Last Revolutionary POW Camp Saved
Nov 18, 2014 05:07PM
By Erica Shames
Digging to find evidence of Revolutionary War prisoner-of-war Camp Security began near the Schultz House in Springettsbury Township, PA. Photo by John A. Pavoncello
by Darrin Youker
Photographs by John A. Pavoncello
Following the Revolutionary War, and after America got down the business of forming a new nation, Camp Security—the prisoner of war camp that housed British soldiers after the crucial Battle of Saratoga— faded into obscurity and eventually was torn down. The land, located outside the city of York, became farmland and remained so for more than 200 years. All around it, open space turned into development—houses replacing the corn and hay fields. And the same fate nearly befell Camp Security.
Camp Security is the last undeveloped prisoner of war site left from the American Revolution. “As far as we know, Camp Security is the last undeveloped virgin site left,” said Carol Tanzola, president of the Friends of Camp Security, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the site.
A Lengthy Fight
The fight over Camp Security got its start thanks to the development of a mall outside York. In the late 1980s the York Galleria Mall opened, and during the building of the mall, a historic house was torn down. That led to the formation of a citizens group in Springettsbury Township—just outside the city of York—to list the historic sites that needed saving. The ones at the top of the list were those “you would lie down in front of the bulldozer to save,” Tanzola said. Camp Security was at the top of the list.
While the location of Camp Security was known among historians, it was forgotten by the general public, Tanzola said. “It was kind of a hidden gem,” she offered. “It had just slipped through the cracks.”
Among the preservation community however, the camp was a valuable piece of history. But it also was becoming valuable to developers. In the late 1970s, after a nearby farm was turned into a housing development, there was a small archeology study on Camp Security. What archeologist found was a treasure trove of artifacts. More than 10,000 items were discovered in the dig, including buttons, coins and bones.
Some of those artifacts are now on display in the Pennsylvania State Museum in Harrisburg. Eventually in the late 1990s, a developer approached the township about putting a housing development on the Camp Security property.
The township rejected the housing development, but the issue quickly went into litigation—a legal battle that lasted nearly a dozen years. During the ensuing court challenge, Tanzola and others formed the Friends of Camp Security, with the purpose of protecting the property from development.
Fighting for the Cause
As the lawsuit dragged on, the Friends of Camp Security brought various preservation groups together to develop a long-term strategy to save the property. The logjam broke in late 2009 when an adjacent landowner approached the Conservation Fund, a Virginia-based open space organization which has previously protected historic sites, about selling a 115-acre tract next to the proposed development.
The Conservation Fund reached out to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, along with Springettsbury Township, about contributing funding to purchase the land. Using public funds and money raised by the community, the Conservation Fund purchased the tract for $2.1 million, said Todd McNew, Pennsylvania State Director for The Conservation Fund.
Soon thereafter, the developers of the adjacent property decided to also sell to the Conservation Fund. Because there were other buyers interested in the property, the Conservation Fund purchased the land and held it as the township and Friends of Camp Security raised donations, McNew said.
In late December, the township officially took control of the land. Springettsbury would have been unable to raise the money for the project, without putting taxpayers in a pinch, said John Holman, township manager.
By working with the Conservation Fund and other partners, the township was able to preserve a valuable property, protect it from development and open it to the community, he said.
Into the Future
Springettsbury Township, with more than 27,000 residents and home to a Harley Davidson manufacturing plant has grown into a suburb, putting open space at a premium.
“We have protected an important historical site, but also valuable open space for the township,” Holman said.
The future of Camp Security is still being written. Now that the land is owned by Springettsbury Township, the first objective is for a comprehensive archeology study on the property. Eventually the land will be open as a park with passive recreation including walking trails, Holman said. Depending on what archeology studies reveal, the park could feature interpretive sites and informational displays.
Camp Security is buttressed on all sides by residential development. Tanzola views it as a perfect spot for quite reflection and understanding of this crucial time in our nation’s history.
“I’d like to see if used as a restful site that honors the people who were here,” she said. “I’m not going to sit back and say they book has been written. This is just the first chapter.”
Darrin Youker is a freelance writer based in Berks County.
John A. Pavoncello is a photographer with the York Dispatch.
Web-exclusive content from the winter 2014 edition of Susquehanna Life Magazine. Read More »