Judge David Schenck’s Vision
The creation of the battlefield park was largely due to the vision, the energy and the devotion of David Schenck, left (1835-1902). A lawyer by profession and a Superior Court Judge,
Schenck moved with his family to Greensboro from Lincoln County in the early 1880s to accept the position of General Counselor for the Richmond and Danville Rail Road Company. Schenck would often drive his horse and buggy to the battlefield to study the land over which the armies of Greene and Cornwallis clashed on March 15, 1781.
On one of these visits in October 1886 Schenck recorded in his diary that he had decided to purchase the site of the battle to “…to redeem the battlefield from oblivion.” His irresistible urge to carry out his plan spurred him to immediate action and before the end of the day he had bargained to purchase thirty acres of land.
Schenck succeeded in imparting some of his enthusiasm for the preservation of the battlefield to a group of his closest friends, and they determined to place the bold enterprise on a firm basis. This group incorporated under the name of Guilford Battle Ground Company and petitioned the North Carolina State Legislature for a charter.
Guilford Battle Ground Company Incorporates — 1887
An act of incorporation was passed by the legislature and ratified on March 7, 1887 with the stated purpose that the corporation would exist “for the benevolent purpose of preserving and adorning the grounds on and over which the battle of Guilford Courthouse was fought” and the “erection thereon of monuments, tombstones, or other memorials to commemorate the heroic deeds of the American patriots who participated in this battle for liberty and independence.” These actions by David Schenck and the members of the Guilford Battle Ground Company marked one of the first steps in the United States to preserve a battlefield of the American Revolution.
David Schenck was elected the first president of the Guilford Battle Ground Company and held the position until his death in 1902.
The Guilford Battle Ground Company made money and purchased more land through the sale of shares of stock for $25. In 1893, stock was owned by one hundred individuals and corporations around the state.
Monuments and Land Development
The first monument erected in the park was in 1887 and was dedicated to Arthur Forbis. During the next 30 years, between 20 and 30 monuments were erected and dedicated. Some were placed by the Company, some by individuals or families, and others by governmental units, including the United States and the State of North Carolina.
The monument remembering the heroic deeds of General Nathanael Greene (left) was erected by the U.S. Government in 1915.
During its first 30 years of existence, the Company would obtain roughly 150 acres of the battlefield including the traditional site of the courthouse building that gave its name to one of the bloodiest Revolutionary War battles in 1781.The Company also opened a small museum and displayed 18th and 19th century artifacts found on the field, constructed several spring houses in the park, and created Wilfong.
A Shrine for Patriots
In addition to the development of the battlefield, the Guilford Battle Ground Company sought to make the property a historic shrine to the North Carolina patriots of the Revolutionary War. The remains of six persons were secured and re-interred on the battlefield including two of North Carolina’s three signers of the Declaration of Independence, William Hooper and John Penn; Joseph Winston, a North Carolina militia officer and senator; and Jesse Franklin, a North Carolina soldier and governor.
Hundreds Come for Celebrations
Annual patriotic celebrations were held on the grounds, usually the Fourth of July, and people from surrounding countries gathered en masse to picnic, hear famous speakers and witness the unveiling and dedication of new monuments. Photo courtesy of nps.gov.
People traveled to the grounds by horse, or later by automobile, and on foot. Others traveled by train excursion on the Old Cape Fear and Yadkin Valley Rail Road that ran through the park (the line later was absorbed by Southern Railway which abandoned it in the 1980s.
The Battlefield Gains National Status
In 1910 the company started an effort to have the battlefield declared a national preserve. On March 2, 1917 legislation creating the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park was enacted making it the first battlefield of the American Revolution preserved by the Federal Government. With the passage of the act the Company deeded its land holdings, totaling 125 acres, to the United States and went out of existence.
From 1917 to 1933 the park was under the administration of the United States War Department. Battlefield commissioners, appointed by the Secretary of War, handled the day to day operations of the park, the planting of decorative shrubbery and trees, and the mowing of well-kept lawns. The War Department commissioners also continued the tradition of erecting and dedicating monuments on the battlefield.
In 1933, by an act of Congress, all battlefields under the care of the War Department, including Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, were transferred to the U.S. Department of the Interior to be administered by the National Park Service. As a result many changes were made that began to make the area resemble the open woodland in which the American and British forces fought.
