General Lee's headquarters to get restoration
General Lee's headquarters to get restoration This recently restored home of Mary Thompson in Gettysburg, Pa., served as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s headquarters at Gettysburg, seen Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy Jacobsen)
General Lee's headquarters to get restoration
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Over the decades, the stone house and grounds that served as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's headquarters at Gettysburg sprouted a motel, restaurant and other modern structures. It dismayed preservationists and Civil War buffs keen on historic authenticity.
Now, after a $6 million restoration that erased decades of development at the 4-acre site, the property in Pennsylvania looks much as it did in July 1863. That is when Lee suffered defeat in a bloody three-day battle. It turned the tide of the war.
"If Robert E. Lee would ride up tomorrow, he would recognize his headquarters. And for over 100 years that wasn't the case," said James Lighthizer. He is president of Civil War Trust. It is the nonprofit that bought the house and grounds from private owners. Then the trust completed the restoration.
The site now includes a walking trail and interpretive signage. Plans call for the property to be turned over to the National Park Service.
The area around the circa-1830s house was the scene of heavy fighting on the battle's first day. Its strategic location was atop Seminary Ridge. That made it an ideal spot for Lee's battlefield headquarters.
"He's dictating and writing a lot of orders. He's using that as a base from which to observe the enemy. And he is responding to crises and events as they occur," said Garry Adelman, Civil War Trust's director of history and education.
The occupant, a widow named Mary Thompson, is believed to have remained in the home during the battle. She lived there until her death in 1873.
The home was left out of Gettysburg National Military Park. It was gutted by fire in the late 1890s. By 1921, it had become General Lee's Headquarters Museum. The museum was a commercial venture that transformed the surrounding property.
"Without question, this was one of the most important unprotected historic buildings in America," Lighthizer said.
Civil War Trust acquired the property in January 2015. The trust bought it after a fundraising effort. It included major gifts, grants and smaller donations. More than 11,000 people contributed.
Workers removed dormers that were added to the home in the 1900s. They replaced the roof, fixed the interior and demolished all modern buildings, including a Comfort Inn. The land was returned to its 1863 contours. Fencing was installed to replicate what was there at the time. An apple orchard - another feature of the Civil War-era landscape - will be planted in the spring.
"It was by far the most complex restorative effort we've ever done, and nothing else is even close," Adelman said.
With nearly all work complete, Gettysburg National Military Park plans to expand its boundaries to include Lee's headquarters.
The park service will use the house for special programming. It will be open to the public several days a year, including around the battle's anniversary. That will be similar to how it operates Union Gen. George Meade's headquarters.
"We're not the oldest democratic republic in the world by accident," Lighthizer said. "We went through a lot of trials and tribulations. This site marks one of the pivot points in how we remained a democracy, how we remained a unified nation."
"And that story needs to be told."

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Why was the home left out of the Gettysburg National Military Park?
Write your answers in the comments section below

  • jacklynt-ste
    11/03/2016 - 07:46 p.m.

    I think that this is so cool how someone took good care of this and kept it looking as it did. This could be a good learning experience to get to know our history a little better. I hope that in the future they keep up with the maintenance so it can be around for a lot longer.

  • nathanm14-ste
    11/04/2016 - 01:43 p.m.

    Its good to see that people still care about these small pieces of american history. If these things aren't restored than all they are going to do is slowly rot. It is important that we don't loose our history.

  • rileighsh-har
    11/04/2016 - 02:15 p.m.

    It was left out of Gettysburg park because it was personal for some people

  • fabianvd-
    11/07/2016 - 11:40 a.m.

    restoring this might of been hard but they completed the work they were suppose to do and i think they did a good job because if they added new technology that's used these days the wouldnt show us how the house used to be before in times like those, and we could at least learn some old history.

  • holdenj-orv
    11/07/2016 - 12:37 p.m.

    Lee was A Confederate General and Confederate Commander of Virginia.

  • jennyc1-stu
    11/07/2016 - 02:59 p.m.

    Its amazing that someone took great care of this manufacture, and kept it the same as it was back in time.

  • 23macart
    11/14/2016 - 09:22 a.m.

    i think it is do cool that there was
    alot going on just for a house
    that is very old

  • 23kndeme
    11/14/2016 - 09:23 a.m.

    Because it was for them to retire and remember the wars we had. I think that it OK for them to go there and see friends. I also think we should be more considerate about them.

  • 23cmcons
    11/14/2016 - 09:25 a.m.

    I think it would be cool to see the home. It would be a good learning place to go to. And it is so hard to be leave that it has been around for so long. I think that they should try harder to get the home Because i think it would attract lots of people.

  • 23pabour
    11/14/2016 - 09:25 a.m.

    It was left out because in 1890's there was a fire there. but I think that it should have been a notional military building because it did get rebuilt. But it also got turned into a museum for general lee. But in 1890's was the last time it burned so it would have been a good choice for a military building because it still stands. but it also is like the George Meade headquarters.

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