Hallowed Ground

National recognition for one of the country’s most cherished and revered swaths of land

Medium-sized image unavailable for this photo.
Wilderness National Battlefield, Virginia

Credit: Brian Wolfe

Just four months after Union soldiers defeated Confederate troops at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln declared the fields where they fought "hallowed ground." Today, thanks to federal legislation signed into law on May 8, Gettysburg and scores of other historic landmarks are part of the "Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area," a corridor running from Pennsylvania through Maryland and West Virginia and into Albemarle County, Va.

Known as the region "Where America Happened," the Journey is home to a vast collection of historic places—many more than two centuries old. Among them are nine presidential homes, 73 National Historic Districts, 15 historic Main Street communities, several significant African American historic sites, and the nation's largest concentration of Civil War landmarks.

The new Heritage Area designation is even more remarkable because three years ago, the National Trust listed the corridor as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, publicizing the fact that many sites there were threatened by rampant development.

"It's enormously gratifying to be recognized as an area critically important to American heritage," says Cate Magennis Wyatt, president of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, headquartered in Waterford, Va. "It's a trip every American should take—to walk in the boots of those before us, and to enjoy the beauty of this region." The partnership helps affiliated sites promote tourism and provides a network for activists and leaders to share information and preservation strategies.

Peter Brink, senior vice president for programs at the National Trust, agrees: "The Journey is the scene of monumental events, often set in working rural landscapes. The sites it contains are both important and unforgettable for Americans and visitors from throughout the world."

The treasures that visitors can explore on the ­Journey Through Hallowed Ground include:

Culpeper, Va. This small town is a thriving Main Street community, with several Civil War landmarks (including nearby Brandy Station battleground, site of the largest cavalry battle in North American history). Visitors can take a guided Civil War walking tour and visit the national cemetery established here in 1867.

Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County, The Plains, Va. Renowned for its genealogical resources and educational programs, this association offers a comprehensive exhibit on African American history, from the 17th century to the civil rights movement.

Monticello, near Charlottesville, Va. Thomas Jefferson's mountaintop estate caps the southern end of the Journey. A very personal example of Roman classicism, the house remained Jefferson's obsession as he built and rebuilt it over 40 years in pursuit of perfection. Monticello remains the only private American residence on the World Heritage List.


For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.