County mapping specialist retires after 45 years. “My father said, ‘Don’t find a job for the money you can make; find a job that you like,’”
– George Fickett
There are few people, possibly none, more familiar with Civil War history in Chesterfield County than George L. Fickett, Jr. Working for Chesterfield County for 45 years, Fickett made his job his fulfillment rather than his daily grind.
That fulfillment came through his various positions in the county government, beginning in 1971 as a draftsman in the Utilities Department and ending with his retirement as GIS Specialist for the Department of Information Systems Technology. Fickett was in essence a cartographer in every sense of the word, which allowed him to discover and pursue a passion that became almost an obsession with him.
“My father said, ‘Don’t find a job for the money you can make; find a job that you like,’ and I’ve made a career of it,” said Fickett in his comments during a Chesterfield County Supervisors’ resolution presentation honoring him for his 45 years of service.
“Working for Chesterfield County for 45 years has been very rewarding for me. I started when the county government was very small. Parks and Recreation had three employee’s, Planning had five, and Environmental Engineering did not exist. I started in Utilities as a Drafting Technician. My job was to ink all the county tax map information on Mylar sheets. I also was going into the field to locate houses to identify them with addresses,” he said.
Fickett’s passion for his day job may have been rivaled only by his endeavors to save Chesterfield’s Civil War
battle sites, earthworks, and batteries. He has saved many sites across the county from development and many are now parks: Fort Stevens, Fort Wead, Fort Harrison, Battery Dantzler, Howlett Line Park, Sgt. James Engle Park, and the Ware Bottom Church Battlefield Park.
Working with the county to purchase the original Point of Rocks site of the Civil War hospital commissioned by General Benjamin Butler of the Army of the James Fickett added another feather in his cap, bringing light to an important Civil War site.
His mapping abilities and extensive knowledge of Civil War history put him in a unique position to find the sites that needed to be saved before the bulldozer blades arrived. Fickett then went about the business of making the sites accessible to the public by getting them funded as parks. He was known for those endeavors.
“I was on the Board of Supervisors for about two years before I realized George Fickett was not an employee of Parks and Recreation tasked to historical sites. He used his knowledge of GIS from his IST job to give countless hours of volunteer hours bringing our historical sites to life,” said Dorothy Jaeckle, Chesterfield County Supervisor of Bermuda District. “Now that he is retired, I am certain I will see more of him than I did when he was an employee. Although
I am sure George will be missed in IST, his retirement will be a tremendous addition to Parks and Recreation.”
Fickett received a “Take Pride in America” award from the National Park Service in December 1987 for his efforts in saving the land that became the Howlett Line Park, and heworked with the county and the federal government in securing a $176,500 grant in 2002 to purchase the site that would become the Ware Bottom Church Battlefield Park.
His accomplishments gained the respect and the assistance of David Roth, editor of Blue and Gray Magazine, and the two created the first 28-mile driving tour of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign in 1995, which contained eight designated sites.
Fickett assisted the Chesterfield County Historical Society in expanding the tour of the Bermuda Hundred Campaign to a 58-mile driving tour, which includes a total of 26 sites, that follows the routes of the Army of the James during the campaign.
“George has worked tirelessly to protect and promote historic Civil War sites throughout the county, said Steven Haasch, recording secretary for the Chesterfield Historical Society and County planning manager. “He has worked with many partners to obtain grants, donations and other funds to acquire property on behalf of the county and park systems. His hard work and dedication ensures future generations will have the opportunity to better understand our past.”
After his retirement March 1, Fickett said he will stay involved in Civil War history, will still be on the Board for the Chesterfield Historical Society, and will still be involved in preserving Bermuda Hundred Civil War sites. He plans to continue to work with the Petersburg Area Regional Tourism board as a consultant for the region’s historical tourism including Petersburg Battlefield Foundation Board of Directors and the Preservation Office. “George Fickett has been a very active member of the Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia for many years. His remarkable activities to help facilitate the saving of county Civil War sites have well served the citizens of Chesterfield and historians everywhere,” said Tra Wagenknecht, head of governance for the Chesterfield Historical Society. “Many sites would not have been saved if George Fickett had not focused attention on them and built support for their preservation. On his retirement, the members of the Historical Society thank him for all he has done and look forward to his continuing contributions to the work of the Society, including membership
on its Military History Committee and as a member of its Board of Directors.”
Fickett is currently working on two Civil War sites for preservation in Dinwiddie County and Petersburg and has been asked to be on the Hopewell/Prince George Tourism Council.
Has he been called a local Civil War historian?
“Yes, I have been known as the Bermuda Hundred historian for a long time, but I have been recognized as a true Civil War historian by my peers in the Civil War world,” he said. “I have helped authors on several books and have received recognition in them as a Civil War historian.”
“I am currently working with an author on a new book on the Bermuda Hundred Campaign who is now looking for a publisher. He has asked me to write a 1,500-3000 word appendix for the book.”
Developers have not always been thought highly in Chesterfield, although, as Fickett has said, they have been cooperative for his purposes.
He said. “I have found developers easy to work with. The trick is not to approach them as an adversary and show them you would like to work with them in order to save a piece of important history. The best time is before any plans for a development get started, and they have not invested any money towards that. That is the time to work things out. There were some developments that did get away, but those were the ones that got me motivated to start saving Civil War sites in the county. As I started to get into preservation a couple of sites, a few developers were hard to get on board to save sites, but they finally became better to work with after they saw I was not trying to prevent their development.”
Even though he is retiring, Fickett said he will be able to keep working on the preservation of sites in Chesterfield County, but there are only a few left that are worth an effort to save and develop a park on the sites.