Thursday, June 02, 2005

14: “Met on a Great Battlefield”

From time to time we do have some nice things to say. And this is one of those times. Ground was broken today for a new Visitor Center at Gettysburg Battlefield National Military Park and Eisenhower Presidential Site. This $95 million project has been in the works since the mid-1990s, and promises to be perhaps the crowning achievement in the massive undertaking of battlefield restoration.

The design of the new Visitor Center fits into the Adams County landscape magnificently, at once reminiscent of the many farms and barns of the mostly agricultural Adams County, yet modern, and appealing, with enough room to combine the contents and utility of the current Visitor Center, and the Cyclorama Center.

The location of the new building, south of Hunt Avenue, between Taneytown Road and Baltimore Pike, is where the old 1950s-60s Fantasyland was located. This blogger remembers two things about his first visit to Gettysburg about 50 years ago: Devils Den, and Fantasyland. Fantasyland was one of those impositions onto the Battlefield that the National Park Service has managed to get rid of over the years. From Stuckey’s to sandwich shops, to motels, to just about anything commercial you could think of, it was probably located somewhere on the Battlefield at one time or another. But Fantasyland is long gone as a business, and soon, all traces of it will be gone as well.

Unlike the current Visitor Center and Cyclorama Center, the new Visitor Center (which will replace both buildings) will be located in an area of little historical impact regarding the Battle. Perhaps the most significant aspect to the parcel is that much of the overshot by Confederate Artillery on July 2, and particularly on July 3 prior to the Pickett-Pettigrew Assault, landed here. At the eastern edge, on the corner of Baltimore and Hunt, is Kinzie’s Knoll, where the battery commanded by David H. Kinzie was located. It is my understanding that this ground will remain as it is.

One of the many upsides to this project is the eventual restoration of Ziegler’s Grove, the small woodlot on the southwest slope of Cemetery Hill, and extending south along Cemetery Ridge. Long desired, and only partially imagined in the minds of the historians who have visited here, this is one of the prime areas of the project. It was from the edge of these woods that the Federal troops defended the line north of the Bloody Angle on July 3rd.

Another upside is the move of the archives and collections into a climate controlled area in the new Visitor Center. Long threatened by the degradation of the current building, the relics and collection of literature surrounding the Battle will be well protected in the new building.

It will not be too awful long now, before these events come to pass. Completion is set for sometime in 2007, only 2 years from now. In the meantime, while construction continues, the tree clearing, and thinning goes on, as does the installation of miles of fences, acres and acres of orchards, and many small woodlots throughout the Battlefield.

The effort has its detractors – no one likes to see trees cut down less than I do, but what those detractors fail to mention is the acres of trees being planted at the same time.

Always a beautiful sight, the return to near 1863 conditions of the Battlefield will finalize the enhancement of the historical and learning experience to be gained at Gettysburg. The more natural surroundings will eventually give us a clearer understanding of what occurred here on those fateful July days in 1863; and with a better understanding, hopefully, will come a greater appreciation of the events here, and the men and women who were a part of those events.

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