Thursday, December 22, 2011

Revisiting Previous Most Endangered Sites: The Battle of Mt. Zion, Loudoun County

This is the second blog article in a series of articles that will provide updates on sites previously listed to Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered Sites list.

Preservationists oftentimes personify buildings but when I read about Mt. Zion Church near Gilbert’s Corner in Loudoun County my personification intensified until I actually wanted to be the church and witness the history that surrounds it.

Mt. Zion Church, built in 1851, stood witness to two Civil War battles— the 1863 Battle of Aldie and the Battle of Mt. Zion which took place in 1864. Both battles were the scenes of artillery and cavalry duels and fierce hand-to-hand fighting.

Mt. Zion Church was used as a hospital for wounded Union troops. Graffiti still exists on the church walls, left behind by Union soldiers. Pews were converted to hospital beds and some were used to make coffins for those that did not survive.

The Church burial grounds are the final resting place for twelve Union cavalrymen, thirteen Confederates who died after the War, and sixty-three African-Americans who were slaves or freed men buried prior to 1865.

The church is also where Colonel John Mosby, or the Gray Ghost, first met with locals to form the
Mosby Rangers, a ranger unit noted for its lightning quick raids and its ability to elude Union Army pursuers and disappear, blending in with local farmers and townspeople.

Another interesting historical fact is Mosby was almost killed during the Battle of Aldie when he was attacked by a Union soldier with a saber. He was saved when Thomas Richards, one of his Rangers, jumped in front of the blade and was stabbed in the shoulder himself.

This rich history was threatened by a proposed residential development in 2006 which prompted the
Mt. Zion Church Preservation Association to nominate the Battle of Mt. Zion to Preservation Virginia’s Endangered Sites List in 2006.

The development of dense housing on the battlefield would have destroyed the integrity of the battlefield as well as of Mt. Zion Church.

Luckily, the
Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, working closely with the Commonwealth of Virginia, Loudoun County, Piedmont Environmental Council and the Mt. Zion Church Preservation Association, was able to purchase the site in 2009 and protect it from development.

The Battles of Aldie and Mt. Zion as well as Mt. Zion Church are now part of the
Gilbert’s Corner Regional Park, a 155-acre public recreational park.

The Park Authority owns and operates many historic and recreational sites in Northern Virginia including the Aldie Mill Historic Park, very close to Gilbert’s Corner, which contains a beautiful four-story brick mill with metal waterwheels.

Tracy Gillespie, the Historic Site Supervisor of Gilbert's Corner Regional Park and Aldie Mills Historic Park, agrees that, while it didn’t happen overnight, this Endangered Site Program listing is one that has had a very positive outcome.

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