Rallying Citizens to Overcome Threats
Since the 1960s the park has had to face the threat of development. By the time the City of Greensboro annexed the land around the park in 1987, new housing and business construction was flourishing. Rezoning spurred businesses to build on land historic to the battlefield. This growth also meant the widening of nearby roads and streets.
In the mid-1980s, the area around the National Military Park including the historic Hoskins House was destined to become a shopping center. The GBC was revived to save the Hoskins family land and any structures thought to be associated with the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.
The GBC raised funds to purchase and preserve the 7.5 acre section of Joseph Hoskins’ farmstead and where British troops staged their first battle line at Guilford Courthouse. With donations from the community and a leadership grant from the Tannenbaum-Sternberger Foundation, the GBC bought the house and seven acres of land.
Tannenbaum Historic Park
Today, Tannenbaum Historic Park preserves a remnant of the 150-acre farmstead of Joseph Hoskins. Hoskins served the 18th century Guilford County community as a constable, tax collector and sheriff. During the Battle on March 15, 1781 , Hoskins’ farmstead served as a staging area for British troops under General Charles Cornwallis, who described the area as “a considerable plantation.”
The Hoskins House Historic District also includes the 19th century Coble Barn which was moved from a southeastern part of Guilford County and restored and located within the park. The House and barn, along with a reconstructed kitchen, blacksmith shop, crop exhibit and gardens provide visitors with the opportunity to experience what daily life was like for the colonial settlers of Piedmont North Carolina. In 1987 the Park was deeded to the City of Greensboro.
Greene’s Campaign: Shillings for the General
The GBC remained active after the successful completion of the Colonial Heritage Center but felt the need to launch yet another campaign to benefit both Guilford Courthouse National Military Park and Tannenbaum Historic Park. While both parks receive government funding adequate to maintain existing operations, providing modern, updated and enhanced exhibits to replace outdated and inaccurate 23 year old exhibits at the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park was beyond what existing park operating budgets could provide.
“Greene’s Campaign: Shillings for the General” successfully raised $1.3 million and was completed in May of 2001. The new exhibits include the new visitor’s center film “Another Such Victory” for the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park and all exhibits were completed and opened in August of 2001. The campaign received support from a broad base of local foundations, corporations, individuals, and the federal government.
In addition to supporting the educational and preservation efforts at both parks, the Guilford Battleground Company now has a new focus in aiding the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in its efforts to protect land designated as part of the original battlefield through a land acquisition program.
Modern historical research reveals that the battlefield is five times larger than the land protected by the 220 acre National Military Park. Thus one of the challenges facing the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park is to leave the legacy of the park founders who dreamed of the preservation of the battlefield as a national treasure for future generations.
Land Acquisition Revolving Fund
The Guilford Battleground Company in partnership with the Piedmont Land Conservancy established the Guilford Courthouse Land Acquisition Revolving Fund for acquisition of critical battlefield lands within the Guilford Courthouse National Landmark Area. The area around the park is popular and hosts over 800,000 visitors each year to its historic grounds. This area is also very desirable real estate for commercial and residential development due to its location in the city.
Key tracts of the battlefield will be lost if action is not taken quickly and properties purchased when they become available for sale. Today approximately 25 percent of the original Revolutionary War battlefield is protected. Much of the original battlefield has been irreversibly lost to development.
National Historic Landmark
In 2001 the site of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse was designated a National Historic Landmark, encompassing an area of 350 acres including Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, Tannenbaum Historic Park, parts of Greensboro Country Park, and 25 acres of privately owned lands. This designation concluded two years of detailed surveys of core battlefield lands to identify all remaining areas where topography remained the same since the battle in 1781. Representing only a fraction of the original 1000-acre battlefield, the National Landmark area excludes lands lost to intensive commercial or residential development. Establishment of the Landmark is a key part of the battlefield protection strategy and identifies critical private lands for voluntary acquisition to buffer the existing Park from further encroachment of development. However, landmark status does not offer any legal protections from development of privately owned lands.
That is where combined efforts are required not only from the parks and the Guilford Battleground Company, but from other organizations as well. Because of the partnership with The Piedmont Land Conservancy, a land trust serving nine counties in North Carolina, three tracts of critical battlefield land have been protected and will be officially added to the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park property.
The Guilford Battleground Company is actively pursuing the acquisition of other tracts of land as they become up for sale within the National Historic Landmark designated area. Guilford Battleground Company is here to stay and continues to play a vital role in establishing and also maintaining both Guilford Courthouse National Military Park and Tannenbaum Historic Park.