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Published: Wednesday, 1/25/2006

Monroe: River Raisin historic site plans move forward

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - The plan to create a historic site where the Battle of the River Raisin raged 193 years ago is closer to reality.

The owner of three tracts of land where hundreds of Americans died in one of the bloodiest battles of the War of 1812 recently signed them over to the Port of Monroe and the Monroe County Historical Society.

The largest piece, a 35.5-acre tract, was signed over to the port free of charge by Roger I. Homrich, according to the conveyance agreement he entered with the port. He also agreed to sell two smaller pieces of land adjoining the larger tract to the historical society for $325,000, said society vice president William Braunlich.

The second sale is contingent upon the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality signing off on the 35.5-acre site and issuing a "no further interest" letter, Mr. Braunlich said. The port and the city of Monroe have applied for such a letter, he added.

The battle, which marked a turning point in American sentiment regarding the war, occurred in 1813. On Jan. 22, British and Native-American soldiers attacked the position held by General James Winchester of Kentucky, overwhelming the U.S. troops. The bloody battle, in which hundreds died, was bad enough; but what happened the following day catapulted the incident into the country's collective consciousness.

The British troops guarding the American wounded left. Indian warriors killed and scalped anyone who wouldn't walk, then threw their bodies into houses they had set afire, according to www.co.monroe.mi.us, Monroe County's Web site. The brutality inspired the battle cry "Remember the Raisin!"

For the last century, a paper mill has occupied the site. Part of one building still stands, as does a pumphouse, Mr. Braunlich said. The nature of the industry there means the site will have to undergo some environmental clean-up, for which the state government has already awarded a $1 million brownfield grant.

What excites the historians is that the site may be a treasure-trove of war artifacts.

The mill had no basement, so the land under the buildings was largely undisturbed in the decades of the buildings' construction between the war. At the time of the battle, the site held Monroe's forebear, the Frenchtown settlement.

"The remains of it and the remains of the battlefield are underneath the papermill," Mr. Braunlich said. "They brought in fill and capped it over with cement."

To help preserve what lies beneath, an archaeologist will help coordinate the demolition of the mill, he said.

Another reason for the excitement is the opportunity to do something great, along the lines of the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield site in southern Pennsylvania, said Ralph Naveaux, director of the Monroe County Historial Museum.

"With the departure of the last of the paper plants, it gives us a once-in-a-lifetime chance to turn this historical piece of ground into a battlefield park," Mr. Naveaux said. "If this doesn't happen, the future of the land is in doubt. It could still be developed industrially. It could be another century before another chance comes up.

"It's an important historic site," Mr. Naveaux added. "This is not the scale of Gettysburg, but that is one of our inspirations."

Contact Vanessa Winans at:

vwinans@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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