So we can’t see the elephant in the room

During my trips to Gettysburg in October and November, I examined with fascination the continuing construction of the new Visitor Center and Cyclorama buildings along Hunt Avenue.  For anyone who has visited the town and battlefield so often over the years, there have been an enormous amount of changes these past couple years.  The tree cuttings, plantings, orchard restorations, and fence building have made an interpretational impact on the battlefield that has to be seen to be believed.  One day soon I’ll make a post devoted to that topic.  But for now, I want to address the new Visitor Center and related structures.

As I said, I’ve been fascinated with the new Center.  On my trips, I sat in my vehicle along Hunt Avenue for awhile and watched the crews lift steel beams into place for the Cyclorama building.  Other crew were moving earth for the VC building and grounds.  I was impressed that even the large property for the new buildings and huge parking lots seemed so well hidden from the roads.  In fact, I’ve known visitors to entirely miss the construction site while driving along Hunt Avenue, or the Taneytown and Baltimore Pikes.

And I can’t help but ponder the impact on the battlefield proper once the present Visitor Center (the Rosensteel building), Cyclorama, and parking lots are razed and reclaimed.  A representative Zeigler woodlot will be restored in the area.  If you think the tree cuttings around the field have made an impact, just wait, I think, for how the area of the present buildings is going to look once it’s reclaimed (I hesitate to use the word “restored” because I don’t think that’s strictly possible).

Yesterday I received my copy of The Friends of Gettysburg Foundation quarterly newsletter (formerly the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg or FNPG).  An article about the construction of the New VC and Cyc buildings is on pages 14 and 15.  The article isn’t too long, and I’d like to quote it for those who don’t receive this publication:

It’s finally visible.  Steel for the new Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg is rising from the ground, and the Cyclorama gallery is taking shape.
Yet there’s just as much work going on “beneath the surface.”
The Gettysburg Foundation is aiming for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” (LEED) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council… Emphasis is on state-of-the-art strategies for sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.
The cornerstone of the energy efficient strategy is a geothermal heat pump system for the new Museum and Visitor Center.  The system will consist of about 200 wells, each 500 feet deep and 6 inches in diameter, located under the parking lot.  Piping will tie the wells together in a closed loop system.  These 92,000 lineal feet of wells will form a thermal shield that will leverage the earth’s constant 55-degree temperature to provide most of the building’s heating and cooling requirements, without burning fossil fuels.
Other environmental considerations that have contributed to Foundation decisions about the project’s exterior features include an ongoing land acquisition program that will create a buffer and remove from potential development as much land as possible around the site of the new facilities.  To date, the Foundation has acquired all significant parcels of property that surround the entrace to the new Visitor Center and Museum…
Automobile parking lots will be interspersed throughout the 100-acre site to blend into the landscape and break up potential “seas of concrete.”  These lots will be tiered to follow the landscape and shaded with existing or newly planted trees…

So there you have it.  Not only will the new buildings and ground be “oooh-ahhh” state-of-the-art, they’ll be earth-loving too.

Think of the constrast with the present digs of the Visitor Center, Museum, and Cyclorama.  The old Rosensteel building was never designed to properly house the artifacts.  Most of the collection, in fact, has been kept in controlled storage to preserve it.  The building is too old, too dilapidated, too small, and unsuited for the purpose it has served for so many decades.  The Cyclorama building has been serving to destroy the very painting it housed to protect.  The building leaks, its design was atrocious, and the climate control has been nonexistent from day one.  Some 6 feet of the painting all the way around its circumference has never been seen by the public because it had to be tucked under – the present display area wasn’t designed to be large enough.

The new facilities, it appears, will be everything the NPS needs.  And it’s a new experiment in the combination of public and private concerns on a huge scale.  What remains to be seen, however, is not jsut the impact on the grounds or wetlands, but on the future of the battlefield and town.  Today the Park is staffed with folks who are underpaid, overworked, and often underappreciated.  They will be presented with a wizz-bang set of facilities and grounds, technological gizmos out the wazoo, and artifacts protected until the universe ceases to exist.  Let’s hope that as much will be done for the people who staff it all.

As for the battlefield itself, I look forward to seeing the resulting reclamation.  I’ve seen the rest of the field in an entirely new light.  South Cavalry Field, in the area of the Slyder Farm and South Confederate Avenue, has changed dramatically due to the tree cutting.  I’ve been re-studying events such as Farnsworth’s Charge on an entirely new playground.  The cutting and re-planting in the central part of the battlefield has caused an entirely new and more informed interpretation of events of the second day.

It was one thing to stand on the field a few years back without seeing that hideous National Tower rising above the landscape and every other damn thing in the area.  It will be another, soon, to stand upon and walk the field without seeing the VC or Cyclorama buildings.

You know what I think one of the greatest differences will be?  The battlefield will be quieter.  Not just open to new and better interpretations.  But just quieter.

I can’t wait.

Published in: on December 29, 2006 at 11:56 am  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. J.D.,

    Am with you on the usage of the word “restored”. I think the better choice would be “recreated”.

    As you know, am hoping when folks do visit the field, to take advantage of all that has been going on there by doing what we normally do when visiting. Get out of the car and wander the ground. It is an eye-opening experience, especially for those of us who often wondered what the place looked like without all of those trees.:)

    Hope all is well.

    Regards from the Garden State,


  2. J.D.,

    I just posted about the threats at Hunterstown.

    Must be a Gettysburg type of day.


  3. Great post. I also visited the Gettysburg Battlefield in October as well as last Feb. (both times having certain spots all to myself) and last July (when it was much more crowded). I also visited East Cavalry Battlefield during my October visit and was the only one there. This is my first year visiting battlefields and I am 40-something. I cannot take the time right now to express what it has meant to me, this year, to visit these places, but suffice it to say it has been effecting me at a very deep level (right down to my very soul, I would say). I have been awed to have the privilege to walk these grounds and it is only because of the preservation efforts that have been made (obviously). THANK GOD these places are not neighborhoods or stores !! I also have noticed the new visitor center construction and appreciate your post about it. I very much look forward to seeing Zeigler’s Grove “restored”. What happened there was just as important as the other parts. I live in Connecticut, and there are quite a few homes built on quite a few historically significant sites (such as where the Pequot massacre took place).

  4. Regina,

    Thank you so much for your comment. I, and many others, know exactly what you mean when you say that “being there” touches your soul. We could have all the books and articles we have, all the writings, pictures, maps, etc about these battles and places, but they mean nothing next to actually being on the ground – seeing what they saw, and in a way feeling what they felt.
    I hope you continue visiting the historic places and continue feeling what you feel. And let us know here about your trips.


  5. Hi Mike,

    I saw your post on Hunterstown, and as your story says, it’s probably too late. I’m one who had tried to bring it to the attention of the CWPT for years, but was constantly told there was “no interest” in it. Now that it’s threatened, there is “interest” finally, but it appears to be too late. The battlefield will be covered with homes, and all we’ll have left is a few streets named “Hampton” and “Custer” etc.
    At this point I think all we could pray for is the government to take it by eminent domain. That actually goes against my nature, but it’s all that could save it. If anyone has never seen the battlefield, you’d better hurry.


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