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Gettysburg Battle Volume 51 Number 5, September/October 1998
by Gretchen Collazo

[image] Gettysburg visitor center (Gettysburg National Military Park) [LARGER IMAGE]

Stiff opposition from two preservation groups has curtailed a National Park Service (NPS) development plan for the Gettysburg National Military Park. Although preservation groups want the park improved, they did not support a plan by Robert Kinsley, a private developer, who proposed spending $40 million on a new visitor center and museum. The center was to house a gallery with the Park Service's 360-foot painting of Pickett's Charge, an electric map, classrooms, a public library, and a bookstore. The proposal also included a cafeteria, IMAX theater, and gift store. Responding to groups fearing commercialization, the Park Service has eliminated the gift store and scaled down the cafeteria and theater. The NPS is now inviting public comment on the revised proposal, which will cost $39 million.

Katie Lawhon, a spokeswoman for the park, says the design of the museum will allow for better preservation of its collection of 43,000 artifacts, which are now deteriorating from exposure to damp and drafty air. The current visitor center has limited space to show artifacts, only a small proportion of which are on display. The painting of Pickett's Charge is now housed in a building that lacks humidity control. The structure also sits on what was the battle line for the Union Army, which the NPS says is an inappropriate location for a building honoring the 971 Union soldiers who fell in the vicinity.

Many, however, still criticize the revised plan. Dennis Frye of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites testified in February before a Senate Committee that the project was too large. He says that a visitor center is unnecessary and only an environmentally controlled facility is required to protect the artifacts. Frye also disagrees with a plan to raise $27 million from private-sector sources to restore the park, contending that too much attention is being given to Gettysburg at the expense of other sites. Restoring the Union battle line, he argues, would be useless since motels, museums, and restaurants now stand within a few hundred feet of the current center. It is pointless, Frye says, to attempt to "restore an unrestorable landscape."

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America