December 4, 2017
Jim Lighthizer and the Civil War Trust
How are battlefields preserved? Why are battlefields preserved? What should we do with a battlefield site once it is protected? These are all important questions and we are fortunate to be joined by someone who can possibly provide the answers. Jim Lighthizer is the President of the Civil War Trust and an expert in battlefield preservation. Join Nick as Jim shares insight into how he maintains momentum at the head of the nations leading Civil War Battlefield preservation organization on this week’s PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] This week on PreserveCast we’ll be joined by Jim Lighthizer, President of the Civil War Preservation Trust since 1999 when it was formed by the merger of the Civil War Trust and the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites. Before that, Jim was a member of the Maryland State Legislature and the Maryland Secretary of Transportation. Between the programs he created as a government official and his work with the Civil War Trust, Jim has been involved in saving historic battlefield land all across the nation. We’ll learn how Jim has done this work, what inspires him, and what lies ahead for the preservation of Maryland and America’s most historic battlefields this week on PreserveCast.
From Preservation Maryland Studios in the historic podcast district of Baltimore, this is PreserveCast.
The Genesis of the Civil War Trust
[Nick Redding] This is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast. Today we are joined by Jim Lighthizer who has been the President of the Civil War Trust since 1999. Before that, he was a member of the Maryland State Legislature. Between the programs he’s created as a government official and his work at the Civil War Trust, Jim has helped to save tens of thousands of acres of historic battlefield land all across the nation. Jim, it’s a pleasure to have you with us today on PreserveCast.
[Jim Lighthizer] Thank you, Nick, for having me.
[NR] So Jim, now I think because of the long career you’ve had with the Civil War Trust, your name is synonymous with battlefield preservation and land preservation. But how did that come to be? I mean you were a state legislator, you were in the Maryland governor’s administration as the Secretary of Transportation. But did you always have a love for Civil War history? How did you come to be what you are today?
[JL] Well, I always had a love for American history. Generally, it’s in my DNA and I don’t know why I love American history. But in 1983 I was going to the Outer Banks for a week at the beach with my family, and I asked a buddy if he would give me a book to read and he recommended a book called Killer Angels, which many people know is the story, a novel of the Battle of Gettysburg. I told him I don’t read novels and he said, “Try it. You’ll like it.” I tried it and I read it I think three times all total since then and it ignited not an interest in Civil War history, but a passion for Civil War history. Since then I’ve read hundreds of books on the subject and it has become an acute interest to say the least. Later it expanded to the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.
[NR] And while you were Maryland’s Secretary of Transportation you had a big opportunity, I’m somewhat familiar with the story but I’m sure our listeners aren’t. You had an opportunity to make a big difference in terms of the preservation of some pretty important places in Maryland. How did that all come together? What was it that you were able to work on during that time period?
[JL] Well, Governor Schaefer appointed me Secretary of Transportation, and I served from basically 1991 through the very beginning of ’95. In late 1991 the United States Congress passed something called the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991. And it was basically a transportation funding mechanism that was a radical departure from what had been the old National Defense Highways Act, which was started in the Eisenhower Administration. So this was the first really different way to fund transportation, and we noticed that they had something called an enhancement category in part of the bill, part of the law that went to funding highways. And it listed, I think, like nine categories or ten categories or eleven, something like that. And we decided to push the federal bureaucracy to see if they would approve the expenditure money to save battlefields on the theory that it improved or enhanced that transportation experience if you could see it from a highway. And to my amazement, they bought it, bought that idea of expenditure. And so we were in business.
And we set up a little mechanism and basically we got in Maryland then about 10 million for enhancement, $10 million a year. And we spend a whole lot of it on buying battlefields or the easements, or the development rights on battlefields – basically preserving battlefields. And then we partnered with the Department of Natural Resources, my buddy Dr. Tory Brown ran it back then. And basically, we have 50/50 funding. And we saved over 4,500 acres of Civil War battlefield land in Maryland alone – in Antietam mainly, but also at Monocacy and a number of other smaller places. But it was a real… it revolutionized preservation, at least for the funding, and it spread all across America. And for the 20 some years that that program existed – it doesn’t anymore – for the 20 some years that it existed, it saved way over 10,000 acres around the country of Civil War battlefield land.
[NR] And Jim, for people that are listening who are dealing with politicians and trying to get them to fund whether it be land preservation or building preservation, this difficult work, you make it sound so simple in the sense that Governor Schaefer was so supportive of it. What was Governor Schaefer’s – did he just truly love this? Did he have a passion for it? Did he just listen to you and believe in what you were working on? How did Governor Schaefer become such a champion of this kind of thing?
