FORT ANN — A Fourth of July announcement by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at the Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland contained good news for residents working to restore the Battle of Fort Anne site on Battle Hill.
Zinke announced $7.2 million in grants to help identify, preserve, and protect America’s battlefields, including $175,523 for Battle Hill, a project being done in partnership with the Civil War Trust and Agricultural Stewardship Association, Inc.
The funding will help complete the purchase of 165 acres to preserve the battle site.
“It’s been a long road, but it has come to a conclusion,” Fort Ann Supervisor Richard Moore said. “The people of the town are very appreciative of Gino Vona and his willingness to help bring this to its conclusion.”
Vona was trying to build a mine on the site, but he faced opposition from those who wanted to preserve the battle site.
The grant was one of two announced Tuesday for New York battlefields. The state will receive $683,798 for Sackets Harbor battlefield, again in partnership with the Civil War Trust, which has expanded its work to include other, earlier, wars.
Sackets Harbor on Lake Ontario, the site of two battles in the War of 1812, is a state historical site that includes exhibits, a restored 1850s Navy Yard and Commandant’s House, outdoor signs, and tours.
Some large grants
Antietam National Battlefield will receive funding for two projects. That funding comes from President Donald Trump’s donation of $78,333, his first quarter salary, along with a private donation that pushed the total to $100,000.
The $7.2 million will preserve nearly 1,200 acres of battlefield land as part of the American Battlefield Land Acquisition Grants program. The grant projects are located at 19 battlefields threatened with damage or destruction by urban and suburban development in Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The largest grant, one of $1.7 million, will help preserve the Malvern Hill battlefield. A grant of $1.1 million is going to the Brandywine battlefield and $1 million is going to the Opequon battlefield. Malvern Hill and Opequon are in Virginia and Brandywine is in Pennsylvania.
The grants are funded from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which uses revenue from federal oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf to purchase land, water, and wetlands.
Fight for battlefield
The Civil War Trust, as part of its “Campaign 1776,” acquired the 165-acre site, partly through purchasing land and partly through a donation by owner Gino Vona.
Vona had been fighting for the better part of a decade to get state permission to build a mine on part of the site. But in March 2016, he contacted town officials and said he was interested in selling the site to the town if he could not open a mine there.
Last year, Moore said ownership of the land will go to the town, and while there are no immediate plans, the long-range goal is to develop it as a tourist site. That would fit with other historic sites in the area, including Fort Ticonderoga, Fort William Henry in Lake George and Rogers Island in Fort Edward.
Moore said the fair market value of the land was listed at $320,000 and the deal will include $210,000 from the trust. Vona is donating the rest of the land.
Vona bought the 165 acres on the hill from Marilyn Bray in 2007 for $55,000, according to county records.
Christine Milligan of Fort Ann American Legion Post 703 has been one of the loudest voices in the battle to save Battle Hill, and she said she was most appreciative of Moore’s role in the process.
The battle took place when advance units of the British forces began moving south toward New York City in 1777. The British encountered significant resistance from about 550 Americans at Fort Anne on July 8. Although no attempt was actually made to permanently hold the position, there was a two-hour skirmish fought until it was believed that the advance units were being reinforced.
At the time, the town’s named was spelled Fort Anne, but it has been changed since.