Wal-Mart Digging Up the Ghosts of History

Board of supervisors approves construction

When a new Wal-Mart becomes a hot-button issue, much in the way an oft-proposed location in the District has been for some time, the usual litany of reasons has to do with the loss of small business and poor working conditions.

It also doesn't help that the company is perceived as a totem for exurban sprawl, which is what is driving the to-do in Orange, Va., over a new Wal-Mart that the Board of Supervisors has approved for construction on the boundary of Wilderness Battlefield.  The battlefield was the site of the first meeting in battle between Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant, and where 29,000 were either killed or injured. 

The store will bring in more people to the area, but only supposedly the type of people who are not necessarily interested in gawking at fields where over a century ago brother went against brother. But then how many people, exactly? Will hordes of outsiders really be crossing state lines for one of many, many big box stores?

Still, it's a thorny issue pitting the usual foes of preservation and sprawl near a historic battlefield. Mix in the usual intense feelings people hold for both the Civil War and Wal-Mart and you get county government tableaux at their finest.

Nearly 400 people crowded into Orange County High School to attend the board's hearing. Some came dressed in period costume, including a dead ringer for Lee, and one speaker ended his remarks with a rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

But, hey, no signs saying that the tree of liberty needing to be watered, so it sounds like things went at least slightly more smoothly than a meeting on health care.

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