Civil War visitor center opens in Sharpsburg

September 18, 2010|By KATE S. ALEXANDER
  • Ted Abromavage, of Keedysville, reads a interprative sign Saturday inside the Newcomer House during its grand opening as the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area Exhibit and Visitor Center.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

SHARPSBURG -- The war that cost a Sharpsburg farmer his livelihood is breathing new life into his house 148 years later.

Most people call it the Newcomer House.

A modest, two-story home on Shepherdstown Pike in Sharpsburg, the house belonged to Joshua Newcomer on the bloody day that the North clashed with the South near Antietam Creek.

Once a backdrop to violence and an open market for looting soldiers, the house now is a hub for Civil War heritage in Maryland.

The Newcomer House is home to the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area Exhibit and Visitor Center, a cooperative project of the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area, the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and the National Park Service.

Maryland celebrated the grand opening of the new visitor center Saturday with a cannon-firing demonstration by the South Mountain State Battlefield Cannon Detachment, led by historian John Miller.


The walls of Newcomer's old homestead now hang with exhibits about attractions in the heritage area such as South Mountain State Battlefield, said Charissa Stanton, project manager for the visitor center.

Three counties -- Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties -- comprise the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area, said Liz Shatto, director of the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area.

Unlike other Civil War visitor centers, the one at the Newcomer House highlights attractions across the three counties by focusing on three areas of the war: In the heat of battle, Beyond the battlefield and On the home front, Shatto said.

"In the border state, we lived every dimension of the war," she said.

The exhibits zoom in on human experience during the war, directing tourists to attractions where they still can share in those experiences, Shatto said.

It was a true partnership between agencies that brought the exhibit and visitor center to life, said Tom Riford, president and CEO of the CVB.

Grant funding from Maryland's Heritage Area Authority and the National Park Service funded the project, Stanton said.

The CVB provided staff time to manage the project and train volunteers, Riford said. It also pays the bill to keep utilities on at the house and stocks the information and supplies, he said.

Volunteers such as living historian Dennis Kubicki staff the visitor center, which will be open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. through the end of October, Stanton said. Starting in November, it only will be open on weekends from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., she said.

Kubicki, of Mercersburg, Pa., who dressed as a Confederate soldier on Saturday, said the center not only directs people to attractions, but teaches them a little something in the process.

About 150 people made their way through the center on Saturday, but few stayed very long.

"Really, this center is a not a place we want people to come and spend a lot of time," Stanton said. "We want to pique people's interest about individual sites in the heritage area so they go visit them."

While the exhibit officially opened Sept. 14, it is not quite complete, she said.

The CVB will continue to work with the heritage area and the park service to expand the exhibits and information, Stanton said.

The Newcomer House will close from December to March to allow for phase II of the project, which will include an exhibit about the house and additional information about heritage-area attractions, Stanton said. It will reopen on weekends in April, she said.

The grand opening continues today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a concert by the Susquehanna Travellers at 1:30 p.m.

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