Chapter VIII: The Federal Government and the Farm

Only the barn remained, and it was in a threatened condition also. When acquired formally on Christmas Eve of 1904 the National Park Commission received the only building then owned by the Park which was associated with the fighting on the First Day's Battlefield. Winter precluded any serious work on the barn, but at the first hint of warming weather Colonel John P. Nicholson rode out to the McPherson Farm for a close look at the historic structure. He came back disheartened after surveying his Christmas present, and made an entry into his journal:

The wall on south side is bulged out about six inches along center of wall; there is not a stable door on east side of barn, but one on the frame building attached to main barn on north side; the weather boarding on east side of barn is about one-half torn off and what boards are there are no good. 120
The photograph in Appendix F (no. 14) was probably taken about the same time as Nicholson's visit, since the leafless tree to the left may indicate an early spring shot. In any case, it illustrates the condition of the east and south sides of the barn as described by the journal entry. (A full discussion and analysis of the photographs is included in Appendix F.)


With the approach of summer it was decided that the barn could no longer wait for repairs, and the Commission's engineer, Colonel Emmor B. Cope, drew up specifications for the barn's "repair and restoration" and mailed them out to four bidders. 121 Only one bid was received, that of a John C. Irwin, whose bid of $460.50 was considered by the commission to be very low and was, therefore, accepted. 122 Irwin was required to sign a document attesting to his reliability towards complying with the specifications, and on June 1, 1905 so signed: "I will submit to specifications for repairing barn and tearing away sheds for $460.50." 123 By the end of June the local newspaper reported that work on the barn was to get underway, but hinted that the major construction was to be devoted to the repair of the dilapidated woodwork. 124 This, coupled with Irwin's statement that he was to tear away the sheds, seems to indicate that the cracking stone wall on the south end was not of concern to Irwin. Perhaps it was contracted out to someone else, or the hired work force of the Park did the necessary masonry. Nothing in the Commission's records verify that anyone else but


Irwin did the work--carpentry and masonry.

The barn was to be "preserved in its original state as far as possible", 125but before-and-after photographs show that this was not the case. (Appendix F. nos. 17-21). What Irwin did was to tear off the falling lean-to sheds on the barn's west side. These sheds appear from photos to be the same lean-tos that show in the 1863 Brady stereo view. He also tore off the north-end lean-to, which was added sometime after the battle. When he put back the west-end lean-to bays he foreshortened their length by about ten feet, so that what he did was not a preservation job, but a "facsimile" construction. Since this 1905 non-historical replacement by Irwin, the War Department and National Park Service have been continuing to preserve the foreshortened bays.

When Irwin tackled the cracked stone wall on the south end, he was already dealing with a changed wall. The end wall was originally stone from foundation to gable, but by the late 1880s the south gable was of vertical siding with pigeon holes cut into the siding, at intervals. It is plausible that the gable wall had collapsed or had threatened to collapse and was replaced by the vertical siding. The vestiges of this collapse were still evident in 1905, when Nicholson noted the center bulge and the cracking. Irwin, in order to repair the crack and bulge, tore down only the center section of the stone wall


and rebuilt the wall to just about the eaves, where it met the 1880s vertical siding. He did not put back the embrasures that were there. (See page 89 for illustration of today's south stone wall, showing Irwin's work and the remains of the original barn wall.) In addition, after tearing away the frame wagon shed attached to the north end of the barn, Irwin repointed the north gable wall, but did not replace the plastered cartouche which had been deteriorated by 1903.

For the economical (even in those turn-of-the-century days) cost of $460.50, the Gettysburg Park Commission had gotten all of the above repairs and in just three month's time. Unfortunately, the barn was no longer ''preserved in its original state". Everything Irwin touched had become an alteration--the foreshortened lean-to bays, the embrasureless south wall, and a north gable without its historic date stone cartouche. In addition, by foreshortening the lean-to bays, he also revised the roof-line of the barn, going so far as to change the location of the double-hung wagon doors.

