A $5.5 million fundraising campaign is underway to preserve a four-acre Gettysburg property that served as Confederate General Robert E. Lee's headquarters during the Civil War.
The Civil War Trust announced its intentions Tuesday to purchase the land at 401 Buford Ave. from the Belmar Partnership, which has owned it since 1995, by the end of the year.
“Projects like this, where we have the opportunity to save sites of indisputable significance to the outcome of the Civil War and, with it, the shaping of our nation, are exactly why the Civil War Trust exists,” said Trust President James Lighthizer. “Ambitious efforts like the purchase of Lee’s Headquarters will be among the most permanent and meaningful legacies of the sesquicentennial commemoration.”
Major donors, whom the Trust did not immediately identify, have already contributed a large portion toward the fundraising goal. The Trust also expects to apply for a Civil War Land Acquisition Grant of up to $1.5 million from the American Battlefield Protection Program, an agency with the NPS. According to Lighthizer, the Trust must raise the remaining $1.1 million by the end of 2014.
The property includes two separate parcels, a 3.8-acre tract on the north side of Route 30, and a .21-acre tract to the south. The Mary Thompson House, which sits on the land, was used throughout the remainder of the battle as Lee’s headquarters after heavy combat in the area on July 1, 1863, the first day of fighting.
A museum and gift shop has operated out of the house since 1921. Other businesses on the property include the Quality Inn at General Lee’s Headquarters, a 48-room hotel; and Appalachian Brewing company of Gettysburg, a restaurant and brewpub.
The Trust’s purchase agreement with the Belmar Partnership includes all of the nearly four-acre property and buildings within it. It expects the sale to be complete by early 2015.
Trust officials said the hotel, which is currently under the management of Impact Hospitality, and the restaurant will continue operations until the acquisition becomes final. All non-historic buildings, including those that house the hotel and restaurant, will be removed and the Trust intends to place a conservation easement on the property.
Lighthizer said the Trust intends to eventually transfer the land to the NPS for incorporation into the existing battlefield.
The Belmar Partnership, a joint venture between brothers Bill and Tom Monahan, intends to gift a “significant portion of artifacts in its collection of the General Lee’s Headquarters Museum to the Trust.” Bill and Tom’s brother, Peter, was also in the original ownership group, but he sold his share after purchasing the former Meade School and turning it into the Federal Pointe Inn in 2012.
The Trust is reportedly working with the Gettysburg Foundation, a non-profit fundraising arm of Gettysburg National Military Park, to “ensure protection of the artifacts.”
“In the protection of Lee’s Headquarters, the Trust and Foundation have the opportunity to shepherd and safeguard one of the most exciting historic resources on the battlefield,” said Foundation President Joanne Hanley. “Together, we will see that this site is restored to its proper glory and becomes the property of the American people.”
CF Daily purchased the property in 1921 and opened the museum the same year. Eric Larson became the next owner in 1945.
The Monahan brothers bought the property in 1995 for $1.22 million.
“Our franchise agreement with Quality Inn is coming to an end and, rather than renew, we made the difficult decision to sell the property,” the Belmar Partnership said in a prepared statement. “We came to the decision after many months of careful consideration. But, in the end, we felt that General Lee’s Headquarters and the surrounding property are true national treasures that must be preserved and safeguarded.”
For the past three years, the partnership has operated the museum free of charge to the public. Among the artifacts are pieces of furniture Lee used when at the Thompson House and a saddle belonging to Gen. John F. Reynolds.
“Our goal was to let as many people from all corners of the United States and throughout the world, come and experience what we believe is one of the finest private collections of Civil War artifacts and gain additional knowledge about what took place on this land. We are pleased to donate the cherished collection to the Civil War Trust, knowing they will be excellent stewards of these national treasures. Further, we are secure in the knowledge that the Headquarters, and the hallowed land that surrounds it, will be protected and restored to its original glory or serve as an educational resource for generations to come.”
According to Adams County tax records, the property was valued at $3.32 million for the 2013 tax year and generated $12,395.88 in property tax to Adams County, $11,690.21 to Gettysburg Borough and $34,228.15 to Gettysburg Area School District.
With the property’s sale to the Civil War Trust and eventual transition to the NPS, it will come
off the tax roll. Additional money, including a local services tax income and pillow tax funds from the hotel will also be lost.
Gettysburg Borough Council Finance Committee Chairman John Butterfield praised the Civil War Trust for its charitable contribution to the Gettysburg National Military Park but also lamented a future loss of revenue.
“With more than $3 million worth of property removed from the tax rolls, the borough will lose almost $12,000 annually in real estate tax revenue, which will be very difficult to recoup,” he said.