York Sunday Dispatch
Sunday, July 21, 2002 6:30 AM MST
Group takes fight online
Activists' goal is to remove dump from battlefield
By RITA BEYER
The effort to push a Gettysburg dump site off the historic battlefield has moved online.
Civil War enthusiasts on the Internet-based Gettysburg Discussion Group
are urging each other to send e-mails and letters to the borough and the
National Park Service, calling for restoration of a dump site on a portion of the battlefield and adjacent to an underground railroad site.
The borough owns about 11 acres adjacent to the McAllister's Mill property
along Baltimore Pike, just downstream from the mill site in Cumberland
Township. The mill no longer stands but, in the pre-Civil War years, was used as a refuge for escaped slaves fleeing north. The site also was a
scene of activity during the three-day Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.
For longer than borough officials can recall, the borough has placed
brush and leftover materials from road construction on a slope that overlooks
Meanwhile, the president of a Civil War preservation group asked the
borough to remove the dump, calling it "the worst possible use of historic
"The dump is an awful blemish on the battlefield as well as the borough
council's reputation," said Civil War Preservation Trust president James
Lighthizer in a letter sent to the borough Friday.
Online interest: Online, Dennis Lawrence, one of the founders of the
725-member discussion group, wrote, "No one should post to this group again
until you can paste a copy of your letter (to the borough or park service) to your post."
A group of members of the Gettysburg Discussion Group tour the area
every year, so they have a special interest in the area, said Lawrence,
lives in Kansas City, Mo.
His brother, Robert, 50, a certified public accountant in Houston, Texas, co-founded the group.
The brothers sent letters to the borough.
"It's touchy for us, because I don't want to accuse the borough," Robert Lawrence said.
"They have to do this balancing act between the needs of the community and the tax base and the park, and that faces them with difficult decisions."
"I'm not exactly sure they know what's going on out there, and given
the significance of the site, there shouldn't be anything going on out
Robert Lawrence said.
Study needed: The state Department of Environmental Protection sent
an employee to investigate the site last week, but he could not determine
whether the dump was problematic until he saw a Federal Emergency Management Agency study of the area, said Karen Sitler, community relations
coordinator for DEP.
Cumberland Township has a copy of the FEMA study, borough manager Charlie Sterner said last week.
"We need to wait until they (the DEP officials) get that," Sitler said.
"I think it's gonna take time to obtain those documents."
From July 28, 2002, York Sunday Dispatch
Dump no local priority
Gettysburg residents aren't upset, Fleet says
By RITA BEYER
Gettysburg Borough has received letters from Texas, Florida and Australia.
But not one Gettysburg resident has written to ask the borough to clean
up the Cumberland Township property where the borough has been putting
"This is going to sound parochial, but I haven't received a letter from
my constituents yet," said Jamie Fleet, vice president of the borough council.
"Until then, while we appreciate their interest in Gettysburg, I'm not
going to rush to reply."
The borough owns about 11 acres adjacent to the historic McAllister's
Mill property along Baltimore Pike. The mill, which no longer stands, was
a refuge for escaped slaves fleeing north. The site also was a scene of
activity during the Battle of Gettysburg.
For many years, the borough has placed brush and leftover materials
from road construction on a slope that overlooks Rock Creek.
"Despite the fact that in the borough we're very focused on historic
preservation, there is a very practical element associated with that,"
Fleet said. "Having that piece of property is a real tool for us and saves
us a lot of money that allows us to do a lot of other things that the preservation
groups want us to do."
James Lighthizer, president of the Civil War Preservation Trust, and
members of the Internet-based Gettysburg Discussion Group have written
to the borough over the past two weeks, asking officials to clean up the
Jim Campi, spokesman for the Civil War Preservation Trust, said he expects
Gettysburg residents to become more concerned.
"It's just in the past few weeks that people are learning about this,
and I think when the Department of Environmental Protection comes out with
the results of its survey, there will be a lot more outrage about the dump,
particularly if it turns out as we suspect, this is affecting Rock Creek
and the Chesapeake Bay watershed," Campi said.
