Family chooses preservation over profit; donates battlefield

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HANOVER COUNTY, Va. (WTVR) -- A family in Hanover County could have cashed out. They’ve owned a huge piece of land for thirty years and could have sold it to developers for a new neighborhood or shopping center. But instead of choosing the highest bidder they chose preservation over profit.

One look at the tree line and rolling fields and you would think the large parcel of land off of Cold Harbor Road in Hanover County is ordinary farmland, but to Sandy McDougle this land is hallowed ground. The nearly three hundred acres she owns in Hanover County was the epicenter of one of the bloodiest battles in the Civil War. The guns have long been silent at Gaines Mill. In the years since the fighting stopped in 1862, developers have coveted the property and surrounding lands.

"It could have happened", Sandy says. "The land next door was zoned for retail property. We were thinking of building a house. We found a bluff."

Sandy admits she thought about cashing in. That is until she learned what happened on her land and surrounding properties. Thousands of soldiers died on her land in June of 1862 during the Seven Days Battle. A battle that help define General Robert E. Lee. Sandy did sell recently to preservationists from the Civil War Trust for three point two million dollars. Through donations and a matching grant from the state the land will be saved forever.

"To us it was always just farmland. I never knew the significance of this place until I took a tour of the property with U.S. Park Ranger Bob Krik, who showed me all of the important events that happened on my land," Sandy says.

Preservationists say Sandy stood to make hundreds of thousands if not millions more by selling to developers. For example two acres of commercial land nearby is on the market for six hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

Fundraisers with the Civil War Trust organization say saving this much of Gaines Mill is one of the largest success stories in Battlefield preservation.

U.S. Park Ranger and Superintendent of the Richmond National Battlefield, Dave Ruth hopes Sandy’s actions will inspire other landowners.

"I'm elated over what the McDougle family has done," Ruth says. "I hope it resonates with other landowners in the area and they realize that there options to save this precious land."

Sandy doesn’t think of the money she is leaving on the table. She believes she is richer in so many other ways.

"I'm glad what I did. I'm happy for the children and grandchildren. This means a lot to the nation," Sandy says. "I hope others will do the same thing. I hope this area stays pristine forever."

The Civil War Trust which holds the property now will transfer it to the National Park System next year.