A Vision for a Place: A Commentary on the Rehabilitation of the Harmon Farm

By Matt LaRoche ’17

My last post, “Stewarding Our Lands: Historical Preservation in Gettysburg,” aimed at engendering a general awareness of the goals and challenges that historians face in preserving and presenting places of value. To bring the message home to Gettysburgians, I used the somewhat recently acquired Harmon Farm property as a focusing lens. To follow it up, I interviewed the young man who literally wrote the book on the Harmon Farm.

Photo credit to Philip Pane '17.
Photo credit to Philip Pane ’17.

Andrew L. Dalton has been a Gettysburg resident since the age of four and will be attending Gettysburg College next year. In his book Beyond the Run: The Emanuel Harmon Farm at Gettysburg, Dalton attaches stories and faces to the fameless ninety-five acres of the Harmon property. The terror and suffering borne by the soldiers who contested that ground, as well as the fear felt by sixteen-year-old Amelia Harmon and her family as their home was occupied and burned, have long ago hallowed that ground. Now their stories stand on the cusp of remembrance. But to remember these people properly, the property needs some renovation. 150 years of history has left its mark on what was once a simple Pennsylvania homestead. The industry of subsequent owners more than the battle has transformed the place into a fixer-upper in the best sense of the word. Hosting a hotel and a country club green has changed the landscape, but has also left a historical site full of potential – if a vision emerges to realize it.

Dalton, as a devotee of the Harmon Farm and its Civil War history, has his own vision of how to sculpt the site to best serve the public. Luckily, by his estimate, the damage is not as appalling as it might have been. First on the chopping block is the green’s eye-catching water feature. Dalton is adamant that “the pond needs to be removed.” This “very non-historic feature” is more akin to a lake and sits smack in the path of Heth’s Division’s advance on the first day, an attack that resulted in record-breaking casualties for some of Heth’s North Carolinians. Second, “the trees should be removed,” as that land was almost totally cleared farmland at the time of the battle. Third, we must “get rid of the sand traps.” In retrospect, it is fortunate that a golf course was built atop that land, as a green is less destructive than a grocery. Nonetheless, to make the land’s Civil War stories accessible to the public, most if not all traces of the green must go.

However, the controversy of this campaign lies in the admission that history took place on that land long after the Civil War was decided. Along with questions of whether to install waysides and whether to keep the cart paths (which Dalton feels are “perfect for interpreting the property”), we must ask what other kinds of history deserve the time of day. Do we interpret the presidential history made by Eisenhower on that green? What about the market history left by the Springs Hotel, which sold bottles of battlefield spring water to tourists, including veterans of the battle? I have no answers to these questions, but I predict that stewarding this land will see compromise temper passion as the discussion rages.

2 thoughts on “A Vision for a Place: A Commentary on the Rehabilitation of the Harmon Farm”

  1. Matt: I am pleased to hear Andrew’s opinions as to how the NPS should”sculpt” the former golf course so that visitors can better appreciate the Harmon farm as it existed in 1863. You, however, dodge the issues, which are extremely complicated and controversial as you point out. You have faith in the power of compromise and I suspect that there will be concessions on both sides if the NPS were ever to have the funds to rehab the space. But I am curious as to what your stand is on how the NPS should move forward? What layers of the past do you think are worth preserving and interpreting? Do you agree that the lake is not historic, as Andrew argues? Would appreciate your thoughts, even if they are random!

Leave a Reply