When you think of Gettysburg National Military Park, you’re likely envisioning fields upon which soldiers fought and died, the fences that surrounded the farms they traversed, and the farmhouses and barns that became field hospitals. These tangible reminders help tell the story of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. But, have you ever thought about what it takes to keep these resources preserved?
Meet Jeff Miller and Dave Fawley from the park’s maintenance division. Jeff’s been with Gettysburg National Military Park since 1986. Dave is new by comparison with just about 10 years of service. They spend most of their time doing carpentry work for the park’s 135 buildings related to the battlefield and early commemoration efforts spread throughout almost 6,000 acres. It’s the maintenance division that cares for the park grounds, buildings, and 1,205 structures (non-buildings).
“There is always work to do,” Dave said. “We prioritize projects based on those identified and funded, and do the best we can to ensure the historic structures here survive for future generations.”
Water is the biggest challenge facing the park’s structures today. Porous, stone and dirt basements under houses, leaky roofs, and other exposed wood subjected to winters with snow and ice, to humid summers above 90 degrees Fahrenheit can rot wood, making regular care a must. Jeff says he’s been spending most of his time working on roofs. “We aim to keep the structures looking like they would have at the time of the battle. If we have a photograph, that’s our guide for how to move forward with what kind of roofing is needed,” Jeff said. “We use a lot of wood shingles.”
“A couple projects were a bit more challenging, like Meade’s Headquarters. Those shingles are biaxial. They weren’t very common here in 1863,” Jeff explained. “We customize those shingles here on site from shingles we buy. To get that look and the right angle for installation on the wood, we have to cut each one of them in a special way.”
In the mid-19th Century, not all shingles were laid in evenly spaced, overlapping, horizontal rows. In various regions of the country, there were distinct installation patterns. Biaxially-tapered, long shingles were found in areas settled by Germans. These long shingles were overlapped on the side as well as on top. This formed a ventilation channel under the shingles that aided drying, which could prolong their life. In Gettysburg National Military Park, these shingles can also be seen on the Brian Barn.
“We customize other things, too,” Dave said. “Siding, windows, shutters, sashes, cupulas, doors, storm doors—you name it. The thing is, there was no standard in 1863, so we have to make things that will fit. That’s what we do here in our shop.”
Dave explained how he tried to get ahead of wood repair and restoration projects by making an inventory of projects early, before seasonal workers arrived in May to begin painting. He assessed 26 structures. “I wanted to be sure we could get repairs and restoration done before painting. You don’t want to paint wood that’s rotting.” Dave said he felt bad, though, that some of the work didn’t get done in time because he and his coworkers were pulled onto other projects. “We do as much as we can. It’s always a challenge, but the seasonal workers are great. I don’t know what we would do without them.”
There are currently 22 full-time maintenance personnel at the park. During the summer months, the park adds 18 seasonal maintenance workers.
Jeff noted that more structures have come into the park since he began working here, boosting the park’s responsibilities. These structures and the properties on which they were built are within the park’s congressionally authorized boundary because of their historic significance to the Battle of Gettysburg. They had been privately owned and have since been acquired by the National Park Service as part of its land preservation efforts.
During the spring, Dave and Jeff spent time working on the Bushman House, Gettysburg National Military Park’s only historic house available to visitors for short-term rentals. “We spent a good six weeks getting the house ready for rental and we’re all really proud of it,” Dave said. “It looks great.”
Jeff said, “People are the best thing about working here. Everybody is willing to share information. Everybody is willing to help. You just have to ask. The people here really are great.”
“I have no plans to retire,” Dave said. “Why would I retire? I love it here. How many people can say that about their jobs?”
[Note: The Bushman House is now available for visitor rentals at http://www.recreation.gov.]
Article by Debbie Dortch, a public affairs specialist with Naval Supply Systems Command, on special assignment to Gettysburg National Military Park. She has more than 20 years of experience in public affairs and publishing, including working at National Park Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C.