Civil War Trust sets out to buy Lee's Gettysburg headquarters

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 might 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 Tuesday that it has launched 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 already has been raised through donations.

From one end of the Gettysburg National Military Park — the “Kentucky Derby of American battlefields,” according to Mr. Lighthizer — the house can be seen overlooking Seminary Ridge.

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

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

The house contains a museum, which is tucked away inside the general’s headquarters and has been in operation since 1921. Its artifacts and memorabilia will be sold with the property.

The trust also will apply for a Civil War Land Acquisition Grant, worth as much as $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 the first day of battle, Union troops had retreated to Seminary Ridge, and Lee seized the stone house and made it his headquarters.

The battle ended with Lee’s defeat July 3. Historians consider the battle to be the turning point of the war.

Located on Chambersburg Road, 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 a widow, Mary Thompson, lived there. U.S. Rep. Thaddeus Stevens was a co-owner.

Conservation leaders, including the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Park Service and the Gettysburg Foundation, 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 came as a bit of a “curveball” for the business after 11 years of building a strong local presence, he added.

Michael Majchrowicz: or 412-263-4903. This article contains information from the Philadelphia Inquirer. First Published July 1, 2014 12:16 PM

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