A DEP employee inspected the site two weeks ago, but he could make no
determination until he saw a Federal Emergency Management Agency study
of the area.
The borough has no plans to clean or stop using the site, Fleet said.
"If they raise the money to purchase and close the site and raise an additional amount of money so we can rent another location, that's a potential solution. So that's a challenge to them," Fleet said.
editorial column of cheers and jeers
"Jeers to the Civil War buffs who are coming down hard on Gettysburg
borough because of its use of what they call historic ground. For
years, the former town dump off Baltimore Pike has been used only for brush
and leftover or reusable road materials, but now a preservation group
has decided this is unsuitable. They've
even begun a widespread Internet campaign to pressure local officials.
We won't get into the age-old debate about whether tourists are a blessing or a curse for Gettysburg. But when people from other places try to force their wishes on locals, there's not much question that it's the latter.
Why can't these people understand that Gettysburg is not an amusement
park with make-believe soldiers in costume? This is qa real town, with
real people, paying real high taxes because so much of its land has been
given over to history. "
January 13, 2003
The shuttered Home Sweet Home Motel isn't part of the official Gettysburg battlefield tour, but perhaps it should be. So too, perhaps, should the Kentucky Fried Chicken next to it and the Hardee's, McDonald's and Friendly's franchises lining the same neon-lit strip where, on a summer's day 140 years ago, Confederate troops made a doomed dash toward Union lines.
Sure, much of the land where the Battle of Gettysburg's final hours were fought is close to what it was on July 3, 1863. The wheat fields, rocky hills, grassy slopes and peach orchard remain, dotted with trenches, battered barns, farmhouses and monuments to soldiers who fell among them. To most of the 1.7 million visitors who come here each year, this probably doesn't look like threatened ground. To preservationists, though, Gettysburg and scores of other Civil War battlefields are being ruined by commercial and residential development.
"There's an assumption, especially in Gettysburg, that everything that can be preserved is. That's not the case," said Jim Campi of the Civil War Preservation Trust, a nonprofit organization in Washington D.C. "What we're trying to do is save the core battlefields."
In many cases, it's too late. According to the Trust, more than 70 of the 384 sites whose battles were most crucial to the war's outcome lie buried beneath parking lots, malls, highways and houses. Of those remaining, only about 15 percent of the land is protected, according to the Trust, which last year published its list of the 10 most endangered battlefields. Besides Gettysburg, they include Chancellorsville, Va., where a housing and commercial project is planned on the battlefield's edge; Harper's Ferry, W.Va., where only 2,729 acres of the 7,199-acre site are protected; and Stones River, Tenn., where local officials have voted to allow construction of a medical center on 200 acres of battlefield land.
Other sites deemed highly at risk include Manassas, Va., the site of the First and Second Battles of Bull Run, where historians, residents and others have twice fended off efforts by Marriott and Walt Disney to build theme parks on the battlefield perimeter.
The current conflicts between developers and preservationists can be traced to the paths forged by Union and Confederate troops as they fought some of the fiercest battles of America's bloodiest conflict. Like Gettysburg, many of the battle sites are in areas that, 140 years ago, were rural outposts where no one envisioned massive development. Now they are situated along major highways and within commuting distance to big cities. In July 1863, when Gen. Robert E. Lee, emboldened by a stunning victory two months earlier at Chancellorsville, sent troops toward Gettysburg, it was an isolated farming town of 2,400. Today, Gettysburg is an hour's drive from Baltimore and 45 minutes from Harrisburg, Pa., the state capital.
Such changes have led to constant clashes between purists, who believe battlefields and the surrounding areas should be left as pristine as possible, and developers and business owners, who see these open spaces as prime land for building and new jobs.
Unlike conventional parks consisting of large stretches of protected green space, many battlefield parks are patches of disjointed land, some privately owned, with boundaries that have changed over the generations. Of Gettysburg National Military Park's 6,000 acres, 1,200 are privately owned and subject to development.
