As an historian, Larry Keener-Farley is in the inspiration business.
Years of dedication to keeping the past alive has taught him one important lesson: Preservation begins with motivation, which starts by establishing a connection to the person you are hoping to reach.
“You never know what is going to inspire people,” Keener-Farley said. “Once you get an interest in history, you are likely to preserve it.”
That is the goal of the Camp Curtin Historical Society in their latest project to promote awareness of what happened in Cumberland County during the 1863 Invasion of Pennsylvania by the Army of Northern Virginia.
So much attention is focused on Gettysburg that people forget the real objective of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was to seize the Northern capital of Harrisburg, which included the Civil War-era training camp after which the society is named.
CCHS wants to develop a Civil War trail of wayside markers at key sites in eastern Cumberland County that are important to telling the story of the Confederate march on Harrisburg, said Jim Schmick, society president. “We’ve been pushing this for years.”
‘More to be told’
Each marker will take the form of a 36-by-24 inch fiberglass table angled at a 45-degree angle and mounted on an aluminum frame, Schmick said. He explained how each table will have space for photographs and maps along with text explaining the significance of each historic site.
Design work is underway on the first marker that will be unveiled on June 30 at the Fort Couch monument, 8th Street and Indiana Avenue in Lemoyne, Schmick said.
Fort Couch is the only public site that preserves part of the once-extensive defenses of Harrisburg, according to the book “Civil War Harrisburg,” edited by both men. With a portion of its earthworks still visible, Fort Couch was built in June 1863 by railroad crews as an advanced position for the defense of Fort Washington, which was located to the east in the vicinity of what is now Negley Park.
A future marker is planned for Fort Washington, which was built in mid-June 1863 and occupied by New York state militia regiments during the Gettysburg campaign. Today, nothing substantial remains of this fort that once occupied 60 acres of Hummel’s Heights overlooking the Camelback Bridge across the Susquehanna River. The fort was defended by 25 pieces of artillery.
Both Schmick and Keener-Farley served as consultants on the team that recommended sites across Pennsylvania for the statewide Civil War Trail. Though the men suggested several sites on the West Shore, none were included in the final version of the trail prompting them and the Camp Curtin Historical society to take action.
“There is a neat story here,” Schmick said. “There is more to be told. We are doing this out of a love for history. This will bring tourism into the area.”
Aside from wayside markers, CCHS plans to produce a travel brochure for distribution to local historical societies, municipal buildings, travel centers on interstate highways, the Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau and the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.
“People have forgotten their history,” Keener-Farley said. “Important American history happened right here in their own backyard ... in places that you pass by. Most people don’t know these things, but they would have a greater appreciation for history and trying to preserve it if they knew about it.”
To donate money to the Civil War Trail campaign, make out a check to the Camp Curtin Historical Society and mail it to P.O. Box 5601, Harrisburg, PA 17110.