Jessamine County

Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park could become national park

Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park in southern Jessamine County encompasses more than 600 acres. The raised area to the left beyond the fence is one of six earthen “forts” on the park property. There are also five miles of interpretive trails.
Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park in southern Jessamine County encompasses more than 600 acres. The raised area to the left beyond the fence is one of six earthen “forts” on the park property. There are also five miles of interpretive trails. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

An effort has begun to put a Jessamine County historic site into the National Park System.

U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, has introduced a bill that would authorize the Department of Interior to conduct a study that would be the first step toward bringing Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park into the National Park System.

The heritage park tells the story of black soldiers who were recruited and trained to fight for the Union. The park is off U.S. 27 about six miles south of Nicholasville.

“This is a place of national historic value,” Barr said in a visit to the park Thursday.

H.R. 5789, introduced in July, has been referred to the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands.

The civil war park is owned by Jessamine County. The process to turn it into a national park could take years; the study alone could take three years to complete. Potential additions to the park system must possess nationally significant resources.

Getting Camp Nelson into the federal system would raise awareness of the park’s historic value and bring perpetual federal support, Barr said.

U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, is a co-sponsor of the bill. Fudge is interested in part because the camp was started by the Union’s Army of the Ohio. Barr hopes to get other co-sponsors.

The heritage park was designated as a National Historic Landmark some years ago. It is also part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Barr said Kentucky’s existing national parks — Mammoth Cave, Cumberland Gap, Big South Fork and the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site — draw 1.76 million visitors and have an economic impact of $113 million per year.

There are 84 million acres in the National Park System, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. A study released this year valued all that land at $92 billion.

Last year Jessamine County bought 101 acres to add to the heritage park; that brought the park’s total area to about 626 acres. Camp Nelson National Cemetery is next to but separate from the park.

Camp Nelson was established by an order of President Abraham Lincoln. It was named for Maj. Gen. William “Bull” Nelson.

As many as 10,000 black troops trained there. Eight regiments were founded at Camp Nelson and five others were stationed there, making it the third-largest such center in the nation.

Other training centers for black troops in Philadelphia and New Orleans were larger, but more archaeological resources were preserved at Camp Nelson because it was in a rural area, said Stephen McBride, director of interpretation and archaeology at the park.

Nelson never saw the camp named for him. He was shot and killed in September 1862 in Louisville as a result of a disagreement with another soldier.

Camp Nelson was also a supply depot and had a hospital. At its peak the camp had 300 buildings.

After the Civil War ended in 1865, the federal government sold most of the original 4,000-acre site.

Greg Kocher: 859-231-3305, @HLpublicsafety

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