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EDITORIAL: Four years left to act

July 22, 1998

EDITORIAL: Four years left to act

The National Park Service's announcement that it has reached agreement with a private developer to build a $40 million museum and visitors center at the Gettysburg battlefield should spark interest in doing something to capitalize on Washington County's Civil War history. This may be this area's last chance to become the first stop on every Civil War buff's visit to the region.

The good news is that there's still time to act, since construction at Gettysburg will probably take two years, and isn't scheduled to start for two more, since private fund-raising is part of the deal. Hagerstown has four years to waste or use wisely.

Washington County and the city shouldn't waste that time, for two reasons. Interest in the the Civil War continues to increase, and many potential visitors live within a day's drive of Hagerstown. And because the city is committed to historic preservation, increasing tourism would be one way to help property owners can recoup their investments in that area.

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To lure tourists, local elected officials need not spend $40 million. What they do need to do is look again at a 1988 study of recreational possibilities for southern Washington County.

That study envisioned a conference center with exhibits showing the broad sweep of action in this region during the Civil War. It could be promoted as that essential "first stop" on everyone's tour of the region. And if it were located in downtown Hagerstown, visitors could then be directed to the Miller House, the Hager House and the Museum of Fine Arts.

There's been a lot of talk about some kind of museum or center here over the years. In 1994, the Antietam Battlefield Advisory Committee proposed a national Museum of Civil War history here. More recently, movie maker Ron Maxwell has talked about a permanent recreation of a Civil War-era village.

Our advice: In four years, a $40 million museum will lure a stream of tourists (and their dollars) to Gettysburg. If Washington County wants to be more than a signpost on the road to that facility, it needs to start planning its own attraction now.

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