Seminary Ridge Museum Will Be Open On July 1
By Paul Post

(January 2013 Civil War News)

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GETTYSBURG, Pa. – On July 1, 1863, Union Gen. John Buford viewed Confederate troop movements from a cupola atop a four-story building on the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg campus.

Next summer, visitors may get the same bird’s-eye view from this vantage point during tours of the new Seminary Ridge Museum that’s scheduled to open on July 1, the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg’s first day.

The $15 million project, 10 years in the making, will include four floors of exhibits in historic Schmucker Hall, a seminary dorm built in 1832 that both sides used as a hospital to treat their wounded during the three-day battle.

“People talk about walls talking. In this case the walls have been chattering to us,” museum Executive Director Barbara Franco says. “The building itself is our major artifact. It’s a great place to start any visit to Gettysburg because it focuses on the battle’s first day.”

Schmucker Hall has been called “the most important Civil War structure not owned by a public entity.”

During renovations, which are now complete, workers made exciting discoveries including letters that had slipped between floorboards. Visitors will see original floors, plaster and wood details.

Each floor’s exhibit will have a different theme. From the first floor, where visitors get an overview of the battle and the building’s role in it, people will be directed to the top floor to see “We Have Come to Stay!” that details hour by hour events of the battle’s first day.

On the third floor’s “Steeped in Sorrow and Death,” guests will see how the former dorm was converted to a hospital and learn the stories of the wounded, dying, and the surgeons and nurses who treated them.

“Many of these people with very serious wounds were lucky to get water,” Franco said.

Old wooden cots with metal springs, found in the attic, show what hospital beds might have looked like.

Displays will not only tell about such people during the battle, but who they were beforehand and, for survivors, what their fate was afterward. For example, Medal of Honor recipient Jefferson Coates of Wisconsin later homesteaded to Nebraska.

One of the longtime missing letters found in floorboards was addressed to Noah Koontz, of Co. D, 142nd Pennsylvania Infantry.  He was born Oct. 30, 1842, in Somerset County, Pa.

After the war, he and his wife moved to Johnstown, Pa., where they survived the great Johnstown Flood of 1889. He died in 1916. According to his obituary Koontz was a teamster and helped build the Somerset and Cambria branch of the B&O Railroad.

“Each of the corner galleries will be set up with realistic life-size figures,” Franco says. “There will be 3-to-5-minute videos and hands-on things for visitors on each floor. There are great programming possibilities here as we go forward.”

The second floor, “Voices of Duty and Devotion,” delves into moral, civil and religious issues surrounding the war, highlighted by a “Faith and Freedom” exhibit.

State-of-the-art interactive exhibits are under construction in New York and will be installed this winter and spring.

Schmucker Hall is named for Samuel Simon Schmucker, a prominent anti-slavery advocate who helped focus national debate on slavery and an articulate spokesman for social justice. He founded the seminary in 1826. Schmucker welcomed Daniel Alexander Payne, the first African-American Lutheran seminarian, to study there.

In addition to inside attractions, the museum project includes a one-mile walking path through seminary grounds with signage explaining various historical points of interest.

The seminary and museum are located just outside Gettysburg National Historical Park, where countless visitors tour the battlefield each year.

At present, the cupola is partially obscured by tall trees that will be taken down soon and replaced with shorter oaks. This will give cupola visitors a better view of the battlefield and let battlefield tourists see the cupola the way soldiers would have in 1863.

During the battle, about 600 soldiers from both sides were treated there. The Union held the building on the first day, but relinquished control of Seminary Ridge to Confederates after retreating to high ground south of town.

After the battle, the Union once again took it over and care for soldiers continued into September.

The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The new museum, with 20,000 square feet of exhibit space, is a joint venture of the seminary, Adams County Historical Society and Seminary Ridge Historic Preservation Association.

The project has been paid for with a combination of state, federal and private funding.

“The whole approach is to let the people who were here tell their stories,” Franco said.

Group rates will be offered, with cupola tours available by reservation. A “soft” opening with limited preview tours is planned in April. New parking spaces will be spread throughout the campus.

For more information and to make a donation to the museum, which is still fundraising, go to www.seminaryridge.org