Battle scene to return to 1863

Gettysburg center and Cyclorama to be demolished

June 18, 1999

The Gettysburg battlefield will undergo a large-scale restoration with the demolition of the aging visitors' center, which sits on the ground where soldiers fought the three-day battle that changed the course of the Civil War.

In an announcement expected today, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt will lay out a plan to make the land look as it did when about 163,000 Union and Confederate soldiers met in bloody conflict July 1-3, 1863. Fences will be erected and wooded areas restored at the site, the center of the Union line on the last two days.

"This is a good plan because it will help restore historical integrity to some of America's most hallowed ground," Babbitt said in a statement released yesterday to several newspapers, including The Sun.

"It moves the landscape and the battlefield much closer to the way things looked to the brave men who fought there," he said

Yielding to the concerns of local merchants, Babbitt selected a scaled-down plan for a new visitors' center for Gettysburg National Military Park. The new center will be built on 10 to 15 acres of a 45-acre tract along the Baltimore Pike (Route 97) about half a mile southeast of the existing building. The current center is on Taneytown Road (Route 134) on parkland just outside town limits.

"It is now time for the Park Service to move ahead with this plan," Babbitt said in the statement, referring to the years of discussion and controversy about plans for a new center. The earliest projected opening is 2003.

The $40 million project also calls for the demolition of the Cyclorama, which houses the popular panoramic painting of Pickett's Charge on the last day of the battle, said parks spokeswoman Katie Lawhon, The electronic map of the battle is in the visitors' center. The painting and the map will be housed in the new building.

The plan will keep some parking near the current site, along with the strip of souvenir shops and restaurants. The new center will have a smaller food-service area than was originally planned.

Gettysburg merchants and officials fear losing tourist revenue if the center is moved outside town, but federal officials say the new visitors' center could generate almost $24.3 million more a year .

The existing facilities are in poor condition, threatening continued deterioration of some of the historic treasures they hold, and are far too small to display much of the collection, according to federal officials and park supporters, such as the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg.

The visitors' center was built in 1921 and the Cyclorama in 1962.

"But the real story, the exciting thing to me, is that the Park Service is going to restore the battlefield to the way the soldiers saw it during the fighting in 1863," said Lawhon, who also is a park ranger at Gettysburg.

The visitors' center and the Cyclorama sit on Cemetery Ridge, where the Union Army formed the shank of its famous fishhook-shaped formation and repelled Pickett's soldiers on the last day. Between the two buildings lies the white wooden home of Abraham Brian, a black Gettysburg farmer at the time, she said.

On the same land was Ziegler's Grove, where Confederate troops attacked the Union line on the second day of battle and which some historians believe was the target of Pickett's Charge, Lawhon said.

Developer Robert Kinsley of York, Pa., was selected over five others who submitted proposals, said Tim Ahern, deputy director of communications for the Interior Department. In April 1995, Ahern said, the idea for a new center "first came up as an unsolicited proposal by a local developer -- not Kinsley.."

By December 1996, he said, the Park Service had drawn up a request for proposals by developers.

Kinsley has established the nonprofit Gettysburg National Battlefield Museum Foundation to raise about $39.3 million for the museum and to work with the Park Service developing the new site, Lawhon said.

That includes the cost of removing the present center and the Cyclorama, and construction cannot begin until all of the money is raised.

The plan resulted from some 30 public meetings and more than 4,000 comments from across the country during a two-year period, she said.

"There was no major battle action at the new location" for the center, just some artillery positions and occasional troops from both sides passing through, she said.

Pub Date: 6/18/99

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