The American Battlefield Trust has launched a $3 million national fundraising campaign to acquire the remainder of the former Gettysburg Country Club and remove modern structures, continuing a preservation process begun nearly 15 years ago in partnership with The Conservation Fund and National Park Service.
Thanks to a generous major donor and other considerations extending the window for payment, the Trust seeks to raise $375,000 in private gifts by November 20, when it takes ownership of the property.
Located along the Chambersburg Pike between McPherson Ridge and Herr’s Ridge, and just past Willoughby’s Run, this 15-acre property saw intense fighting in the opening phase of the battle on July 1, 1863. More recently, this vestige of the Emmanuel Harman Farm was proposed for intensive residential development last summer but won a reprieve following significant local advocacy to save the site. Denied permits for a sprawling apartment complex, the landowner appealed the decision but gave preservation groups an opportunity to purchase the property.
“I am pleased that we were able to reach an agreement with the landowner, a regional development firm, especially given the community support for the addition of this acreage to the battlefield footprint,” said Trust President David Duncan. “This is a significant milestone, but much remains to be done before we can declare ‘victory’ and deem the entirety of the former Country Club property protected forever.”
The site’s preservation journey began in mid-2008, when the Gettysburg Country Club declared bankruptcy after decades in operation. The site was identified as a top acquisition priority for the park and preservationists due to its historic significance: where Union cavalry slowed the initial Confederate advance and later fought over by the famed Union Iron Brigade and Confederate General James Archer’s Brigade of Tennessee and Alabama troops. The first true bloodletting at Gettysburg occurred along the banks of Willoughby’s Run, on and around the Country Club land. After the fighting moved off to the east, a field hospital was established on the banks of Willoughby’s Run and at least 23 combatants were buried on what became the Country Club.
“This is one of the most historically significant properties on the Gettysburg Battlefield,” said Andrew Dalton, executive director of the Adams County Historical Society and author of Beyond the Run, a history of actions on this part of the battlefield. “Between two Confederate attacks passing over the land and the remarkable post- battle history of a nearby mineral spring and resort, the potential for restoring and interpreting this tract is immense.”
An initial sheriff’s sale failed to find a buyer and the entire site was acquired by a housing developer. However, preservationists continued to negotiate behind the scenes and, in March 2011, The Conservation Fund, assisted by the Trust and other allied organizations, successfully transferred 95 acres of former golf course to the National Park Service during an event headlined by then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
However, the portion of the property fronting the road, including modern clubhouses, tennis courts and swimming pool had been subdivided out and was not included in the acquisition. Those amenities have gone unused for several years and the site remained vulnerable to development. The looming threat came to a head last summer, when Cumberland Township considered approving development plans for a large-scale apartment complex. Local residents and preservation advocates came out in force to oppose the plan, and the local Board of Supervisors denied permit approval. Although the developer appealed that ruling and worked to address the specific issues raised in the process, the door was open for preservation discussions.
Through a series of good-faith negotiations, the Trust and the developer were able to reach mutually agreeable terms for the Trust’s purchase of the land in collaboration with other preservation allies. After taking ownership of the property in November, the Trust will also begin envisioning a landscape restoration plan that removes intrusive 21st century elements but retains the original clubhouse currently leased by the Gettysburg Day Spa, which will continue operating as normal for the foreseeable future.
Over the past two-plus decades, the Trust has helped protect nearly 1,240 acres across the Gettysburg Battlefield. Further, it has made significant investments in landscape restoration across the battlefield — both on its own properties and assisting our partners. Through innovative GPS-enabled and augmented reality components, we have advanced place-based interpretive efforts and brought the battle to life in new ways. Learn more about these projects and initiatives on the Trust website.
The American Battlefield Trust is dedicated to preserving America’s hallowed battlegrounds and educating the public about what happened at those sites and why it matters today. The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization has protected more than 57,000 acres associated with the Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War across 155 sites in 25 states. Learn more at www.battlefields.org.