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Museum still a go

July 29, 1999|By DAN KULIN and SCOTT BUTKIs

Promoters of a Civil War museum in Hagerstown and several local elected officials say their plans are unchanged by news Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge Wednesday released $16.2 million for a Civil War museum in Harrisburg, Pa.

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Ridge's action means construction of a two-story, 60,000-square-foot museum could begin within a month and the approximately $38 million museum could open as early as next summer.

"It does not alter our plans one iota," said Dennis E. Frye, a member of the nonprofit Antietam Creek Coalition Inc., which wants to build a $30 million to $40 million Civil War museum with Smithsonian Institution affiliation in Hagerstown.

"We firmly believe Hagerstown is the optimum location for a Smithsonian Civil War museum," Frye said.

"There is room for two Civil War museums because both will have unique collections and unique themes," he said. "The Civil War is a huge story. Two museums 70 miles apart will both help tell that story."

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Frye said Hagerstown has an advantage over Harrisburg because Hagerstown is near the Civil War battlefields of Antietam and South Mountain, as well as Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and Gettysburg, Pa.

Hagerstown is within 90 miles of both Baltimore and Washington D.C., and "people will drive to Hagerstown but they might not go that extra step to Harrisburg," Frye said. Harrisburg is about 70 miles north of Hagerstown on Interstate 81.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and City Councilman J. Wallace McClure said that Hagerstown's location is an advantage for a possible museum.

"The Civil War was never fought that far north," in Harrisburg, McClure said.

McClure was among four council members who voted Tuesday to give the Antietam Creek Coalition $37,500 to help pay for a study of a Civil War museum for Hagerstown. Councilman William M. Breichner was the lone council member to vote against granting the money.

The study also would be used as part of an application for affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution. Frye said the study and application to the Smithsonian would take no more than 90 days to complete.

McClure said the city should continue supporting museum plans and that the city should contact the Smithsonian to see whether it is considering arranging an affiliation.

Frye and other coalition members have said that an affiliation with the Smithsonian is key to having a Civil War museum in Hagerstown. Under such an affiliation, a museum can borrow exhibits from the Smithsonian.

The Associated Press reported that the City of Harrisburg is negotiating an arrangement with the Smithsonian to obtain museum artifacts on a long-term basis.

Harrisburg city officials did not return telephone messages Wednesday afternoon.

Plans for the museum include 27,000-square-feet of space to exhibit the more than $16 million in artifacts the city has acquired in recent years.

The Harrisburg museum, "might open some eyes up that there is a call for a museum like this," Bruchey said. "As of right now it doesn't change our plans for a museum."

Asked if he thought the area could sustain two Civil War museums, Bruchey said: "I don't consider Harrisburg to be in this area."

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said, "It is far enough away that it could be considered a separate attraction."

The commissioners have not voted on whether to grant the coalition $37,500 to help pay for the museum study.

In a letter sent to Gov. Parris N. Glendening this week regarding the University System of Maryland, Hagerstown center, the County Commissioners said they are studying the viability of a museum and want his support for both projects.

"The single project will revolutionize downtown Hagerstown, providing an economic boost beyond our comprehension," the letter said.

Frye said he is glad the County Commissioners are asking the governor for his endorsement and he hopes they soon will indicate clearly that they support the project.

The earliest the Hagerstown museum could open is fall 2002.

"Since they're so far ahead we will have time to analyze their programs and improve upon it," he said.

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