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

  • hayleel-ste
    11/18/2016 - 12:37 p.m.

    This is cool that this place has been cared for and protected throughout the years. It could be a great learning experience for people from all over that enjoy history.

  • swan-
    11/18/2016 - 01:03 p.m.

    I think it is amazing that they kept the ship that long.

  • lion-
    11/18/2016 - 01:12 p.m.

    The house seems really cool.

  • horse-
    11/18/2016 - 01:30 p.m.

    i think its cool that the place was protected for so long.

  • wolf-
    11/22/2016 - 01:55 p.m.

    I think its cool that the headquarters are remembered after him and was rebuilt and looks better

  • lamb-
    11/22/2016 - 01:55 p.m.

    That is so cool that someone spent the money and took the time to restore and protect General Lee's Headquarters. He would be proud.

  • 23rmkrou
    11/28/2016 - 09:25 a.m.

    I think this is a realy cool story i like how someone takes care of this old place still.It is a I would love to go there some day to see it would be a awesome road trip.i like how people take care of such a old places like this with so much history with it.It would be really cool if this places wont be closed or miss took of or something like that.

  • 23ajcret
    11/28/2016 - 09:25 a.m.

    I think it would be cool to visit the place. I can believe it is still in good shape. Nice to see people still care.

  • giavannac-orv
    11/28/2016 - 02:35 p.m.

    Because there was a fire there.

  • sierrab-ste
    1/06/2017 - 01:37 p.m.

    This is really great that a person kept this in as good of condition as they did. Now in the future people can check this out and learn some about our history.

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