Posted on Sat, Mar. 26, 2011
By Amy Worden
Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG - For the first time, Civil War buffs can now walk the land on Chambersburg Pike west of Gettysburg where Confederate and Union troops locked in a ferocious struggle at the start of the epic battle.
The 95-acre tract, scene of major fighting on July 1, 1863, has been made part of Gettysburg National Military Park at last.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Friday - weeks before the start of a series of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War - that the former country club land had been bought by the National Park Service from a conservation group.
The price was $1.6 million.
"Gettysburg will always have a sacred place in America's heritage for the pivotal role it played in our nation's history and for the enormity of the sacrifice that took place here," said Salazar, whose agency oversees the National Park Service. "With the addition of the Emanuel Harman Farm to the Gettysburg National Military Park, we are able to include another important chapter in the story that helped shape our country."
In 1863, Confederate brigades advanced and then retreated on Emanuel Harman's and Abraham Spangler's farmlands during an attack on the Union positions on McPherson and Seminary Ridges. For decades thereafter, the land was in private hands.
The property was developed in the 1950s as the Gettysburg Country Club, with a golf course. But the club closed in 2008.
The National Park Service tried for almost 20 years to acquire the property for preservation but could not reach an agreement with the country club board, said Gettysburg park spokeswoman Katie Lawhon.
Last year, after the club filed for bankruptcy, a Maryland developer bought it at a sheriff's sale and announced plans to build 200 houses. But preservationists prevailed in the end: The Conservation Fund, a national group, succeeded this year in reaching a sale agreement with the developer.
Civil War Trust president James Lighthizer applauded the sale, but cautioned that other privately owned sites within the park boundaries still needed permanent protection.
"We have been presented with the incredible opportunity to set aside some of the most blood-soaked ground still unprotected at Gettysburg," Lighthizer said. "Even as we celebrate this great success, we must remember that other vital pieces of the Gettysburg story are still vulnerable."
The Civil War Trust, the largest battlefield preservation group in the country, is pursuing the purchase of three other privately held properties within the battlefield.
Lawhon said the park service would let the golf course return to a meadow while researching how the site looked in 1863.
"We will look at mapping and photos to restore missing fences, farm lanes, and a stream," Lawhon said. "Our priority will be to bring back missing features."
She called the purchase an important development in the park's effort to eventually acquire all 900 acres within the battlefield that are still in private hands.
"When you consider the size of the parcel, the size of the battle, and the intensity of the fighting, it's a significant step," she said.