With friends like this...

This is a disturbing preservation story on a lot of levels.

Forest Glen Commonwealth, a Kensington, Md.-based group, was considering buying a piece of land off Gapland Road in southern Washington County that includes a farmhouse and barn that once served as a Civil War field hospital.

The group had a change of heart and has instead decided to

purchase a former schoolhouse in Cearfoss at the intersection of Greencastle and Cearfoss pikes. The[ir] proposed Cearfoss Heritage Education Center would be on the trail where Confederate Gen. John Imboden led 13,000 wounded soldiers retreating from Gettysburg, Pa., in July 1863, Chairwoman Rebecca L. Rush said.

Whatever you think about private initiative versus the heavy hand of regional tourism planning, this is so free and easy it gives a thorough sense of that Wild West show we call Maryland's Civil War battlefield preservation.

The Gapland Road field hospital (barn) is logically part of a battlefield - a battlefield that exists on paper and in plans but is not managed. It is a property that could have been bought by Civil War Preservation Trust, a local organization, if that group were on the ball. Instead, this scratch team of general educators, marginally interested in the ACW, almost bought it and put it to their own purposes - they were, in fact, going to make a generic ACW hospital site out of it, which is part blessing, part curse, since that use divorces the hosrpital from its historic context. Now they are on another part of South Mountain planning Imboden/Gettysburg tours and more general educational activities from a center there.

A battlefield is a specific place, with a specific history that needs specific protections. It has no special value as a generic representation. Multipurpose-minded well-wishers are as dangerous to heritage as developers.

Close call.