After the necessary "repairs" had been completed, it was decided to rent out the land and barn to a local farmer. Photos no. 20 and 21 in Appendix F show the recently completed rebuilding of the McPherson barn, and its condition at that time. Within thirteen years, however, this landmark barn was to need even more extensive repairs. To whom this was to blame is uncertain, but probably not John Irwin. The fault may belong to the tenant farmer or to the Commission itself.


But on September 9, 1917 poor drainage around and within the barn caused the north wall to collapse. 126 A detail photo taken about 1907 shows the pointing and sedimentary stone of the wall to be cracking and disintegrating. Protected from the weather for at least twenty years by the removed lean-to shed, the mortar was hastened in its deterioration by this sudden exposure to the elements. One may assume that a combination of pulverized mortar and poor drainage caused the shifting of the foundation and walls, ultimately leading to the collapse of the north end wall.

On the Monday following the collapse of the wall, Colonels Nicholson and Cope drove out to examine the damage, and eventually decided to contract out the work again. They had already decided who would be the best party to do the work, so apparently no bids were received. The man chosen was Charles Kappes, a local stonehauler and mason who had been contracting with the Commission since the 1890s to lay foundations for monuments, &c. Initial measures were taken to "hold up the walls and roof" until Kappes could start to work. 127 Unfortunately, we are left once again without specifications, working drawings, or photographs of the pre-construction condition of the barn.


What Kappes did, simply stated, was to rebuild the north wall "on a substantial concrete foundation". 128 To assure that the drainage problems on the sloping ridge would be curtailed, the Park laid 4-inch Terra Cotta pipe 129and put a concrete foundation under the north end wall, about half of the east stable wall, and about half of the west foundation wall. This meant tearing down those stone walls still standing which were to receive the concrete supports; including the west wall that flanked the north side of the wagon doors. In rebuilding the stone walls, Kappes cut corners--assumedly on approval of the Commission. While the east stable wall was put back just about as it was (with the exception of the "concrete belt"), the west foundation wall was put back excluding the vented window which had been there. That part of the wall which rose above foundation level was never rebuilt at all. Apparently this economy measure was approved in light of its being obscured from view by the attached lean-to bay. To match the exterior of the south wall, the gable of the north end was likewise finished with vertical board siding, and the stone wall only reached to a point above the eaves. To lessen the shock of those accustomed to seeing the entire end wall as stone, the Commission had the new yellow pine boards painted the "color of the stone" 130 so that the old stone wall and new


wood gable blended together when viewed from a distance. Like the south wall, Kappes elected not to put back the ventilator embrasures. But, in an effort to keep some semblance of the historic appearance, he put in false embrasures that did not cut the whole way through the wall. (In other words, they did not ventilate.) Tie rods were put in the barn to "brace the walls"; this included afixing a 10-foot long steel angle bar to the exterior of the south wall. 131

Other details attended to by the Commission included the scrapping of the old wood shingle roof, and replacing, it with a galvanized sheet metal roofing. Lightning arrestors were attached to the ridge of the roof, apparently for the first time, as a precaution against a lightning-ignited fire. The hospital tablet, made in 1905 for the barn, but not attached to the north wall until 1907, was replaced. A finishing touch was the procurement of a lock for the barn to prevent unwelcome vandals from destroying the hard work of the War Department in bringing the barn up to a "preserved" level.

From 1917 until 1935-1936 the barn was apparently free of major maintenance needs. At that later date, the National Park Service, which now operated Gettysburg National Military Park and its historic structures, repainted the siding. No longer was the north gable to look like stone (since probably no one in the Service knew the reason for its being painted the stone-like color any more), but the pine siding was whitewashed like


the rest of the barn. To give it more of an "historic appearance" the NPS dismantled the metal roof and replaced it with new wood shingles. But no other effort was made to restore the barn to its true historic appearance.

By the time the "Historic Structures Report" was written for the McPherson Barn in 1958-1959, the building was mistakenly accepted as virtually unaltered and original. The architectural section of this report goes as far as to state that "Further architectural investigation of this structure is not required. As far as can be determined all structural members are original except roof rafters". 132The extensive and inexact "preservation" work of the War Department from 1905-1918 obviously negates this latter statement.

