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Published: Tuesday, 7/1/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Group charges ahead to redo key Gettysburg site

Lee’s Civil War building to cost $5.5 million

BY MICHAEL MAJCHROWICZ
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee used the stone house as his headquarters during the three-day battle of Gettysburg. Commercial enterprises have sprung up on the4-acre site. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee used the stone house as his headquarters during the three-day battle of Gettysburg. Commercial enterprises have sprung up on the4-acre site.
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE/MICHAEL MAJCHROWICZ Enlarge

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — The sloshing of a motel pool can be heard right outside the war house-turned-museum. The scent of fried food lingers from a nearby pub.

That all may change now that a multimillion-dollar effort to rid Gen. Robert E. Lee’s headquarters of commercial influence is gaining momentum.

The Civil War Trust announced on Tuesday that it has started a $5.5 million national campaign to acquire the stone house and its four acres from Belmar Partnership. Jim Lighthizer, the organization’s president, said at least $2.5 million in donations has been raised.

From one end of the Gettysburg National Military Park — the “Kentucky Derby of American battle fields,” according to Mr. Lighthizer — the house is on Seminary Ridge.

“In the end,” Mr. Lighthizer said, “this is going to be our legacy to the American people.”

The house will be restored to how it looked 151 years ago.

A museum is tucked away inside the general’s headquarters and in operation since 1921. Its artifacts and memorabilia will go along with the sale.

The trust also will apply for a Civil War Land Acquisition Grant, worth up to $1.5 million, from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, Mr. Lighthizer said. The remaining $1 million or so must be raised by the end of the year.

“This is going to be our gift to the people of the United States,” he said.

On July 1, 1863, the property was the scene of fighting between advancing Confederate soldiers and Union troops trying to protect the western entrance to the town. By the end of that first day of battle, Union troops had retreated to Seminary Ridge and General Lee seized the stone house and made it his headquarters.

Confederate forces were defeated on July 3. Historians consider the battle to be the turning point of the war.

Located on Chambersburg Pike, near the center and rear of the emerging battle lines, the small stone structure was ideally situated. It was believed to have been built in 1833 and was occupied by a widow Mary Thompson and co-owned by U.S. Rep. Thaddeus Stevens.

Conservation leaders, including the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Park Service, and the Gettysburg Foundation, all are playing a part in securing funding for the restoration.

The commercial establishments now on the site, including a Quality Inn and the Appalachian Brewing Co., will remain through the end of the year as the acquisition continues.

The effort to acquire those properties has been ongoing for about a year, according to the Civil War Trust.

Mr. Lighthizer said there was no timetable for the restoration project and that the whole parcel would be donated to the park service for inclusion in the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Quality Inn officials could not be reached for comment.

Nathan Voss, Appalachian Brewing Co. manager, said the business was in talks to possibly relocate to another spot in Gettysburg.

The buyout, Mr. Voss added, was a bit of a “curveball” after 11 years of building a strong local presence.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Michael Majchrowicz is a reporter for the Post-Gazette. The Philadelphia Inquirer contributed to this report.

Contact Michael Majchrowicz at: Mmajchrowicz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4903.



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