[JL] Governor Schaefer loved history – loved American history, and he particularly liked Civil War history. I can remember taking him to Antietam and finding out that he’d often been to Antietam when he was mayor of Baltimore before he was governor. So the guy loved history. And when I came up with this idea to use transportation enhancement money to save history – save battlefields – he loved it, he said it was a great idea. And I know once Louis Goldstein who was in the Comptroller of the state of Maryland and an icon in and of itself, when he questioned – because he didn’t understand easements, that we were buying easements, which are essentially the development rights off a property – Governor Schaefer was very emphatic that he wanted this to be done and carried today. But he just loved history, I can tell you that. He loved American history.
[NR] And so from Antietam, you go on after your career in public service. You go back to the private sector and then you come back out with what is today the Civil War trust. But what was it when you took over the reins in 1999? What kind of an organization did you find? Because I think a lot of people imagine it’s just always been this robust sort of powerhouse that’s out there saving land and just victory after victory. But what was it when you took over?
[JL] This Friday will be my 18th anniversary. When I took over December 1, 1999, we had 24 employees between the two organizations and we had $7 million in debt and we didn’t really have a way to pay for the debt. And battlefield land was mortgaged, it was collateral. So if we defaulted on the debt, much of the battlefield land that had already been “saved” was gonna be been unsaved. It was going to go back on the market. So that was the challenge ahead of me. And all I can tell you is that there’s some fairly complex assignations we took at $7 million dollars down to $0 in 18 months. And we also had to make a lot of staff changes too. A lot of staff changes. And in fact, after about six months of my being there of the original 24 including me, there was five left including me. It was a potentially disastrous situation because of the debt, but we turned it around.
[NR] And today, just for people who are listening and maybe aren’t so familiar with your operations today, how would you contrast that with where you are today? What’s the size of the organization? What’s the capacity of the work that you’re doing today?
[JL] Well, in a phrase it’s like night and day. We raised a little north of $25 million last year. We’ve had record revenue years, six of the last seven, one better than the next. And the one we didn’t make it was the second biggest revenue year we’ve ever had, that’s number one. But number two, and far more importantly, is that we’ve been able to save land. We’ve saved – including reclaiming the land that was mortgaged in 1999 – we’ve saved north of (I think) it’s 47,000 acres in 24 states and 100+ battlefields around the country. So it’s been a huge change. We have 39 employees now, but every day is still a challenge. But that’s by design. We don’t have an endowment. We don’t want an endowment. Everything we take in, we spend buying land or on education. We’re pretty much a pay-as-you-go operation.
[NR] I’ve heard you say that before. Why is it you wouldn’t want an endowment? What’s the thinking there? I’m curious.
[JL] Endowments, invariably make you fat and lazy. They introduce complacency into an organization. And non-profits that is particularly dangerous because it’s not our money and people have a ball spending other people’s money. I mean, just look at the governments anywhere and a lot of non-profits. And my objective is to keep our staff lean and mean and a little bit on edge. Everybody in this organization knows when they get up in the morning, we’ve got to figure out a way to raise money if we’re going to do our mission. And that’s the way I like it. It’s just too easy to get complacent, absolutely too easy and that’s the biggest thing I fight. And I preach to the staff almost every day, “It isn’t your money. Spend it like the guy who gave it to you is looking over your shoulder.” And as I said, we don’t want complacency. Any kind of institution that is playing with other people’s money very easily get complacent. I’ve seen it time, and time, and time again. Just look at universities, generally, and I rest my case.
[NR] Yeah. That’s interesting, and I think it’s a good insight for a lot of people who are listening to this podcast who do run non-profits and work in preservation. I think there’s a lot of focus on trying to build endowments, and I think that’s good insight and good advice. Why don’t we take a quick break? When we come back we’ll talk a little bit about where you guys are headed at Civil War Trust and some of the exciting work that you’re doing beyond the Civil War and we’ll do that right here when we return on PreserveCast.
And now it’s time for a Preservation Explanation
[Stephen Israel] Jim and Nick are talking about the nuts and bolts of battlefield preservation. especially about battlefields from the Civil War. Even though it can feel like distant history, for some families, there are only a few generations between the Civil War and the world of today. Considering that and the degree to which the outcome of the Civil War continues to have an effect on American society and the American identity to this day, it is no wonder that the preservation of battlefields can be such an important issue for so many preservationists and others around the country.
All this got me wondering, “When does the work to preserve a battlefield begin?” And while there is plenty of work still to be done for most battlefields, with only an estimated 20 percent of the land on which the war was fought being preserved today – either by nonprofits like the Civil War Trust or by national, state, or local parks – it’s kind of surprising to learn just how soon some people saw the value of preserving this land. In the case of what is today no doubt one of the most famous battles and battlefields from the war (Gettysburg) the first steps of preservation began almost immediately.