This Compiler account does not refer to the Edward McPherson barn at all, but to the barn situated on the farm of William McPherson's heirs. The William McPherson Farm was the "old McPherson farm" as opposed to the relatively "new" farm owned by the John B. Edward McPhersons. The William McPherson Farm included tracts owned in 1863 by Edward Harman, Peter Finnefrock, and James J. Wills. The barn which burned in 1858 was the one now called Wills (or Winebrenner) Farm. (Wills built a new barn in 1859-1860. See Cumberland Township tax recordsand Star and Sentinel, July 12, 1858.) The Park has accepted this erroneous date of 1858 without checking into which McPherson Farm was being referred to. The present writer also succumbed to acceptance of this old research data when compiling the LCS for the McPherson Barn, which is now also erroneous and subject to revision.


What has happened since the 1959 Historic Structures Report is that the National Park Service has continued to commit itself to preserving construction work of the War Department and subverting the true historic appearance of the McPherson Barn. The structure so inextricably interwoven into the history of the First Day's Battle has become a twentieth-century patchwork. It is no longer the McPherson Barn that is being preserved, but the John Irwin-Charles Kappes barn. The stately and impressive barn which was vividly remembered by those Union defenders no longer exists. Its vastness and uniqueness were bespoken by its massive stone walls (now dwarfed and emasculated by the falseness of the pine siding) and its long lean-to sheds and roof-line (also curtailed and diminished in visual impact). A preservation of the existing McPherson Barn cheats the historian and the visitor by projecting a deception of a historic barn (if not THE most historic of the remaining barns in the Park). If historic preservation is at all related to the historic integrity of a structure, then it must surely cry out for the effacement of the latter-day alterations by those contractors who interfered with this building's architectural life . Of all the historic buildings in the Park, the McPherson Barn stands pre-eminent and imposing on its ridge of the battlefield's First Day. As the sole survivor of the events that took place there on July 1, 1863 it would be fitting to pay it due tribute by restoring it to its 1863 appearance, instead of perpetuating the "mask" and "costume" it now wears.

Footnotes For Chapter Eight

120 John P. Nicholson, Journal, March 13, 1905, p. 15. (GNMP library).
Return to Text

121 There are no known copies of these specifications in GNMP files. They may be buried in some War Department archives if they were kept and forwarded to the Secretary of War, or they may have been thrown out or burned with many such records when the Park Service cleaned out old "obsolete" files. The specifications would have answered many questions posed concerning this first (1905) rehabilitation work.
Return to Text

122 Approvals of requests, June 14, 1905. GNMP library.
Return to Text

123 Ibid., June 1, 1905.
Return to Text

124 Gettysburg Compiler, June 28, 1905, p. 3.
Return to Text

125 Ibid.
Return to Text

126 Nicholson's Journal September 10, 1917, p. 114.
Return to Text

127 Ibid., September 12-13, 1917, p. 116.
Return to Text

128 Annual Report, GNMP Commission, 1918, p. 6.
Return to Text

129 Receipt Book, (Finished September 6, 1918). October 29, 1917, order #744.
Return to Text

130 Ibid., November 14, 1917, order #755; Nicholson's Journal, December 13, 1917, p. 152.
Return to Text

131 Ibid.; Ibid., December 6, 1917, order #776.
Return to Text

132 Historic Structures Report--Part 1: McPherson Barn (GNMP files, 1959 approval date). In addition to an incorrect architectural evaluation, the HSR contains numerous historical statements which are erroneous, most blatant of which is the following:

" . . . Gettysburg Compiler of July 5, 1858 states that 'the barn on the old McPherson farm, about two miles west of this place, was struck by lightning on Friday evening last. . . and entirely consumed.' It is probable that a new structure was built soon thereafter and is, therefore, the barn to which battle officers referred. . . ." (i.e., that barn standing in 1863 and a semblance of which stands today.)

Return to Text

Appendices A - E

Back to Table of Contents