By ERIN JAMES -
The Evening Sun, Posted: 03/24/2009
Alone on the sidewalk, Michael Waricher watched as a powerful crane gutted the building in front of him. Waricher was in Gettysburg by chance on Monday, the day demolition began on the former Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center on Taneytown Road.
A Carlisle resident and frequent visitor to Gettysburg, Waricher said he wasn't going to leave without witnessing the latest chapter in Gettysburg history. He said he supports the park's goal of demolishing the former museum, Cyclorama building and adjacent parking lots in an effort to restore the land to its 1863 appearance. "I'm glad to see it, quite frankly," Waricher said. "It's served its usefulness and it's time to move on."
As the crane ripped bricks, wires and insulation from the building, only a few looked on. The drivers of passing cars occasionally touched the brakes, and tourists sometimes peered across the wall of the Soldiers' National Cemetery for a few minutes to watch. But for most of Monday afternoon, the 88-year-old building came apart without an audience. By 3 p.m., the former museum was left with a gaping hole in its side. Eventually, there will be nothing left.
The Gettysburg Foundation, the park's private partner that operates the new museum, is paying a Maryland-based company, Interior Specialists, $800,000 to demolish both the former visitor center and, eventually, the Cyclorama building.
But the fate of the Cyclorama building, which once housed the 360-degree Cyclorama painting of Pickett's Charge, depends on the outcome of a federal lawsuit that pits the park against a preservation group that hopes to save the structure. Officials have said that demolition project will wait until the lawsuit is settled. The demolition project is one part of a plan that dates back nearly a decade to restore the 6,000 acres of Gettysburg battlefield within the park's boundary to its appearance in 1863. The Gettysburg Foundation is paying Maryland-based company Interior Specialists $800,000 to demolish the former Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center and, if the Park Service prevails in a federal lawsuit, the Cyclorama building too will be demolished.
For years, the park has proceeded with that plan by removing trees from places where they didn't exist at the time of the battle, when Civil War soldiers fought on open land. Telephone poles and utility lines have been relocated underground so as not to impede on a history student's perspective.
Next on the list for rehabilitation is the area where the former visitor center, Cyclorama building and parking lots are located. The 43.5 acres of land, known as Ziegler's Grove, was key to the fighting on the battle's third day.
Working behind the counter of Gettysburg Souvenirs and Gifts on Steinwehr Avenue, Cheryl Mickley said she was "saddened" to hear that demolition had begun at the former museum. "I hate to see it go," she said.
Even though the former museum closed nearly a year ago - when the new visitor center on Baltimore Pike opened - the building's pending demolition makes final what many Steinwehr Avenue business owners objected to when the park's plan was first proposed.
Some worried the museum's relocation would deter tourists from visiting the nearby street lined with stores, hotels and restaurants. And, according to many accounts, that's exactly what's happened. "It has made an impact," Mickley said. "We felt that last summer."
But the economy and high gas prices last year also factored in, she said, adding that business owners are optimistic for the upcoming tourist season. Leaning on the wall that separates Soldiers' National Cemetery from Taneytown Road, longtime friends Pat Blaser and Gerry O'Brien watched the demolition happening across the street.
Both men said they understand the former museum had passed its prime. But they said they wished the new museum could have been constructed in its place.
"It's a shame," Blaser said. "I really did like this place, but it wasn't big enough." Blaser, who lives in Hershey, Pa., said he'll also miss the Electric Map. "It really gave you a great lay of the land," he said.
O'Brien, a Gettysburg resident, agreed. He said he'll miss leaving the walls of the museum and walking right onto the battlefield. "I would have preferred that they had the new one here as well," he said. "I liked the fact that people could walk across the street to the National Cemetery."
firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos by James Robinson.