Stewarding Our Lands: Historical Preservation in Gettysburg

Photo credit to Philip Pane ’17.

By Matt LaRoche ’17

In recent decades, more and more time, energy, and resources have been put towards saving large tracts of our historical heritage. This surely appears self-evident to residents of a place like Gettysburg, which has seen the boundaries of the park grow exponentially thanks to the National Park Service, as well as to the actions of various private organizations and individuals.[1] However, the conservation is far from complete. Not every  “vision-place of souls”[2] has been saved. However, while every parcel of preserved land is a gift to the American people, much preserved land still waits to be properly rehabilitated and made a meaningful part of the national tapestry.

Gettysburg falls squarely on the frontlines of the struggle not just to save but to utilize key lands. For example, on March 25, 2011 a ceremony held on the ninety-five acres of the Harmon Farm transferred that land to the NPS.[3] This land witnessed some of the hottest combat of the war, particularly between the men of the famed Iron Brigade and the 26th North Carolina of Heth’s Division, which took more casualties percentage-wise than any other regiment in a single battle in either army.[4] Nearly a century later, President Eisenhower chose the Gettysburg Country Club, which was built on the Harmon property, as one of his personal relaxation spots during his presidency.[5] Turning that land into a suitable arena for both interpretation and enjoyment requires a sensible consensus of vision that only public discourse can provide.

In the coming years, the Park Service will surely be open to the public’s vision for that land. However, there are caveats to consider. These include matters of personal opinion such as whether a field should sport waysides or be left barren, allowing individuals to interpret the bare bones of the space without interruption. These questions certainly cause a level of controversy, but they are central to the “products”[6] that historical preservation produces – the physical spaces and objects that are preserved and, through rehabilitation and refurbishment (or the lack thereof), dressed in specific clothes for an intended effect.

Additionally, we as the public have burdens to bear as stewards. We cannot forget that the parks are ours to have and to hold and more importantly that they are vulnerable in a way that is all too easy to overlook: they do not exist in a vacuum. Preservation must be tempered with concern for the surrounding communities. We must find a sustainable way to purchase and fund our park lands that does not overwhelm localities or their economies. A balance must be struck between the developed and the preserved, between the taxed and the tax-free, and between the will of the community and that of the nation as a whole. A commonsense approach must encompass both the “artifact”[7] and the “system”[8] that gives it new life.


Endnotes:

[1] The Conservation Fund, “Civil War Battlefield Conservation: Focus on Gettysburg,” Places We Work, http://www.conservationfund.org (accessed 27 Oct. 2014). Also see H. R. 1513, a Federal bill currently under review in the Senate, which proposes to expand the boundaries of Gettysburg NMP further.

[2] Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Dedication of the Twentieth Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, Oct. 3, 1889: With Report of Annual Reunion, Oct. 2, 1889, Maine Historical Society, http://minerva.maine.edu.

[3]Andrew I. Dalton, Beyond the Run: The Emanuel Harmon Farm at Gettysburg (Gettysburg, PA: Ten Roads Publishing, 2013), 94.

[4] John W. Busey, and David G. Martin, Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg (Hightstown, NJ: Longstreet House, 2005), pp. 298, 501.

[5] Andrew I. Dalton, 90.

[6] Jennifer Minner, “Enduring Debates and Multiple Values in the Controversial Restoration of an Early Twentieth-Century Texas Landscape, Preservation Education & Research, Vol. 4 (2011), 40.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

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