HAGERSTOWN -- The nation's largest Civil War battlefield preservation group will relocate its headquarters from history-rich Fredericksburg, Va., to downtown Hagerstown by early next year.
Hagerstown, a former railroad hub with lesser-known ties to the Civil War, edged out Winchester, Va., the other finalist for the nonprofit group's headquarters, because of a "superb" package of economic and other incentives, said Thomas W. Richards, board chairman of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites Inc.
The move places the 10,000-member, nonprofit association in reach of about 2.2 million people who visit Antietam, in nearby Sharpsburg, Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and Gettysburg, Pa. The group's Fredericksburg location is near well-known but less-visited Civil War battlefields.
"What this means is that Hagerstown becomes the focus of more Civil War activities," said Dick Palmer, director of the Economic Development Commission for Hagerstown-Washington County. "Washington County already has a rich Civil War heritage and that's one of the reasons the group located here. This adds to what we already have. I think this bodes well for Hagerstown."
Association officials began looking to relocate earlier this year after being lobbied by Washington County commissioners. A proposal to relocate to Sharpsburg was dropped after some town officials there raised objections to more tourist traffic.
Dennis E. Frye, the group's president, has said a move to rent-free or low-cost office space would save the group hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be used for land preservation.
The Hagerstown-Washington County package includes a renewable $1-a-year lease for 40,000 square feet in the recently renovated Elizabeth Hager Center at Public Square, free parking and membership discounts at local businesses, Mr. Palmer said.
In addition, the city will provide $250,000 for office renovations, he said.
"We're very excited about this move because we think there are some very positive dynamics at work in downtown Hagerstown," FTC Mr. Richards said. "I must say that we are also greatly impressed with the support that Maryland gives to Civil War battlefield preservation."
Mr. Richards said Maryland has spent $13 million to preserve land around battlefields such as Antietam and South Mountain and leads the nation in state funding for battlefield preservation.
The move will affect eight employees. Mr. Richards said the staff could double during the next year because of growing membership and related work. Besides land preservation, the group participates in public policy issues and educational outreach programs. The association has contributed money to help purchase more than 3,900 acres in 11 states, he said.
The association has been located in Fredericksburg, the site of four major battles during the Civil War, since its founding in 1987.
"We're sorry to see them leave us," said Karen Hedelt, a spokeswoman for the Fredericksburg Department of Tourism. "We certainly understand the incentives offered in Hagerstown, and it is to their benefit to save money for more battlefield preservation. There's certainly a prestige in having them."