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Alexander takes guests off the beaten path

September 18, 1998

Civil War historianBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




GREENCASTLE, Pa. - The roots of Ted Alexander's love of history go back to his childhood and the trips he took with his mother, Jane Conrad Alexander.

"There weren't superhighways then. We drove on roads like U.S. 11. I always made her stop the car so I could read those roadside historic markers," said Alexander, 48.

Unofficially, Alexander is Greencastle's local historian and Civil War expert. He writes a weekly column on local history and about Civil War events that occurred in and around Greencastle for the Echo Pilot, the town's weekly newspaper.

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Officially, Alexander is the historian for the National Park Service's Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg. He also authored and co-authored three books on the Civil War, more than 100 articles on the conflict and he lectures up and down the East Coast on the subject.

He has been a history consultant for Time-Life and American Heritage publications and plans and guides historical tours for Smithsonian Associates.

He will conduct a Smithsonian tour in his hometown on Saturday, Oct. 10, when he hosts about 40 members of the Smithsonian group, who are coming to Greencastle by bus.

"I try to take them where standard tours don't go, to where they can see the unmarked sites surrounding historical events. The thrust of my tours is off the beaten path," Alexander said.

The October outing will include a stop at the Apple Festival at the Tayamentasachta Environmental Center, a visit to the Allison-Antrim Museum and a walking tour of downtown Greencastle.

"Greencastle is one of the greatest walking-around towns in the Cumberland Valley. It has a shopping district, an historic district and a past dating from the frontier days through the Revolution and the Civil War. Robert E. Lee marched his Confederate Army through Greencastle on his way to Gettysburg," he said.

Greencastle, which was incorporated in 1782, is rich in early to mid-19th-century architecture, he said.

"The only town comparable to us with the kinds of shops, history and architecture is Shepherdstown, W.Va.," he said.

Alexander's mother met his father, Charles Theodore Alexander Sr., a Mississippi native, during World War II. His father was sent to Fort Ritchie, where his mother was a USO hostess.

They moved to Tupelo, Miss., after they were married. His father died when Ted was still an infant and his mother moved back to Greencastle to rear him.

Alexander earned bachelor's and master's degrees in history from the University of Maryland and became a park ranger at Antietam in 1985. He has been the park's historian for seven years.

He and his wife, Avelina, have one daughter, Rica, 27, a park ranger in Death Valley, Calif.

He wrote his first book with his uncle, W.P. Conrad, a former Greencastle-Antrim Schools superintendent.

"Everything I learned about the history of Greencastle I learned from him," Alexander said.

The book, titled "When War Passed This Way," took them five years to research and is 450 pages long, Alexander said.

"It was a look at the Civil War in the Cumberland Valley through the eyes of the people in the area," he said.

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