Washington County courts civil war group

March 26, 1995|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

SHARPSBURG -- The nation's largest Civil War group is considering a move from Virginia to a more visible site in Sharpsburg, which is in the heart of a three-state battlefield concentration, including nearby Antietam.

A move to Sharpsburg would place the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites Inc. in reach of about 2.2 million people who visit Antietam, Harpers Ferry, W. Va., and Gettysburg, Pa., each year, said Dennis E. Frye, the nonprofit group's president.

The association now is housed in Fredericksburg, Va., near well-known, but less-visited Civil War battlefields.

"This is an opportunity for us to be right in the nucleus of the most visited Civil War battlefield area of the country," Mr. Frye said. "It's advantageous for us, as an organization that buys properties and easements all across the country, to be in an area with such high exposure to Civil War tourists."

Washington County's commissioners have been lobbying the group, which has about 10,000 members and eight employees, to move to Sharpsburg.

"Having an organization like that in our county would be a tremendous benefit," Commissioner Jim Wade said. "There are tremendous dollars to be gained from Civil War tourists. And we need to ensure that Sharpsburg doesn't become another Gettysburg. We want to maintain the quality of life and the historic nature of the town."

Mr. Wade said the county also could tap into the organization's expertise in land preservation to help defray development around Sharpsburg.

In addition, Mr. Wade said he believed the group could help the county in its efforts to establish a Civil War tourism center and a national Civil War museum, proposals that have been considered for months but have not gotten off the ground.

Mr. Frye, a Washington County native who lives near Sharpsburg, said the town is attractive, too, because it is near Interstates 81 and 70. And he noted a certain prestige being associated with Maryland.

"Washington County and Maryland have been the flagships of Civil War battlefield preservation in the nation," Mr. Frye said. "No other state and no other county has accomplished as much. We want to be associated with a state and a community that has been the leader in promoting battlefield preservation and heritage tourism."

He said the group had not considered a move until it was approached by the commissioners. Mr. Frye said his organization always seeks to save money, and a move to Sharpsburg would be contingent on economic incentives offered the commissioners.

"If we had some sort of rent-free agreement for 10 years we could save about $300,000 -- when you figure in inflation -- that could be used for land purchase," Mr. Frye said.

Mr. Wade said the commissioners are looking for federal and state grants to buy a two-story, early 19th-century house on Main Street in Sharpsburg. The house, he said, could house the association and also serve as a regional Civil War tourism center.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," said Sharpsburg Mayor Chris Yeager. "I'm thrilled with it. I think it would have a tremendous impact on the town and bring people here to stay in inns, put gas in their cars and shop at some businesses."

Hagerstown Mayor Steven Sager said the organization's relocation could benefit Hagerstown, too.

"The association will bring a fair volume of meetings and conferences to Hagerstown," he said. "We are where the hotels, motels and restaurants are. There's a tremendous benefit to the community."

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