Gettysburg's 'Old Dorm' To Become A Museum, Erin James, Evening Sun Reporter, July 10, 2008.
Schmucker Hall has not made its final transformation yet. The building that was once a dormitory for seminary students and later a Civil-War field hospital currently houses the Adams County Historical Society's vast collection of photographs, artifacts and documents related to the Battle of Gettysburg and the county's history. But for at least a decade, town officials and historical-society members have envisioned the structure as a future museum, one dedicated to the building's own historic significance, the influence of religion in 19th-Century America and the unique history of the Underground Railroad in Gettysburg. And by the famous battle's 150th anniversary, the historical society's director said he'd like the hall's final transformation to be complete. "We'd love to see it up and running on July 1, 2013," director Wayne Motts said.
On Wednesday, the historical society announced it had secured its most significant funding to date - a $175,000 grant from the First Industries Fund, a state grant-and-loan program that assists Pennsylvania's agricultural and tourism industries. The grant will pay for part of the project's planning phase - something Motts said could take up to two years. Plans to transform Schmucker Hall - located on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary - date back to at least 1998, when Gettysburg Borough's interpretive plan was completed.
The interpretive plan also included the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, the Wills House Museum and the Lincoln Train Station - several construction and rehabilitation projects that have been completed recently or are currently being worked on. Members of the historical society and the seminary began a joint effort last year to raise money to build a new home for the society and transform Schmucker Hall into a museum. At the time, officials said they aimed to raise $22 million through the campaign called "Voices of History."
The society and its ever-growing collection are crammed into every inch of the four floors of Schmucker Hall, the building the organization has been paying $1 a year to lease since 1941. Space and temperature in Schmucker Hall, built in 1832, make it difficult for the society to preserve the 20,000 objects, 200,000 photographs and massive paper collection it contains.
During the Battle of Gettysburg, Schmucker Hall, also known as Old Dorm, was caught in the middle of the first day's fighting and served as a field hospital for about 600 wounded Confederate and Union soldiers, Motts said. Historians believe it is the largest standing field hospital from the battle, he said.
Motts said a museum in Schmucker Hall would be built around themes not as strongly featured at the new Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, which opened this year on April 14. For example, religion and its impact on both civilians and military personnel during the time of the battle is not addressed at the other site, Motts said. That's a fitting topic for a museum housed on the campus of a Lutheran seminary, he said.
Motts said he'd also like to see a focus on the black community during the battle, black Union troops and the Underground Railroad. He said the historical society has been talking with the 3rd Ward Concerned Citizens, a group with plans to establish a black-history museum in Gettysburg. "Those really are items that are not covered (at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center)," he said.
The $175,000 grant is just the beginning of a fundraising effort for the project, Motts said. The historical society is seeking state and federal grants as well as private donations, he said. An initial planning phase is sure to take a significant amount of time, but even that is up in the air for now, Motts said. "We're just at the very beginning," he said.
Contact Erin James at email@example.com.
Photo: The view from the cupola atop Schmucker Hall at the Lutheran Theological Seminary is worth the climb. Evening Sun Photo by James Robinson