The small train station was only about four years old when it was pressed into service during Robert E. Lee's invasion of the North in July 1863. The western terminus of the Gettysburg Railroad was first used as a field hospital, as so many places were while the battle raged nearby. Later, more than 15,000 wounded soldiers would be transported to care or home from this platform.
At dusk on Nov. 18, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln and members of his cabinet arrived at the Gettysburg station. The next day, he would deliver one of our nation’s most enduring speeches, passing through the station afterward en route home to Washington.
With Congress back in Washington this week, it should mark the 150th anniversary of the battle and Lincoln’s address by passing the Gettysburg National Military Park Expansion Act. The bill, a bipartisan effort backed by Pennsylvania’s two senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, as well as U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.), would add the station, and 45 acres near Big Round Top, the scene of hard fighting during the battle, to Gettysburg National Military Park.
Over the last two years, there have been other bipartisan efforts in Congress to expand the park’s boundaries. Unfortunately, despite widespread support, this legislation fell victim to the broken congressional process, and this third version was reintroduced in the 113th Congress. With the 150th anniversary of the battle widely commemorated in July, and the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address just two months away, now is the time to further honor the history made during one of the most important battles of the Civil War.
The train station is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once it’s added to the park, the Gettysburg Foundation stands ready to donate the station to the National Park Service, greatly reducing the cost of acquisition.
Collectively, our national parks represent a third of the top 25 domestic travel locations, and they generate more than $30 billion in economic activity and more than a quarter-million jobs annually. Over the past two years, Gettysburg National Military Park has welcomed more than a million visitors, who have spent about $72 million at local businesses. In this 150th anniversary year, four times that number of visitors is expected. By acting to protect in perpetuity this historic train station, our elected officials have the chance to further strengthen Gettysburg’s successful tourist economy.
Preserving our shared heritage is a bipartisan issue on which all members of Congress should be able to agree. Now that they have returned from their August recess, our lawmakers must work together to get the Gettysburg National Military Park Expansion Act over the finish line. Call your members of Congress and ask for their support. Protecting these national treasures will create a lasting legacy for the next 150 years, and beyond.
This story originally appeared as an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
About the author
Theresa Pierno President and CEO
Theresa Pierno is President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. She joined NPCA in 2004 after a distinguished career in public service and natural resource protection, and has helped to solidify the organization's role as the voice of America's national parks.