It's been nearly 148 years since major fighting occurred on the Emanuel Harman Farm near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and it's taken almost twenty years of negotiations in recent times, but an important 95-acre tract has now been acquired for Gettysburg National Military Park.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced on March 25, 2011, that thanks to vital assistance from the Conservation Fund and The Civil War Trust, "the National Park Service has acquired 95 acres of the former Gettysburg Country Club property to preserve as part of the Gettysburg National Military Park." The former country club land—now known by its historic name, the Emanuel Harman Farm—was the site of key fighting on the first day of battle on July 1, 1863.
In 1863 the property was part of the historic Harman and Abraham Spangler farms where Confederate Brigades advanced and retreated during an attack on the Union positions on McPherson and Seminary Ridges. In the 1950s the property was developed into the Gettysburg Country Club and operated as such until the club closed in 2008.
The National Park Service has tried for almost 20 years to acquire this property for preservation purposes, but offers to the Country Club owners and the Susquehanna Bank (who foreclosed on the property in 2008) were declined.
In March 2010, it appeared that the property was headed for a worst-case scenario in terms of battlefield preservation: a developer bought the property and created a development concept plan for over 200 housing units on the site.
The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting important places across America, worked to successfully negotiate an option with the developer to acquire fee title to a 95-acre portion of the land, and subsequently conveyed it to the Park Service. The developer also donated a height restriction easement on the remaining 14-acre parcel, which is occupied by two clubhouses, tennis courts, parking lots and two swimming pools.
“We are proud to assist the National Park Service with the acquisition of the Harman site where Confederate and Union troops first met at Gettysburg for what would become a decisive event in American history,” said Patrick F. Noonan, Chairman Emeritus of The Conservation Fund. “As the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War draws near, our joint endeavor not only enhances the protection of the Gettysburg battlefields but also honors in a fitting tribute all those who fought, died and participated in the struggle for a national identity.”
Salazar commended both The Conservation Fund and The Civil War Trust for their work to make the acquisition possible.
“This is a day that many in Gettysburg and the larger preservation community have long dreamt of,” said James Lighthizer, President of the Civil War Trust, a non-profit organization that assisted with the purchase. “Here at the former Country Club, we have been presented with the incredible opportunity to set aside some of the most blood-soaked ground still unprotected at Gettysburg. I am confident that with the commitment of Secretary Salazar and the Department of the Interior, today’s achievement is but the first of the tremendous successes for historic preservation we will celebrate during the Sesquicentennial.”
In accordance with the National Military Park’s general management plan, the National Park Service intends to restore the landscape to its historic 1863 setting.
"Purchasing the historic Harman Farm allows the National Park Service to provide access to critical portions of the first day's battlefield, which will greatly enhance our visitors' understanding of the actions that took place on this hallowed ground,” said Bob Kirby, Superintendent of the Gettysburg National Military Park.
“Gettysburg will always have a sacred place in America’s heritage for the pivotal role it played in our nation’s history and for the enormity of the sacrifice that took place here,” Secretary Salazar said. “With the addition of the Emanuel Harman Farm to the Gettysburg National Military Park, we are able to include another important chapter in the story that helped shape our country.”
There's a special connection between Gettysburg and key leadership of the non-profit Conservation Fund. According to a spokesman for the Fund, both Patrick F. Noonan, Chairman Emeritus of The Conservation Fund, and Rich Erdmann, Executive Vice President and General Counsel for the group, were undergraduate students at Gettysburg College, and they developed a special interest in the Battle of Gettysburg.
Both men later discovered that more than half of the 384 principal Civil War battlefields designated by the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission were not protected. Together with Frances Kennedy, wife of former Director of the National Park Service Roger Kennedy, they created The Conservation Fund’s Civil War Battlefield Campaign in 1986 "to preserve these hallowed places and provide comprehensive historical information on each conflict."
That effort has paid off. "Over the past two decades, The Conservation Fund has, with its partners, protected 83 sites and more than 9,400 acres of historic lands in 14 states, including over 500 acres and nine sites at Gettysburg. The first two parcels at East Calvary Field, totaling 300 acres, were acquired with the assist of the Richard King Mellon Foundation and donated to the National Military Park."
Not every effort to save key battlefield sites from development is successful, but this one is a key victory for historic preservation.