On February 1, 2018 the Capital Region Land Conservancy (CRLC) completed its acquisition of the 871-acre Malvern Hill Farm for $6.56 million. This acquisition is a long-awaited victory after an 18 month long effort to save the farm from likely development as a residenital subdivision with more than 500 homes.
Malvern Hill is one of the most important properties in the Richmond region. Bounded by Route 5 (a Virginia Scenic Road), Route 156 (Willis Church Road), and Route 606 (Carter’s Mill Road) with about 20 acres south of Route 5 along Turkey Island Creek, Malvern Hill Farm was owned by the same family since it was last sold in 1939 to William Heighler Ferguson Sr. (1885-1984). Its historic ownership includes Thomas Cocke (1638-1696), who established the first Anglo-American residence of which the architecturally significant ruins remain intact today, as well as James Powell Cocke (1690-1747), Robert Nelson (1752-1818), George Benskin Poindexter (1797-1860), and Benjamin Franklin Dew (1820-1877).
The Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places first listed Malvern Hill in 1969 recognizing its role in Virginia and United States history dating to the 17th Century. The Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) encamped on the property in the summer of 1781 and the Virginia Militia also made camp there during the War of 1812.
The name “Malvern Hill” is more strongly associated with a climactic moment in the American Civil War when the entire property lay behind the front infantry line of the Union army during the Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1, 1862. This deadly clash of armies ended with 5,650 Confederate and 2,100 Union casualties, bringing the Seven Days Battle and the Peninsula Campaign to a close and prompting President Abraham Lincoln to draft the Emancipation Proclamation.
According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), Malvern Hill Farm ranks as “very high” in its vulnerability model. The Civil War Sites Advisory Commission in 1993 listed Malvern Hill in the Top 10 of Virginia’s battlefields that are highly threatened. Despite its proximity to downtown Richmond and development pressures in the Varina district of Henrico County, the property has remained mostly unaltered in appearance since 1862.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s soil maps show Malvern Hill Farm contains nearly 400 acres of prime farmland and more than 150 acres of “farmland of statewide significance.” Coupled with the “very high” ranking on Virginia’s Forest Economics Model as well as DCR’s evaluation of Ecological Cores and habitats of endangered species, the property is a priority for land conservation.
The National Park Service (NPS) has long sought portions of Malvern Hill Farm for inclusion in the Richmond National Battlefield Park. The United States Congress has approved roughly 443 acres in its legislatively authorized boundary for the park. “Acquisition and preservation of this farm would be a critical step forward in ensuring the long-term integrity of such an historic place” noted David Ruth, Superintendent of the Richmond National Battlefield Park. DCR specifically names Malvern Hill in its Virginia Outdoors Plan for provision of public access with walking and biking trails and a Turkey Island Creek canoe/kayak launch to reach the James River, the Captain John Smith National Historic Trail and the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge. Likewise, nearly 2 miles of the Virginia Capital Trail along scenic Route 5 passes by and/or traverses Malvern Hill Farm.
The Capital Region Land Conservancy has secured more than $5.7 million in funding towards this important acquisition. This includes grants and donations from the Cabell Foundation, Mary Morton Parsons Foundation, Richard S. Reynolds Foundation, American Battlefield Protection Program, Henrico County, James River Association, Civil War Trust, Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, Virginia Battlefields Preservation Fund, and Virginia Outdoors Foundation’s Open Space Land Preservation Trust Fund.
The Conservation Fund has provided bridge financing that CRLC continues to raise funds to payoff the loan until the remaining property in Henrico County can be transferred to the National Park Service.
As of summer of 2020, CRLC has transferred 428 acres to Henrico County for a future public park and 12 acres to the James River Association for the development of a public canoe/kayak boat launch into Turkey Island Creek. The former is protected by a conservation easement held by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the latter is protected by a conservation easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. CRLC continues to own 380 acres on two parcels in Henrico County that are slated to ultimately become part of the National Park Service's Richmond National Battlefield Park and 64.2 acres in Charles City County of which 51 acres that is protected by a conservation easement held by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Public Access to CRLC's land can be scheduled with Outdoor Access.
CRLC raised $5.7 million to support this $6.6 million acquisition. This includes two $500,000 challenge grants that will match 1:1 every $1 donated. Can you make a tax-deductible contribution to help us reach our goals?
Checks can be made payable to Capital Region Land Conservancy and mail to us at P. O. Box 17306, Richmond, VA 23226. Thank you for your support!
The Richmond Times Dispatch, August 7, 2019
Virginia Mercury, June 5, 2019
Saving Land, Spring 2019
The Richmond Times Dispatch, January 29, 2019