For decades, the small stone house on Seminary Ridge from which Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee commanded his army during the Battle of Gettysburg has been unprotected and surrounded by commercial development. But thanks to a national fundraising campaign announced today by the Civil War Trust and other national and Pennsylvania conservation leaders, permanent preservation of General Lee’s Headquarters may soon be realized.
“From Independence Hall to Gettysburg and the Flight 93 memorial, the Pennsylvania landscape bears witness to some of the most pivotal moments in American history,” said Governor Tom Corbett. “It is an honor for me to be here as we announce a campaign to ensure that another chapter in that story remains available to our children and grandchildren.”
To make that vision a reality, the Civil War Trust formally launched the $5.5 million national fundraising campaign to acquire the four-acre Lee’s Headquarters site during a news conference on Seminary Ridge this morning. Also attending the news conference were First Lady Susan Corbett, representatives of the U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service, state and local officials, and representatives of the Gettysburg Foundation, Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, and Lutheran Theological Seminary.
“Projects like this — where we have the opportunity to save sites of indisputable significance to the outcome of the Civil War and, with it, the shaping of our nation — are exactly why the Civil War Trust exists,” remarked organization president James Lighthizer.
Thanks to the generosity of major donors, a considerable portion of the fundraising goal has already been met. In addition, the Trust expects to apply for a Civil War Land Acquisition Grant of up to $1.5 million from the American Battlefield Protection Program, an agency within the National Park Service. The Trust must raise the remaining $1.1 million by the end of 2014.
The property played a key role in combat on July 1, 1863, and includes two historic buildings, notably the Mary Thompson House, used throughout the remainder of the battle as Robert E. Lee’s headquarters. Since 1921, a museum has operated out of the house, with other businesses, including a 48-room hotel and a restaurant, occupying adjacent modern buildings. The Trust’s purchase agreement with the Belmar Partnership includes the 4.1 acre-property and all buildings on the site.
“To the preservation community, this land was long considered lost,” said Deputy Secretary of the Interior Mike Connor. “Thus, the journey we embark upon today is especially meaningful — we are not just protecting a piece of American heritage, we are reclaiming it for future generations.”
The sale is expected to be completed by early 2015. Prior to the acquisition, the Quality Inn at General Lee’s Headquarters, under the management of Impact Hospitality, and the Appalachian Brewing Company will continue normal operations. Once those operations have concluded, the Civil War Trust will begin the restoration phase of the project.
“This transaction is yet another example of the way relationships like the one we enjoy with the Civil War Trust add immeasurably to the strength of the National Park Service,” said NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.
After purchasing the property, the Trust will work closely with Gettysburg Foundation — the nonprofit partner that owns and operates the Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park and pursues a broad preservation mission including land, monument and artifact preservation, as well as battlefield rehabilitation — who will steward the property, ensuring its safekeeping and maintaining public access. Eventually, this land will be donated to the National Park Service for incorporation into the existing battlefield park.
“In the protection of Lee’s Headquarters, the Trust and the Foundation have the opportunity to shepherd and safeguard one of the most exciting historic resources on the battlefield,” said Gettysburg Foundation chairman Robert Kinsley. “Together, we will see that this site is protected for future generations, and becomes the property of the American people.”
Learn more at www.civilwar.org/gettysburg14.
The Civil War Trust is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. To date, it has preserved more than 39,000 acres of battlefield land in 20 states, including 940 acres at Gettysburg. Learn more at www.civilwar.org, the home of the Civil War sesquicentennial.