Connections to the conflict

Officials hope to draw tourists by playing up county's Civil War ties

April 23, 2006|By NORA KOCH | NORA KOCH,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If Union Army Gen. George G. Meade had had his way, the Civil War's decisive battle would have been fought in Carroll County, Abraham Lincoln might have delivered the "Carroll County Address," and 1.9 million modern-day tourists would visit each year.

But a chance skirmish in the summer of 1863 ignited a battle 12 miles north of Taneytown, where Meade had set up Union headquarters and planned to engage the Confederate Army. Today, Civil War tourists flock to Gettysburg.

"If Gettysburg hadn't happened by accident, we would be the heart of the engagement of 1863, which was decisive for the Civil War," said Tom LeGore, a Civil War historian and author who lives in Finksburg. "Here in Carroll County, we were not the site of a major battleground, but we certainly have a new and refreshing story to tell."

With the Civil War's 150th anniversary approaching, Carroll tourism and economic development officials are teaming up with Frederick and Washington counties to entice more visitors to the "Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area," a state designation that would allow local governments, nonprofits and businesses to tap into grant money for heritage preservation and programming.

The three counties began working toward the state designation in 1999 and hope to make it official soon after submitting a plan in May to Maryland's Heritage Areas Authority.

"Maryland is a border state; we've got one foot in the North and one in the South and because of that we're a great place to look at all parts of the story," said Elizabeth Scott Shatto, director of the three-county project.

"We have here embodied the causes of the war, the battles and actual conflicts, stories about heroes as well as villains, and stories of courage and caring. Particularly, between our three counties, we may be the best place in the country for telling the Civil War story," she said.

The Heart of the Civil War would be Maryland's eleventh heritage area and part of a program created by the state legislature in 1996 to stimulate economic development through tourism.

In its first decade, the program received $1 million in annual funding, and new legislation would allow the legislature to allocate up to $3 million a year beginning in 2007, said Richard Hughes, who heads up the state's Office of Heritage Planning.

Though not a battle site, Carroll sits in a unique position to tell the Civil War story, said LeGore, who co-authored Just South of Gettysburg, a book about the county's role in the Civil War.

Union commanders used the new Western Maryland Railroad depot in Westminster as a supply hub, and Carroll County residents were accustomed to troops and supply wagons on their turnpikes.

Meade also created a plan to use Carroll County as the defense line to protect Baltimore and Washington during a Northern invasion, although that battle was ultimately fought in Gettysburg.

Before moving on to Gettysburg, Meade set up temporary headquarters in a private home in Taneytown, the town where Carroll County's heritage area efforts will begin.

Because Taneytown is close to the Gettysburg and Antietam battlefields, and has a unique Civil War story, it could be used as a base for tourists visiting the two battlefields and other area attractions, said Nancy McCormick, economic development director for Taneytown.

Next year, the state is scheduled to begin an $11 million streetscape that will include new sidewalks and repaved streets, she said. McCormick said the town hopes to use financial assistance from the heritage area program to install brickwork and historic lighting.

Plans also include seeking the funding to promote the town's volunteer-run museum and docent-led walking tour with a brochure, and to build information kiosks to direct visitors to area Civil War attractions.

"Over the past six or seven years, we've had some marvelous volunteer groups that have tried to bring together and enhance our heritage," McCormick said. "This is just going to encourage more of that, and I think it is the spark that will bring it all together."

As the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area matures, its benefits should soon spread all over the county and help boost the county's main streets, attractions such as the Farm Museum, Union Mills Homestead, and other tourism resources, said tourism manager Barbara Beverungen.

Tourism is already on the upswing, Beverungen said. About 250,000 visitors attend Carroll County tourism events each year, and the funding to improve heritage attractions will help.

"A visitor may read a brochure at one place say `Gee, there's lots of other things to do in Carroll County,' and it might entice them to say `Let's stay overnight again and go to the Farm Museum' or `Let's check out downtown Westminster,'" Beverungen said. "The more things there are to do, the longer they want to stay."

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