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Nonprofit Restores Gen. Lee’s Headquarters

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

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A small, two-story stone structure in Pennsylvania that played a pivotal role in the American Civil War, and specifically the Battle of Gettysburg, has been preserved and restored thanks to a $6 million effort.

After purchasing the structure from a private owner in 2015, the nonprofit Civil War Trust embarked on a mission to return the property—which was built in the early 1830s—and its surrounding four acres, to its appearance on July 1, 1863. The organization held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the project completion on Friday (Oct. 28).

Known as the Mary Thompson House, the home is said to have served as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s official headquarters during the intense Battle of Gettysburg. However, the home and surrounding land was left out of the Gettysburg National Military Park in the 1890s.

Lynn Light Heller / Civil War Trust

The project included demolition of a hotel and other structures built near the Mary Thompson House.

In addition to serving as the nerve center of Lee's army during the battle, some of the heaviest fighting took place around the unassuming structure, according to the Civil War Trust.  

The Civil War Trust relates that the then-occupant, a 70-year-old widow named Mary Thompson, stayed at the house during the raging battle and cared for wounded soldiers from both sides that were brought to the home. The widow reportedly lived in the house until her death in 1873. In the 1890s, a fire destroyed much of the interior of the dwelling. In the years that followed, the structure housed a museum and renovations were made.

Modern developments, including hotels, restaurants and parking lots, were built on the property, altering the landscape for decades.

Project Details

The preservation and restoration of the property relied heavily upon post-war surveys and period photographs of the home and grounds. Dormers added to the home and 10 modern structures that surrounded the property were torn down and removed as part of the transformation. Asbestos remediation was performed prior to demolition.

Historic contours were added to the land, as well as a garden, fencing and a dog house. A historically appropriate cedar shingle roof was also added to the home, though two original beams dating to 1834 remain in place. A new walking trail added to the grounds explains the dramatic events that took place at the headquarters.

In the spring, two dozen apple trees are to be planted at the site in order to recreate a historic apple orchard that was once situated there.

“General Lee's Headquarters is an educational and commemorative site on par with the most historic landmarks in the nation, and its restoration is an accomplishment in which every individual and organization involved should take pride,” Trust President James Lighthizer said in a ceremony commemorating the completion of the project.

Restoration complete
Lindsey Morrison / Civil War Trust

A ribbon-cutting ceremony held Oct. 28 marked the completion of the restoration and preservation project at Gen. Lee's headquarters.

Eventually, Lee’s Headquarters will be donated to the National Park Service for incorporation into the existing military park, according to the Civil War Trust. It will be used for special programming and will be open to the public several days each year.

Fundraising and Approvals

The Civil War Trust launched a fundraising campaign in 2014 to realize its vision for the property.

A restoration this ambitious required oversight and approval by federal, state and local officials. The Trust worked with the American Battlefield Protection Program, Gettysburg’s Historic Architecture Review Board and Borough Council, and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission to secure the required approvals.

The Civil War Trust is a nonprofit organization committed to preserving America’s battlefields. To date, the organization has preserved more than 43,000 acres of battlefield land in 23 states.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Demolition; Historic Preservation; Landscape architects; Maintenance + Renovation; Research; Restoration

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