Battle’s anniversary costly for Spotsy
The much-hyped 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville didn’t turn out to be a money-maker for Spotsylvania County.
The county collected a total of $125,331 in admission fees and merchandise sales—about $4,700 less than what it allocated for the event on May 3–5. Meanwhile, Spotsylvania had to tap into that revenue to cover $57,000 in cost overruns.
Though county officials had hoped to at least break even, they say the Civil War commemoration laid the foundation for future re-enactments and boosted the local economy.
Terry Dougherty, the event coordinator and director of the Spotsylvania County Museum, noted that it was the first time the county had organized a large-scale re-enactment. He said he would have loved to have made more money but thinks the investment will benefit the county in the long term.
“We tried to set a framework for more than just one event,” said Dougherty, who acknowledged room for improvement. “These types of events are never going to go away in Spotsylvania.”
The county, for instance, paid for a potable water system, a gravel driveway to a re-enactor campsite off State Route 208 and traffic cones and garbage cans—all of which can be used at future events.
In addition, county staff estimate that the event generated almost $1 million in local spending, based on a state tourism formula. The re-enactors don’t stay in hotels, but their families often do, said Spotsylvania Tourism Manager Debbie Aylor.
Spotsylvania did pay some re-enactors to attend, including a man who portrayed Union Gen. Joseph Hooker. It also provided a $400 “artillery bounty” to re-enactors who brought cannons, which are expensive to shoot.
The main expenses included advertising, staff overtime and supplies.
Dougherty says he knew all along that the event would probably cost more than the $130,000 the county earmarked for it.
“This is totally normal when you’re dealing with event-type activities,” he said.
From his perspective, Spotsylvania came out ahead, since it was able to cover the funding shortfall with revenue from the event and still have about $68,000 left over. It’s unclear how the county will spend the remaining money.
Spotsylvania Board of Supervisors Chairman Paul Trampe said in an email that he thought attendance was “excellent.”
“There are always ways to improve, and I’m sure staff will be weighing all the comments that came in, but those aspects which I experienced, I can’t think of anything to do differently,” he said.
Most of the event’s revenue came from the approximately 4,100 re-enactors who paid a registration fee to participate. The county also sold 5,124 tickets to people from all over the country—and even a couple in the United Kingdom—who wanted to witness living history.
Dougherty says he thinks the total attendance, including re-enactors, for May 4 and 5 was 16,000. The county’s Battle of Chancellorsville website had predicted almost twice as many spectators alone on those days.
Looking ahead, the county is expecting a better turnout for next year’s 150th anniversary of the battles of Spotsylvania Court House and Wilderness. This year it had the unenviable task of competing with the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
“Our re-enactor numbers will really go up,” Dougherty said.
BATTLE OF CHANCELLORSVILLE
Spotsylvania County allocated $130,000 in local taxpayer money to cover expenses for May’s 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville. The actual cost was $187,000. The county made up the difference with revenue from the event, which totaled $125,331.
That revenue included:
- $85,180 in registration fees for re-enactors, sutlers and vendors.
- $34,335 in ticket sales.
- $5,816 in merchandise sales. Merchandise can still be purchased at battleofchancellorsville.com.
Not included in the budget was $30,000 the county paid a contractor to design a website promoting the event. The county will use that website template for future events.
Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402