Battlefield could be national park

cannon on battlefield

Federal agency wants to ensure Revolutionary War site is preserved.

By JEFF MURRAY
Star-Gazette

Newtown Battlefield - not the state park but the site of the Battle of Newtown - could receive federal protection, including possible national park status.

The National Park Service is looking at ways to preserve the historical integrity of the property following a study that ranked it one of the most significant battle sites of the American Revolution.

Paul Hawke, chief of the American Battlefield Protection Program, an arm of the National Park Service, will be in the Elmira area on May 12 to meet with local groups and discuss the future of Newtown Battlefield.

The National Park Service doesn't come in and dictate what will happen with a battlefield site, Hawke said. Instead, it works with private property owners and community leaders to determine the best ways to preserve sites for future generations, he said.

National park designation is one option and a very viable one, considering Newtown Battlefield's credentials, Hawke said.

'I think Newtown, with its degree of integrity and significance, it would make a good park. There's already a state park there,' he said. 'If the state expanded its park, that would be something. Anybody who wants to preserve the land at that battlefield would have our support. It can be done by easement. There's lots of different ways to get land preserved. If they want a national park, I don't think that would be too hard to do.'

The Battle of Newtown took place in August 1779 in a field near what is now Lowman. Forces led by Gen. John Sullivan and Gen. James Clinton were dispatched by American commander Gen. George Washington to exact revenge for earlier Indian massacres.

On Aug. 29, nearly 3,500 American soldiers were able to defeat a band of 1,215 British soldiers, Loyalists and Iroquois warriors. After Sullivan's troops routed the opposition, they went on to burn more than 40 Indian villages throughout the Finger Lakes region.

The natives were so devastated they flocked to the British stronghold at Fort Niagara and asked for help, Hawke said. The British agreed to provide thousands of displaced Iroquois with food and shelter, but the effort so strained their resources that it seriously hampered their war effort, Hawke added.

The English considered the Battle of Newtown as important as the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown, Hawke said. 'It's why the English stopped fighting. That was one of the big reasons.'

The American Battlefield Protection Program concluded that Newtown Battlefield ranks high in historical significance after a team of scholars reviewed 3,000 battle sites nationwide from the American Revolution and War of 1812.

The battlefield is now part of a 110-acre farm owned by Virgiline Jilson of Lowman. A state park created to commemorate the Battle of Newtown sits on a nearby hill, but does not include the actual battle site.

The battlefield itself was last open to the public when the Chemung Valley Living History Center and other groups staged a re-enactment in August 2004 to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the battle.

If the National Park Service would like to preserve that site for public benefit, Jilson said she's willing to listen.

'We're not doing anything with that property. It just sits there,' Jilson said.

The possibility of giving Newtown Battlefield national protection is an exciting concept, said Amy Wilson, director of the Chemung Valley History Museum.

'If the Park Service has deemed this battlefield one of its top four in the country, it certainly provides a good argument for preserving it and turning it into a national park,' Wilson said. 'So we could promote it and people could come and learn about what happened here. It would certainly be good economics for the county to have a national park here.'

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