12-ton electric Gettsyburg battle map to receive face-lift
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HANOVER, Pa. -- Chasing a region's history can be a powerful economic stimulus.
That's certainly what Hanover leaders are hoping as they resurrect and modernize an old electric map that uses lights to depict the three days of troop movements during the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.
The guy who bought the 12-ton, oversized map from the National Park Service, local developer Scott Roland, has now moved it into its new home in a vacant former bank, just off the square in this small town 15 miles east of the famous Civil War battle.
"We finished putting the map in the bank building a few days ago," Mr. Roland said last week. "It's like a big model train set."
The topographical map, which measures almost 30-by-30 feet and is 6 inches of plaster thick, became surplus property after the park service built a new museum and visitors center in Gettysburg four years ago. Since the map contains asbestos mixed in with the plaster, the park service decided not to include it as part of the new center, even though the map had been a popular attraction for years at the old center.
To store the heavy map in a nearby warehouse, the park service cut it into four large sections, each weighing 3 tons. It had planned to dispose of the map in a landfill before recently deciding to hold a final auction to see if there was any public interest in buying it.
That's when Mr. Roland stepped in, with a winning bid (one of only two) of $14,010 to save the map. He, along with Mayor Ben Adams, Hanover Chamber president Gary Laird and other boosters, are aiming to use it again to attract tourists, historians and visitors to this area in southwestern York County.
"It will be an important draw for Hanover," Mr. Laird said. "It's going to be a major element in a new heritage center planned for the bank building to tell about our industrial history and role in the Civil War."
Over the past two weeks, a crane lifted the four large pieces of the map 30 feet high and through a window into a room on the second floor, 65 feet long and 45 feet wide, where the work will be done on the map and where it will be displayed.
The map restorers are now in a race against the clock, however.
Mr. Roland wants to have the map modernization, which could cost $80,000 or so, completed in time for the tourist rush expected in early July -- the 150th anniversary of the turning-point battle of the Civil War, fought in Gettysburg on July 1-3, 1863.
He isn't absolutely certain the map will be ready for public viewing by July, but is guardedly optimistic.
"It will be a great achievement if we can have it done by early July. Our goal is to be ready for the 150th anniversary," he said.
First he has to put the four pieces of the map back together with plaster.
Then comes "our biggest technical challenge," constructing a big square steel frame, about 30-by-30 feet, which will enclose the whole map and be able to lift it off the floor about 3 or 4 feet.
"The frame must be able to raise and lower the map in one unitized piece," he said. The map will be lowered to the floor for maximum visibility for viewers, but has to be capable of being elevated a few feet off the floor so workers can fix loose wiring and change light bulbs under it when needed.
Eventually an elevator may have to be put into the old bank building, to make it easier for visitors to reach the second floor. But that won't be ready by July.
Mr. Adams said the modernized map will be "one more link in the plan to get the downtown area revitalized." He said his central business district, like those in many other towns, "has been affected by the shift [of shoppers] to big-box retail stores" in outlying locations. "We want to re-establish Hanover as a center for shopping and dining in western York County."
The map's new home will eventually become a "heritage and conference center," with space for banquets, receptions and meetings, plus exhibits on other aspects of Hanover's history, including the clothing makers, iron foundries and even cars that once were made there.
Hanover is now best known for its snack food companies, such as Utz and Snyder-Lance.
Officials here want people to know that Gettysburg wasn't the only location where a Civil War battle was fought in mid-1863.
"Hanover had its own Civil War battle" June 30, 1863, a day before Gettysburg, said Marc Sharisse, editor of The (Hanover) Evening Sun.
"It was a cavalry battle on the streets of downtown Hanover, with [Confederate Gen.] Jeb Stuart against [Union Gen.] George Armstrong Custer."
He said the battle was significant because it delayed Gen. Stuart by a day or so from reaching Gen. Robert E. Lee's troops at Gettysburg, and kept the Confederate cavalry forces there weaker than they would have been.
State Sen. Mike Waugh, R-York, said, "Southwestern York County is significant in the Civil War. It played an important role in what led up to the Gettysburg battle."
Mr. Sharisse said the modernized electric map may get a section added to it that will illustrate the fighting in and around Hanover. "We want to show how Hanover fits into the bigger picture," he said.
Although asbestos is present within the original plaster, apparently used to strengthen it, Mr. Roland doesn't see it as a health hazard as long as the plaster isn't cut with a saw, which could allow the asbestos to become airborne.
"The asbestos is encapsulated under paint and plaster," and is thus safe as long as it's undisturbed, he said.
The map depicts, through a series of electric lights and painted panels, the three days of fighting in and around Gettysburg. The lights go on and off to illustrate the troop movements of Northern and Confederate troops during the July 1-3 fighting.
Mr. Roland must install modern lights in the map, then clean and repaint its topographical surface, which has become faded over the past 50 years.
The map was originally created in 1963 -- to mark the 100th anniversary of the battle. It was built by a Gettysburg family, the Rosensteels, who owned and operated a private museum. In 1971, the park service purchased the map and installed it at the former visitors center, which has been razed.
Over the years many local people and visitors watched the lights blink on the map at the old center.
"I remember seeing it as a kid," Mr. Adams said. "The map is a piece of history, something that everyone who saw it remembers."
State Rep. Dan Moul, R-Gettysburg, agreed. "I visited the military park along with my classmates, and we all loved the map. It was a popular part of all our field trips. I'm delighted it wasn't destroyed. I can't wait until it's put back together. I want to be one of the first in line to see it."
First Published November 4, 2012 12:00 am