The battle ended on July 3rd, 1863. But the after-effects of the battle continued afterwards. There were 8,900 dead remaining on the battlefield who had to be buried. The process began fairly quickly but several days later on July 10th, Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin, visited the area and publicly expressed his support for finding a more permanent resting place for the fallen soldiers. An attorney, David Willis, was tasked by Curtin to purchase 17 acres of land around what is now known as Cemetery Hill (then known as Raffensperger’s Hill) to create a new soldiers’ cemetery next to the relatively small Evergreen Cemetery, and for the land to be under the domain of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Before he could finalize the purchase of land on August 14th another attorney, David McConaughy, had purchased the land with plans for the space to be run by the Federal Government. Only about a month later McConaughy had purchased a much larger swath of land, 600 hundred total acres, that included Little Round Top. With this new land adding hundreds of acres to what was required to actually inter the fallen soldiers, McConaughy began the process of preserving the battlefield.
To give you some perspective on how quickly these moves were being made, President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was given at the consecration of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery that McConaughy had purchased the land for on November 19th. I suppose an important takeaway from this story is that it’s never too soon to think about preserving something of meaning for future generations. It’s no doubt thanks to the foresight of folks like Governor Curtin and McConaughy, the important places on the Gettysburg Battlefield have been preserved so well over the years. Unfortunately, that is only one example and there are dozens of other sites where American soldiers lost their lives that did not have powerful people nearby who saw the value those places could hold for future generations. Well, starting in the 1960s and ’70s, preservationists began to understand that value and started taking the preliminary steps of purchasing land and recognizing the events that happened on that ground. Much like Curtin and McConaughy did for Gettysburg and Jim Lighthizer and the Civil War Trust are continuing that work today. I’ll let you get back to him and Nick on PreserveCast.
[Nick Redding] Do you have questions? We may have answers. If at any point during this podcast you’ve thought of a question that you have for us or maybe one of our guests, we’d love to hear about it. You can send an email to email@example.com and we’ll try and answer it right here on the air on the next episode of PreserveCast.
[NR] This is Nick Redding. You’re listening to PreserveCast. We’re joined today by Jim Lighthizer, the president of the Civil War Trust. We’ve been talking about all things battlefield preservation, how Jim got involved, how a novel spurred interest in a 18-year career now in battlefield preservation. And before we took our break we were hearing about the pitfalls of endowments and fundraising for non-profits. But, Jim, there’s a lot of exciting things for people who are following your organization that seem to be kind of coming out from Civil War Trust, particularly with Campaign 1776. So I mean, for people who are listening it’s an effort to save battlefield land from the Tevolution and the War in 1812, but what was the thinking behind it? Why did you make that jump? It’s a big shift, and how did you come to that decision?
[JL] Actually, it wasn’t that hard. First, we made the decision in part because the National Park Service asked us to get the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 business because they just done a comprehensive review of the battlefield land from those two wars and what was the status of it. But the other reason – and we would done this in any event – is that to fully understand the Civil War – what caused it, what led to it, the essence of it – you have to know your early American history. You have to know something of the Revolutionary War, even the War of 1812. The Civil War really focused on two issues and they both involve the constitution. One was the issue of slavery and the other was succession. Neither had been settled. And they were most crucial, particular succession to the future of the country. And the genesis for those disputes started before the Revolutionary War. You have to know something of the Revolutionary War time period to appreciate how the Civil War came about. What we do now, in effect, is tell basically the story of the creation and the defining of America in its first 100 years, which is the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the ultimate defining (which still affects us very much today) and that is the Civil War. So the idea to tell the whole story of the creation and defining of this country you really had to reach back to the Revolutionary War and tell that story. And of course, the key documents, the success of the country, the creation of the country, were all determined on the battlefields. That Declaration of Independence wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on unless we won the Revolutionary War. And the Constitution signed to be the first enduring document of its kind in world history, it wasn’t going to be worth much until it was tested first by the War of 1812 and then really tested in Civil War. And when we won and beat the British in the War of 1812, and of course the North prevailed in 1865, that made everything permanent. It made them real.
[NR] How has your membership responded? I mean, you took the leap and you’ve got a fantastic membership and a great track record in raising funds. Was it followed by that kind of success when you branched out into these other conflicts?
[JL] Yeah, I can tell you in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 business now permanently. It was kind of the test for the first year or two, and this is year three and we are in it. And the response has been overwhelmingly positive by our membership. And we had some extra members as well because it brings the Revolutionary War to the lesser extent of the War of 1812. So, in short, it’s been very positive.
