Rehabilitation of Old Dorm/Schmucker Hall Begins, Morgan Keller Wins Contract
Historical Society Makes Major Move in Record Time
When Samuel Simon Schmucker oversaw the building of the “seminary edifice” atop Oak Ridge on the western edge of Gettysburg, PA, he could never have known that this building would one day be called “the most important Civil War structure not owned by a public entity.” Nor could he have anticipated the importance of his voice in the debates over slavery, or the strategic value of the cupola in the first day of battle, or the hospitalization of more than 600 soldiers, or the fact that it may have been a distinguishing marker of a nearby station on the underground railroad.
But these undeniable factors weighed heavily in the decision of the Seminary Board and its subsidiary Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Foundation (SRHPF), and the Adams County Historical Society (ACHS) to move ahead on a $12 million project to rehabilitate and adaptively reuse the building.
The joint venture will create a state of the art museum that includes an interpretation of the under-told first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863 from the pivotal site of the most intense fighting; the Civil War hospital in the building that was the largest fixed field hospital at Gettysburg; and the civic, moral, social and religious issues that not only divided but also inspired our nation in the 19th century. Also expected to be interpreted in the exhibit content is the African American experience in a border county, the early integration and activism of antislavery voices, and other lived history of the time.
What has enabled the joint venture, called Voices of History, to move forward is the alignment of critical funding support from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, including $4 million from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) and a $1 million grant from the federal Scenic Byways program. Major support will also come to the project in the form of new market and historic tax credits (approximately $3.5 million). Funds raised from other sources will permit the museum, and the Seminary, to avoid the burden of long-term financing.
Em Cole, former Vice President for Seminary Advancement, now serving as Executive Director of “Voices of History,” has worked with both partners to develop the plans and design of the project. From the early phases of the project, Mr. Leroy Kline and the staff of Delta Development provided crucial assistance in the efforts to identify significant sources of support. Cole stated that “ACHS and the Seminary hopes to complete the project before July 1, 2013, which is the 150th anniversary of the battle and the projected grand opening of the museum. This project is viewed by local and national leaders as the jewel in the crown of the 150th anniversary observances.”
Architects, National Park Service superintendents, exhibit designers, public officials and historians alike have commented on the richness of the content of the planned museum exhibits, designed by PRD Group in Chantilly, VA. Bradley Hoch, ACHS representative to the project, remarked that “Gettysburg’s Seminary of 1863 presents a study in human conflict. It is a monument to our past and a lesson for our future. It is suffering and sacrifice; honor and heroism; remembrance and reconciliation. It is a cherished heirloom that we bequeath to our children and to all who come after.”
One of those notable stories is the fact that pre-war students from North and South lived and learned, discussed and debated side by side. From 1835 to 1837, they shared Old Dorm quarters with Daniel Alexander Payne, the earliest African-American to receive a post-graduate education in a Lutheran school. Nearby, behind Schmucker’s house, stood a small barn that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad for freedom seekers from the South.
The rehabilitation of Schmucker Hall is the last remaining project included in the 1999 Gettysburg “Interpretive Plan” outlining the priority projects for the Borough designed to provide enhanced historical experiences for visitors to the National Military Park and the town. Gettysburg’s Seminary Ridge Museum in a rehabilitated Schmucker Hall now becomes the flagship for planning for the 150th commemoration of the famous battle taking place in 2013.
The Historical Society will be moving temporarily into Wolf House, a large Queen Anne style house on the corner of Middle Street and Seminary Ridge. Plans call for further joint venture fund raising to erect a building to house ACHS and also serve as expansion of seminary archival space. ACHS began its move on November 1st with the hope that Morgan Keller Construction Company and other contractors will have access to Old Dorm (Schmucker Hall) by mid-December.
Cole emphasized that fund raising continues for the project, with a goal to raise roughly $2.5 to $3million to enable the museum to open debt free. Readers who know of interested persons who might support the project should call 717.357.8613 or write firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seminary President Michael Cooper-White said that “For a dozen years, the Seminary has aspired to utilize our unique campus environment more creatively as a tool for “public theology” and expanded national visibility. With nearly $8 million now available from state and federal government grants and tax credits, the governing boards have said ‘go for it,’ and construction work on this ambitious project will begin in the coming weeks.”
Morgan Keller Construction Company won the contract for the rehabilitation, designed by Murphy and Dittenhafer Architects, York, PA.
You can follow the ongoing rehabilitation story online at www.seminaryridge.org .