Historians battle to save site of war prisoner camp

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Hundreds of Canadian and British soldiers held as prisoners of war during the American Revolution lie buried in a Pennsylvania farm field that is now the focus of a bitter legal battle between a housing developer and heritage advocates.

The struggle over the former site of Camp Security -- a sprawling prison compound near the present-day city of York that was used to house captured Red Coats between 1781 and 1783 -- recently resulted in it being named one of the top 10 most threatened historic places in the United States.

Its proponents hope to turn the site into an international memorial and tourist attraction. Those fighting to save Camp Security -- the country's only prison site from the Revolutionary War not yet destroyed by development -- believe the undisturbed acreage contains a wealth of 18th-century artifacts and the graves of hundreds of prisoners who died when a typhus epidemic swept through the camp in 1782.

"I'm sure there are many Canadians whose ancestors were there," says Melinda Higgins, executive director of Historic York and one of the leaders of the campaign to preserve the site. "This story is much bigger than York. It's internationally significant."

The uproar over the Pennsylvania site follows a similar struggle in Canada that resulted in the creation of a commemorative park for captured U.S. troops who were held at a Nova Scotia prison camp during the War of 1812. About 200 U.S. soldiers died in captivity and were buried at Deadman's Island in Halifax, where a group of residents recently rallied to stop proposed development that would have obliterated the burial ground.

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Bruce P Towers - 8/23/2005

As one of the parties who was involved in the effort to save Deadman's Island from development and obscurity, I feel it is the obligation of Americans to save and preserve this final resting place of British honored fallen. The people of Halifax, Nova Scotia fought to save the final resting place of 195 American fallen for five years and ultimately paid $140,000 to purchase the site. The City of Halifax immediately declared the site a park, thereby saving and preserving the site. Halifax never asked Americans to foot the bill. The people of Halifax stood up and did the right and honorable thing by saving this forgotten burial ground for America's fallen. It is now time to reciprocate and demonstrate to our Canadian and British friends that we will also step up and do the right thing. The actions of the developer of the property are nothing less than despicable, asking more than $4 million for real estate he paid roughly $500,000 two years ago. This is tatamount to blackmail. Having helped to save the final resting place of honored American fallen, I will now endeavor to save Camp Security and will enlist the assistance of any and everyone who would do the honorable thing.