Civil War tourism just got easier
Originally published September 15, 2010
By Karen Gardner
SHARPSBURG — A public-private partnership formed on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War is aimed at bringing some of the 1.5 million annual visitors to Antietam National Battlefield to Civil War sites in Frederick County.
Civil War historical attractions don’t start and stop with the area’s battlefields. As the region gets ready to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the battles of South Mountain, Antietam and Monocacy starting in 2012, the new Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area Exhibit and Visitor Center hopes to connect visitors to the many local attractions that will explain the region’s role in the Civil War.
The visitor center, housed in the Newcomer House at Antietam National Battlefield, opened Tuesday, the 148th anniversary of the Battle of South Mountain. More than 6,000 soldiers were wounded or killed in that battle alone. Three days later, the Battle of Antietam left 23,000 casualties in its wake.
The visitor center is housed in a restored 1780s farmhouse now owned by the National Park Service but staffed entirely by volunteers. Grants paid for exhibit design, fabrication and furnishings.
Inside the center are exhibit panels that feature several Frederick attractions, including Mount Olivet Cemetery, where many Confederate soldiers are buried; the Laboring Sons Memorial Ground at Chapel Alley and Fifth Street, where six African-American Civil War soldiers are buried; the Roger Brooke Taney House; the National Museum of Civil War Medicine and a photo of wounded soldiers being treated at Evangelical Lutheran Church.
More than 9,000 soldiers convalesced in Frederick. Other soldiers recovered in houses, churches and schools throughout the Middletown Valley. The South Mountain Heritage Society in Burkittsville is located in a former church that served as a hospital.
Brunswick’s Railroad Museum, the Monocacy National Battlefield and South Mountain State Battlefield also offer pieces of the puzzle for visiting Civil War enthusiasts.
Just up the road from the Newcomer House is the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, which is owned by Antietam but staffed by the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
The National Park Service estimates about 160,000 visitors a year travel through Frederick County on their way to visit Antietam. Many of them traverse the Old National Pike, used to transport wounded troops to Frederick after the battles of South Mountain and Antietam.
Many of those visitors also cross South Mountain, the site of the battle that ended the Maryland campaign for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Even if 40 percent of those choose to visit Frederick attractions, that will boost area tourism, said Elizabeth Shatto, director of the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area and also head of the Historic Sites Consortium for the Tourism Council of Frederick County.
The Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau is managing the visitor center on behalf of the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area. Inside the Newcomer House are exhibits that focus on how the region dealt with the battles.
Charissa Beeler Stanton, the bureau’s project manager for the visitor center, grew up in Sharpsburg, and remembers passing the house on her way to church. “When I was a little girl, this place was pretty run-down,” she said.
Not anymore. “The idea of the federal government being a partner, this is the way it’s supposed to be,” Howard said.
Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area Exhibit and Visitor Center, open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day May to October and weekends in April and November. Anniversary events this weekend include a cannon-firing demonstration at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, and a concert of Civil War music at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.