IREAD A NEWSPAPER ad the other day about a parcel of land that was for sale.
"Possible Civil War battlefield site," it said.
I suppose the owner figured that this was a valid selling point, but knowing that a Civil War battle might have been fought on that property would surely have dissuaded me from investigating further.
In this day and time, there are two types of acreage the average working man should avoid like the plague--historic land and swamp land. Either can wind up costing you money and causing you grief.
Now your old pappy may have warned you to stay away from deals that involve swamp land, but I doubt that men of his generation would have put historic land in the same category.
My, how things have changed.
We live in an area so Civil War conscious that sometimes it is hard to make people believe that we actually have history that predates that conflict.
Many act as if some mysterious land bridge magically appeared in 1861 and civilization began when men wearing blue uniforms walked down from the North to confront men in gray uniforms walking up from the South.
What happened after that is considered so sacred that one historic preservation group has declared that nothing so seemingly innocent as a game of softball should be played on the hallowed Civil War battlefield ground it owns.
That's fine for big preservation groups, but, increasingly, government wants to restrict how small landowners use their historic property, too. And a man who has his life savings invested in a few acres of ground that are declared historically significant can suddenly find himself behind the eight ball.
Now I have nothing against preserving our history, but every site on which a Civil War soldier slept cannot be kept inviolate forever.
Given the thousands of soldiers that marched through Central Virginia, there is hardly a square foot of ground between Richmond and Washington that didn't figure in the Civil War in some way.
And every acre between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Fredericksburg was most certainly used by either one army or the other between 1861 and 1865.
It can't all be declared hallowed ground--not if we want our children and grandchildren to build homes and continue to live in this area.
But as open land dwindles, no one can be certain which parcels will be preserved and which will not.
And if you happen to own land on which a Civil War battle was fought, you just might get caught in a costly squeeze someday and your property rights severely restricted.
Increasingly, historic land is more of a liability than an asset--especially for persons who are not wealthy.
The same holds true for swamp land, which has become an even greater liability than historic land.
No one seems to know what you CAN do with swamp land, but there are two things that you almost universally CAN'T do with it. You can't use it and you can't clean it up.
And if you can't do either of those two things, a swamp is about as useless as a pregnant chad on a Florida ballot.
So why own it? Why pay taxes on land that is absolutely no good to you?
If you are buying land that has a swamp on it, ask the seller to deduct that acreage from the parcel.
And if you own swamp land, consider deeding it to the government so you won't be taxed on that part of your property.
Even if the government owns your swamp, you can still enjoy the beavers that flood it and the ducks that swim in it. But you won't be responsible for that land and you won't have to pay taxes on it.
Let the government figure out what to do with it!
A donation of "valuable wetlands" to the government should even earn you a big tax break.
If you're rich, you might not worry about owning a few acres of unusable swamp or a battlefield site whose use might be severely restricted one day.
But if you're just an old working Joe, you might want to look the other way when someone tries to sell you land that is either swampy or historic in nature.
And if someone tries to interest you in a marsh where a Civil War battle was fought, run for your life!
The government probably wouldn't even let you look at property that sacred--let alone use it!
DONNIE JOHNSTON is a staff writer with The Free Lance-Star. He can be contacted by mail at The Free Lance-Star, 616 Amelia St., Fredericksburg, Va. 22401; by fax at 373-8455; or by e-mail marked to his attention at email@example.com.