Civil War fanatic fights for name change

Burkittsville man wants Gathland to be called Crampton’s Gap

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006


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Tom Fedor⁄The Gazette
Author and historian Timothy Reese, shown in the library of his Burkittsville home, believes the name of Gathland State Park on the Frederick-Washington county line should be change to Crampton’s Gap Battlefield, to reflect the park’s Civil War history.



A battlefield by any other name just isn’t the same, says Burkittsville Civil War author Timothy Reese.

Reese, 58, author of ‘‘Sealed with their Lives, the Battle of Crampton’s Gap” and ‘‘High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective,” since 1998 has sought to change the name of Gathland State Park on the Frederick-Washington county border to Crampton’s Gap Battlefield.

‘‘Civil War tourism has just skyrocketed in the past few years,” Reese said. ‘‘To have this ‘Gathland’ name attached to it is very distracting [for tourists].”

The battlefield name, he said, would more accurately reflect the historical significance of the site’s pivotal role in the Civil War and draw more tourists to the area. The battle at Crampton’s Gap likely led to the famous nearby Battle of Antietam, Reese said.

Reese offers paid tours of the site to Civil War enthusiasts and said the Civil War tourist traffic through Burkittsville is increasing. He said he has seen a growing number of tour buses from Washington, D.C. head to the site, located on a hilltop crossed by the Appalachian Trail.

‘‘I have a bit of a reputation in the Civil War community as being a Crampton’s Gap fanatic,” Reese said. ‘‘It’s a fascinating site, but it’s a diamond in the rough.”

Born and raised in Kentucky, Reese graduated from the Central Academy of Commercial Art in Cincinnati.

He worked for 15 years as an exhibition specialist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. A Burkittsville resident for about 25 years, Reese has been a seasonal employee at Gathland State Park since 1962. He said he moved to the small town to live closer to Maryland’s Civil War sites.

In 1991, he served as a historical consultant for the Athens (Ga.) Historical Society, which sought to install two historical markers about Georgia troops on Maryland battlefields. Maryland historical officials, including Reese, rejected the proposal and they were installed instead in Georgia.

Reese has since authored several books on the historic Civil War site near Burkittsville and penned several articles on Civil War battles in the area that led up to the Battle of Antietam for a Web site called ‘‘Antietam on the Web” (aotw.org). Two of those articles detail the role of the Battle of Crampton’s Gap leading up to Antietam.

The Gathland State Park property, which surrounds a small triangle of federal land, is part of the South Mountain State Park cluster of battlefields. The site includes the War Correspondents Memorial Arch, erected in 1896 by George A. Townsend, a Civil War newspaper correspondent who purchased 110 acres of the gap in 1885.

After Townsend’s death, the estate changed hands several times before it was deeded to the state for $10 for a historical park; Gathland State Park opened in 1958. The name is derived from a combination of Townsend’s penname ‘‘Gath” and the estate’s name, ‘‘Gapland.”

Reese said visitors often comment on the War Correspondents Memorial, a large arch-like structure erected by Townsend, as they look for the Crampton’s Gap battlefield. Some visitors, he said, have searched for Crampton’s Gap and have been sidetracked as far away as Boonsboro.

South Mountain State Park employee Jeremiah Hornbaker, who lives at the site, said he often encounters similar confusion from tourists.

‘‘A lot of people ask me, ‘Where is Crampton’s Gap?’ said Hornbaker, who maintains the site’s several structures and is restoring the battlefield there. ‘‘I say, ‘Well, you’re standing on it.’ There’s such an overlay of the two sites.”

Hornbaker, whose restoration work last year was cut one month short due to lack of funds, said though he would support the renaming of the park as Crampton’s Gap, the park should remain as part of the umbrella park – South Mountain State Park. He said, keeping the park as a unit would save money for the all the parks’ projects.

State Del. Richard Weldon is aware of his efforts and is looking into the potential and process of a name change. Weldon said he is seeking third-party opinions before determining whether to move forward on the proposal. He said the process to rename the park would normally circumvent legislative process, but in the case of Gathland State Park, a bill would be required to pass before the state legislature because the state originally created a bill to name the park.

‘‘There’s some really, really strong and passionate positions,” Weldon said. ‘‘There’s clearly a division. ...You don’t do this unless you’re sure it’s the right thing to do.”

Weldon said the name change has no support from other state delegates in Frederick and Washington counties, whom he said fear losing state funding were the park to be redefined as separate from South Mountain State Park.

South Mountain State Park Service Head Ranger Al Preston could not be reached for comment.

A similar proposal last year sought to change the name of Catoctin Mountain Park near Thurmont to Catoctin Mountain National Recreation Area. U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D) of Baltimore argued that the change would better reflect the park’s status as part of the National Park System and distinguish it from Cunningham Falls State Park.

The name has not yet been changed.

For now, Reese is keeping a Web site — http:⁄⁄home.earthlink.net⁄~tjreesecg⁄ — about the issue while he awaits movement on the proposal.

Reese said he will continue to work from his home library, which houses a wealth of Civil War texts and Civil War-theme art, while managing his graphic design business.

‘‘I never tire of this site,” Reese said, recalling his decades of studying the area. ‘‘We’re sitting on a gold mine here in Maryland. Crampton’s Gap forms the pivot of that campaign.”