Adams County, where Gettysburg is located, is the fourth fastest-growing county in Pennsyl- vania, said Catherine Creswell, executive director of the Adams County Economic Development Corp. The nonprofit group was formed 13 years ago by business leaders and often finds itself at odds with preservationists, who Creswell jokes come "crawling out of the woodwork" at the first hint of development.
"What has preservationists upset is that there's a lot of growth coming here because we have the work force. People move here for a lower cost of living, and it's our mission to create family-sustaining wage-type jobs," said Creswell. In 2001, the development corp. brought Gettysburg its first industrial park, anchored by Pella Corp., which makes windows and doors. When Pella advertised its first 20 available jobs, about 4,000 people applied. "That gives you some idea of the need for development and jobs in the community," Creswell said.
The problem, say preservationists and historians, is that such growth spawns more growth, which eventually bumps up against the Gettysburg National Military Park, wrecks the views from key locations on the battle site and destroys the somber, placid mood they say the setting should evoke. From various points of the Gettysburg battlefield, for example, you can see the fast-food restaurants and Home Sweet Home Motel, the rooftops of a housing development behind the motel, and the lights of a Ford dealership occupying 6.4 acres of battlefield. On outlying areas of the battlefield, including the Old McAllister Mill, which housed an underground railroad hideout, a municipal dump is rising from the ground and sending debris tumbling into Rock Creek, where fleeing slaves dashed through the water to confuse tracking dogs.
"We're becoming a bedroom community of D.C. and Baltimore, and if we're not careful, in 30 years the only green that's going to be left is within Gettysburg National Military Park," said Dean Schultz, an engineer and a member of National Friends of the Parks at Gettysburg, which works with other groups to buy land threatened by development.
Because of the park's zigzagging boundaries and the remaining level of private ownership, preserving green space can be a tricky proposition. Both Home Sweet Home and the Ford dealership were purchased in the past two years by the National Park Service, with help from the Friends group, and both are to be demolished so the land can be restored to its battlefield condition. Such purchases take time and money, however. It took four years of negotiations and $1.4 million to complete the Home Sweet Home deal in July 2002, said Vickey Monrean, president of the Friends organization.
Another costly deal, but one deemed crucial to salvaging a key piece of battlefield, involved the National Park Service's destruction in 2000 of a 300-foot viewing tower on private property within the park. The tower was built in the 1970s and had long been the bane of preservationists. "First of all, it was pretty ugly, but even worse, it had speakers on top of the tower blaring music," Campi said. Now, the National Park Service and owner are fighting over the tower's value, with the owner pricing it at more than twice the $3 million the government estimated.
Such conflicts underscore the need to protect property before developers begin eyeing it, either through easements or outright purchases, say historians. With limited funds for property purchases, however, parks such as Gettysburg depend upon private groups to help them acquire land, and those groups depend upon donations. Nine years after a congressional advisory panel urged it to do so, Congress in December approved a bill earmarking $10 million a year for the next five years to protect Civil War battlefields.
Historians welcomed the bill, which was signed by President George W. Bush, but they admit that in cases where land is not within the park and has already been developed, there's little they can do to salvage it. Along the avenue commonly known in Gettysburg as "The Strip," where Home Sweet Home and the fast-food chains are located, only the motel is inside park boundaries. National Park Service spokeswoman Katie Lawhon said that is probably because the fighting that occurred on that spot, where a small monument to the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry sits on the neglected lawn beside the parking lot, was so intense.
Walter Powell, Gettysburg's historic preservation officer, and other historians worry that the street where a new visitor center is planned could end up like The Strip unless preservationists act now.
"The last thing anyone wants to see is another fast-food strip there," said Lawhon, adding that the National Park Service has bought 11 parcels of land along the road. She added that the township of Cumberland, where the land for the new center sits, has offered assurances it will prevent modern blight from swallowing the area.
Historians aren't convinced.
"A lot of that property remains unprotected," Campi said. "Steps are
being taken to protect it, but until those steps are completed, there's
going to be a severe threat."
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