brownlee might be the proposed road course, which will take in the old N.C. Finishing Co. property.

Brownlee has written two letters -- one, April 4 and the other, May 31 -- to the Rowan County Board of Commissioners outlining her thoughts and concerns about the road course, whose developers will be seeking a conditional-use permit June 20.

In her first letter, Brownlee also enclosed a brochure and CD detailing the general history of the Trading Ford area.

Brownlee says the race course property comprises the heart of the Rowan County side of the Civil War battlefield. The battle at the Yadkin River bridge in 1865 was the last Confederate victory in North Carolina and the largest west of Bentonville, she says.

The Rowan County entrance to the 1818 Beard Bridge lies behind the former mill. Stone pillars that were part of the bridge still stand in the river.

Lewis Beard hired Ithiel Town to build this first bridge over the Yadkin River, and it also was the first covered bridge in North Carolina. Town later designed the Capitol building in Raleigh.

A civil engineer in Cary who specializes in rebuilding Town bridges would be interested in rebuilding the Beard bridge, Brownlee says..

Also behind the mill exists a ferry landing used by Confederate President Jefferson Davis on his retreat at the end of the Civil War. An artist for the London Illustrated News painted Davis crossing the Yadkin at this spot on April 17, 1865, Brownlee says, and she added copies of the painting to her letter to commissioners.

A small stream, known historically as McGoon's or Magoune's Creek, is located on the race course property between U.S. 29 and I-85. Brownlee says interesting road beds, fords and timber bridge remains are along the stream.

"There may also be archaeological remains of a large 1780 Revolutionary War campsite," Brownlee said in her April 4 letter.

Brownlee says she has had several conversations with developers Dave Risdon and Frank McGuire and adds that she is sensitive to their rights as property owners.

But in her follow-up letter to commissioners, Brownlee said history "belongs to all of us." She made special note of commissioners' decision to preserve the Dunn's Mountain area.

"However," Brownlee said, "it occurred to me that saving Dunn's Mountain and not lifting a finger to save the most significant Civil War battlefield west of Bentonville would be crazy."

Brownlee hopes to attend the commissioners' hearing June 20 on the race course. She wants commissioners to send the matter to a committee or task force to study whether there could be alternatives that both respect the property owners' rights and save the historic site. She also will ask that the conditional-use permit not be granted until the Keeper rules whether the site is eligible for the National Register.

If commissioners don't favor those suggestions, Brownlee says, she will ask that several conditions be added to the permit. They would include retaining specific historic features on the property, allowing access for research purposes, providing for a museum on the property, commemorating Civil War events which occurred there, granting public access to the 1818 Beard Bridge site and minimizing grading and alterations to the topography.

"This land is not distinguished in appearance," Brownlee told commissioners. "It was, however, distinguished by the events which occurred there. It deserves our respect."

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