[NR] And where will you head next? Is there any interest in moving into the Indian wars? Or World War I, World War II? Is it just what took place here in the United States? Is there an interest in being the “battlefield trust” of the United States? Or do you foresee that being a shift you probably won’t make?
[JL] It’s impossible to predict the future. But my guess is it’ll be years from now, we will expand into other wars on American soil. I think we’ll probably always remain, essentially, an American battlefield organization. But right now, you’ve got to walk before you run. And we’ll be focusing for the immediate future in the next number of years on the three wars that I just spoke of. We have no immediate plans for anything spanning beyond that. I will tell you that the challenge that we face as an organization, and I think that a lot of organizations face, is that we need to tell the story of American history better than what we are doing. And that flies in the headwinds of that fact that in my view, it’s not being taught in the schools like it used to be. What is being taught is often grossly distorted. And sadly, in the last year or so, you can see an active movement to actually destroy our American history, just erase it. It started with Confederate monuments and of course now it’s spread to some Revolutionary War monuments and even monuments that aren’t necessarily directly connected with wars like Christopher Columbus. There’s an anti-American history movement out there. I don’t think it’s a lot of people. But they’re certainly vocal. And they’ve certainly done a lot of damage and been somewhat effective. And the other challenge we face is to what I call marketing. It’s not good enough to save this battlefield land. We’ve got to do an improved job of telling the story once you get to the battlefield because these battlefields are really nothing more than outdoor classrooms to teach America about who they are, what they are, the way they are. What we’ve also got to do is get people to come to these battlefields, and that’s marketing. And that’s one of the things we’re wrestling with now. We believe we’re the best history land preservation organization in the country, probably ever. But that’s not enough. You’ve got to be able to interpret it. You’ve got to keep people interested. You’ve got to get them to come back to learn more. And to that’s going to involve not only state-of-the-art interpretation, but it’s also going to involve some form of marketing. We’ve got to entice people to learn or want to learn about their history.
[NR] Are you succeeding at that? Or is there a lot of work to be done there you think?
[JL] Oh, there’s a lot of work to be done. We’re just starting on the marketing side, just scratching the surface. We’re very good at education, particularly using the places, the battlefields to teach from. I mean, I don’t think there’s anybody better than us at that. But we’ve got to get better. But the marketing is the challenge. I don’t know any history organization on a sustained basis that has been able to do it in this country. And we’ve got to figure that out.
[NR] Yeah. It’s a big challenge. And perhaps even greater challenge than saving the places themselves, but making the places relevant and making sure people going and visit them.
[JL] Yeah, they’ve got to care about the history or the democracy is in jeopardy. Because if people don’t know their history in a democracy that is extremely dangerous, extremely dangerous.
[NR] Well, Jim, before we depart here, we always ask everyone who comes on about their favorite historic building or place. And that’s normally a pretty difficult question for the type of people that we’re interviewing because these are people who love places and love history as a I know you do. But if you had to narrow it down to one, you had to make that decision, could you decide what is your favorite building or favorite historic place? Did you have one that sort of takes the cake?
[JL] Yeah, that’s easy. My favorite historic is building is my farm. Property was patented in the lease in 1673. The house, the original farm was built probably in the 1720s. The new part is 1787. And we’ve got a Revolutionary War captain buried in the cemetery. It is a fantastic building with just a… it’s late Georgian and early federal, two and a half stories that overlooks the [inaudible]. That’s my favorite historic building.
[NR] I think that works. Well, Jim, it’s been a pleasure to have you on. On behalf of everyone working out here in preservation, we appreciate all the good work that you’re doing at Civil War Trust. And it’s exciting and fun to watch where you guys head next and all the great things that you’re doing to preserve American history. So thank you for that and thank you for joining us today.
[JL] Well, and listen, good luck to you guys. You all are doing God’s work as well. And thank you very much for having me, Nick.
[NR] All right. Thanks, Jim.
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This podcast was developed under a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, a unit of the National Park Service. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Preservation Maryland and the Maryland Milestones Heritage Area and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the National Park Service or the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training.
This week’s episode was produced and engineered by Ben and Stephen Israel. Our executive producer is Aaron Marcavitch. Our theme music is performed by the band Pretty Gritty. You can learn more about them at their website: PrettyGrittyMusic.com, on Facebook, or on Twitter @PG_PrettyGritty.
To learn about Preservation Maryland or this week’s guests, visit: PreservationMaryland.org. While there, you can check out our blog and learn about what’s current in historic preservation. We’re also on Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Twitter @PreservationMD. And of course, a very special thank you to our listeners. Keep preserving!
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