Understanding Gettysburg’s Contemporary History: Park Planning and Rejuvenation of the Battlefield

As the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg comes into view, more and more articles will be re-posted here to keep readers interested and hopefully get you out to the battlefield soon.  This particular article really caught my attention and it is worth yours:

Early park planning, driven by a single-minded philosophy of the victors to preserve only what mattered to the North, opened up huge swaths of the battlefield to development.

Before the U.S. War Department took over the park in 1895, veterans’ groups that oversaw initial land acquisition believed that only Union battle positions should be preserved.

Commercial interests began snapping up property along Confederate lines, building tourist cabins, diners, even a roller rink. As the 50th anniversary in 1913 approached and again with the 75th anniversary in 1938 and the centennial in 1963, more development came. In addition, many private properties remained within park boundaries, so many in some spots that whole villages like the one named Pinchgut cropped up.

“There was a struggle over whether this would be a historic or amusement park,” Adelman said.

via A Gettysburg battle plan: The field as it once was – Philly.com.

What I find most interesting about this, as someone who has visited the park about six or seven times in the last decade, is just how much the park has changed–and for the better!  When I was reenacting in early 2005, every weekend I was down at Gettysburg and at the time not much was happening (that I could see or that I can remember; take your pick).  But when I returned in 2008, the park had undergone some serious construction–if I recall the visitor’s center was still in its original location near the entrance to Cemetery Ridge, but swaths of forest had been excavated and planting was already underway.  Near Devil’s Den, work had started to reclaim that region and bring it more in line with some of the pictures taken after the battle (You’ll also want to check out these photographs and their modern day locations).

In 2011 I returned and found the park had again changed.  This time the brand new visitor’s center had been raised and was fully operational (and stunning), and the old remnant of the visitor’s center was left crumbling (looking mysterious and haunted, with the faint smell of cigar smoke lingering in the air around it–for some odd reason).

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The old visitor’s center in 2011. I had stopped here several times in the last decade; in 2011, it remained only as a hollow concrete shell–a testament to the park service’s continued efforts to better the area and bring it back to its most-original state.

It is interesting to read about the metahistory of the park; how absolutely politically incorrect for the soldiers to want any confederate markers or encampment sites bought and memorialized.  I encourage the reader to consider this tale of pake reclamation; how long has it been since your last visit to the site?  Did your last step on Gettysburg soil include a trip to the Cyclorama building?  If so, you may need to come back and take another look around.

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3 responses to “Understanding Gettysburg’s Contemporary History: Park Planning and Rejuvenation of the Battlefield

  1. If anyone has an interest in battlefield preservation, I recommend Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and An American Shrine by Jim Weeks and A Chickamauga Memorial: The Establishment of America’s First Civil War National Military Park by Timothy B. Smith.

  2. Pingback: Today, July 1st, Marks the 150th Anniversary of the First Day of Fighting at Gettysburg | American History and Ancestry·

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