A battle is brewing in Fort Ann, Washington County. Troy Topsoil has purchased part of Battle Hill, the site of the Revolutionary War Battle of Fort Anne. The company hopes to mine the battlefield, where an estimated 100 to 200 men were killed, wounded, or captured.
A group of historians and volunteers has planned a day of events to highlight the history of the Battle of Fort Anne, including an afternoon roundtable discussion on the current threat to the battlefield this Saturday, April 28th at Fort Ann Central School.
“This place has remained undisturbed for over 235 years, then Troy [Topsoil] obtained the property and has cleared out trees, built roads, installed culverts and drilled wells, in order to operate a sand and gravel pit,” Fort Ann Town Historian Virginia Parrott, who opposes the project, told me, “To most people in town including the Fort Ann American Legion Post 703, this is a desecration of sacred ground as people have fought and died here in the name of freedom, and are buried on Battle Hill.” [You can read more about the history of Battle Hill here].
“That whole hill is a battle site,” Parrott had previously told the Glens Falls Post-Star. “There was thousands of troops there. We’re not talking about a little group of soldiers … like Roger’s Rangers that went out with 10 or 12 people. We’re talking about Burgoyne’s entire army.”
Anthony Grande, speaking for the mining company, said an archaeologist report commissioned by his company showed no one was buried in the area targeted for the open pit mine. “The battlefield is south of me where there is an issue,” Grande told the Post-Star. “It’s definitely south of there, probably 3,000 to 4,000 feet. I’m not exactly sure.” The company is seeking to open a 30 to 40-acre mine on Battle Hill.
Several historic sources report that at least six men are buried at Battle Hill according to Parrott, who has been town historian since 1975. The site has never been listed on state or national registers of historic places, although the Town of Fort Anne installed a plaque at the site in 1929 and the American Legion places flowers on one of the graves each year. The lack of established protection for important American battlefields is common. “Of the nation’s 243 Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields, 141 have been severely impaired or destroyed” a recent report by the Department of Interior’s American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) concluded (2007).
Battle Hill was classified as a Principal Battlefield, Priority 2, Class C site in that report, meaning that it was home to a “nationally significant event” and the “site of a military or naval action that influenced the strategy, direction, or outcome of a campaign or other operation.” Furthermore, the report found that “The endangered Class C sites in this category should be the focus of immediate and direct preservation measures by state and local governments and organizations. These sites may not survive without immediate intervention.”
Tanya Grossett, surveyed the battlefield in 2001 for that report and concluded, with help of Jim Warren of NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and Chris Martin of NYS Archives and Records Administration, that the quarry does fall within the core of the battlefield. Paul Hawke, director of the American Battlefield Protection Program concurred with that finding after a tour of the site last Tuesday.
The land is owned by Gino Vona. According to a story last week in Post-Star, “Vona said he’s offered to donate a small sliver of the site, about 20 or 30 acres, for preservation and he questions whether stalling a project that could create jobs, for the sake of historic preservation, is an appropriate governmental move.”
“These men fought against the king who was taking their things. Many of them were just regular, hard-working people,” Vona told Post-Star reporter Jon Alexander, “Aren’t we talking about doing the same thing?”
The company had applied for a permit to mine the location in August 2009 which did not include a state Historic Preservation Office review and was denied. The company submitted a new application at the end of 2011. The public will be able to comment on the project officially after the application is ruled complete by the NYS Department of Conservation.
The event on Saturday is sponsored by the Washington County Historical Society and will feature Author Karl Crannell, Fort Ticonderoga Chris Fox, Kingsbury historian Paul Loding, and Matt Zembo from Hudson Valley Community College.
The event will begin run from 11 am to 4 pm. There will be a memorial service at Noon; the roundtable discussion will follow at 1 pm at the Fort Ann Central School Auditorium.