On July 1, 276 American historians sent a letter to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in opposition to a proposal to license a casino located one-half mile from the Gettysburg National Military Park. Beyond the individual signatories, the American Historical Association, National Coalition for History, National Council on Public History, Organization of American Historians, Society for Military History and Southern Historical Association sent a separate letter of opposition to the Gaming Board.
Although many individual historians have previously voiced opposition to the casino proposal, such a large and diverse group uniting in this cause demonstrates Gettysburg’s unique place in our nation’s heritage. Among the signers are some of the most prominent historians in America, including James McPherson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom and Edwin C. Bearss, Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service.
In part, their message states that as professional historians, they “feel strongly that Gettysburg is a unique historic and cultural treasure deserving of our protection. Gettysburg belongs to all Americans equally—future generations no less than those of us alive today,” before concluding that “there are many places in Pennsylvania to build a casino, but there’s only one Gettysburg.”
Although the proposed casino site along the Emmitsburg Road lies outside the current administrative boundaries of Gettysburg National Military Park, it would be on land identified as historically sensitive by the American Battlefield Protection Program, an arm of the National Park Service. The application before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board would retrofit an existing family-friendly hotel complex into a gambling resort with an initial 600 slot machines in addition to table games.
According to Princeton University professor emeritus Dr. James McPherson, “The proposed site of the casino lies athwart the advance of Union cavalry toward what became known as South Cavalry Field, which saw substantial fighting on the afternoon of July 3, 1863. This ground is as hallowed as any other part of the Gettysburg battlefield, and the idea of a casino near the fields and woods where men of both North and South gave the last full measure of devotion is simply outrageous.”
The letter was circulated among the historian community by a coalition of preservation groups which have opposed both efforts to bring gambling to Gettysburg. The Civil War Preservation Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Pennsylvania have consistently emphasized that their opposition stems from the direct threat posed to the battlefield by the site’s proximity and potential for increasing traffic and development pressures on the park, as opposed to any objection to gaming.