It is perhaps one of the most iconic scenes in the 1993 film “Gettysburg”: actor Sam Elliot, portraying Union Gen. John Buford, ascends the stairs to the replicated cupola of Schmucker Hall (then called “the Seminary” as it housed the Lutheran Theological Seminary) in Gettysburg. The date is July 1, 1863 – the first day of the battle that would take the small town by storm. From the cupola, Buford observes the approaching Confederate troops and quickly moves to secure Union positions on the ground. Although the general could see his enemy marching closer that day from the top of the Seminary, he probably did not foresee that his actions on July 1 would ultimately gain high ground for the Union that would aid in their victory in Gettysburg. And Buford probably did not foresee into the future that day – to 2013, exactly 150 years later, when the roof he was standing on, and the building underneath it, would be dedicated as the newest museum in the town of Gettysburg.
The Seminary was already more than 30 years old when Buford climbed to the cupola during the Battle of Gettysburg. Built in 1832 under the direction of Rev. Samuel Simon Schmucker, the building housed the Lutheran Theological Seminary – its housing, chapel and classrooms. It is doubtful that Schmucker, too, could foresee that the building he watched being built, brick by brick, would serve as a field hospital during the raging battle in Gettysburg, let alone become a museum in 2013. But that is exactly what happened. During the Battle of Gettysburg, some 600 wounded soldiers from both the Union and Confederate sides were treated in the Seminary, which also served as Buford’s initial observation post. The building, at its place on Seminary Ridge, was at the heart of the first day of battle.
But what Schmucker and Buford could probably not see coming has finally arrived, to the great anticipation of Gettysburg locals and visitors alike. The Seminary (later known as “Old Dorm” and most recently, “Schmucker Hall”) has become, under direction from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, the Adams County Historical Society and the Seminary Ridge Historical Preservation Association, the Seminary Ridge Museum. The museum, which opens exactly 150 years after Buford climbed to the cupola – on July 1, 2013 – will feature 20,000 square feet of exhibit space, much of it interactive. The $13.3 million project seeks to explore a few key areas: the first day of battle on Seminary Ridge; the care of wounded soldiers during the Battle of Gettysburg and the Seminary’s use as a field hospital; and the religious, moral and ethical conflicts that were duly fought in addition to the physical ones during the American Civil War.
Although the gentlemen who helped create the Seminary building (Rev. Schmucker) and defend the land around it (Gen. Buford) may have deemed some things foreseeable in their times, chances are they would not have guessed that the building where they stood so many years ago would today be taking on a new role – not as a seminary nor an observation post, but as a beautiful new feather Gettysburg can add to its historical hat. Not only will generations be educated about what happened within in those walls 150 years before but visitors can ascend the cupola and take in the view that has become legendary in the Gettysburg history books. And who knows? Maybe someone will see a view of what’s to come for the little town that changed forever here, 150 years ago.
For more information on the Seminary Ridge Museum, visit www.seminaryridgemuseum.org