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Virginia farmland where Civil War battle occurred to be preserved

Howard Eberly, 79, said he remembers going outside after the rain fell on the plowed soil and finding such things as arrowheads and bullets.
Credit: AP
Howard Eberly, 4th generation owner of Four Mile Creek Farm in Henrico County, Va., shown on Friday, July 22, 2022, is donating 28 acres to Capital Region Land Conservancy so the land will be protected forever against the threats of development. The Battle of New Market Heights was fought on the property. (Alexa Welch Edlund/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

VARINA, Virginia — Growing up in Varina in the 1940s and ’50s, Howard Eberly played on his family’s farm, swam in the creek and found “treasures” on the land. Turns out, some of those treasures are significant historic artifacts.

The Eberly family moved from Pennsylvania to Henrico County in the 1880s and established Four Mile Creek Farm in Varina. Howard Eberly, 79, is a fourth-generation owner of the land and lives in the family home off Route 5.

Before no-till farming became the norm, Eberly’s family used to plow the ground before planting crops. Eberly said he remembers going outside after the rain fell on the plowed soil and finding such things as arrowheads and bullets.

His family knew the land had been a battlefield, but he didn’t know much about the history.

Eberly later befriended a state archaeologist and historians who taught him some of the history of the land where his family’s farm sits.

Four Mile Creek Farm is a core part of the New Market Heights Battlefield and the scene of the battle on Sept. 29, 1864, when the U.S. Colored Troops broke through Confederate defenses for their greatest victory of the Civil War. The battle directly led to the fall of Petersburg, and then Richmond. The National Park Service has deemed the property among the highest priorities for preservation.

In just over an hour into the battle, approximately 800 men died. Fourteen African American soldiers received the Medal of Honor, which is significant given that in American military history, only 16 Army Medals of Honor were awarded to Black troops during the entirety of the Civil War.

“When I think of the waste of men and resources of the war, it breaks my heart,” Eberly said. “A lot of great people were lost. I think we owe them to be remembered.”

That’s why Eberly decided to donate 28 acres to the Capital Region Land Conservancy to ensure that the land will be preserved forever.

“I feel very at peace with myself knowing what’s going to happen” to the land, Eberly said. “I think my family would believe I’m doing the right thing.”

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The Four Mile Creek area has a number of archaeological sites that show it was an important early settlement for Native peoples.

The 28-acre tract that Eberly donated to the CRLC is one of two that make up Eberly’s 73-acre farm. A second 45-acre tract, owned by Eberly and his sister, will be transferred to the land trust at a future date. The agreement with CRLC ensures that the property will be protected while Eberly continues to live on the farm. CRLC has also committed to keep the Eberly name associated with the land and to open the site for future public access.

“The New Market Heights Battlefield is an important historical and cultural site in our Commonwealth, where brave U.S. Colored Troops heroically fought back against the Confederacy,” said Rep. Don McEachin, D-4th, in a statement. “I applaud the Eberly family for its generosity in donating the Four Mile Creek Farm to the Capital Region Land Conservancy, and I am confident CRLC will effectively care for and preserve the history of the property and the Varina area. We must continue working to share the USCT’s untold history of heroism and leadership during the Civil War.”

When Eberly met Parker C. Agelasto, executive director of the CRLC, he said he was shocked to learn that his farm was ranked within the top 10% of all land in Virginia to protect in numerous categories.

“You could have knocked me over with a feather,” he said.

RELATED: Giving history a helping hand: Preservation Virginia releases 2022 'Most Endangered' list of historic sites

The Varina District is the last undeveloped part of Henrico, and many who live there want it to stay that way despite pushes from developers.

Eberly said that when he was growing up in the ’50s, he knew every single car he saw driving down the road. Depending on the time of day, he knew where they were going, too.

“People move out here, buy a lot, build a home, and then start screaming about overdevelopment,” Eberly said. “That’s been going on since the ’50s.”

A swath of land just down the road from Four Mile Creek Farm was set to become The Ridings at Warner Farm, a subdivision of 770 homes that would have been built on nearly 420 acres. Residents worried about the potential impact on the Camp Holly Springs aquifer and the New Market Heights battlefield.

Eventually, developers pulled out of the project that had been planned for decades.

Eberly’s donation of his land to the CLRC ensures that it will remain intact as an important historic site as well as a significant environmental site.

The land is home to animals including deer, groundhogs and beavers. Ongoing studies show that birds migrating from South America to Canada make a pit stop at the farm, Agelasto said.

Eberly joked that the birds treat his house like a Motel 6.

A graduate of Varina High School, Eberly said he’s still friends with some of the 70 in his graduating class. Varina is a tight-knit community.

“This has been our peaceful corner of the world for four generations,” Eberly said. “I can’t think of a place I’d rather live.

“Since there’s so much history going on here, I’d like for it to stay that way and give people some interest and some knowledge of what went on here.”

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