- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

Break out the banjos and pass the smoked salmon cheesecake — Civil War tourism is getting a makeover.

A Maryland government program that has won presidential praise for boosting local economies through historic preservation has certified Carroll, Frederick and Washington counties as the “Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area.”

Communities from Cumberland to Havre de Grace have benefited from money made available in the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority since the General Assembly created the grant and tax-credit program 10 years ago.

Baltimore’s B&O; Railroad Museum, the Harriet Tubman Museum in Cambridge and the Rodgers Tavern in Perryville are among those that have received a share of $7.1 million in program grants awarded since 1996.

Now the region scarred by the North-South conflict is getting state help on projects including a Civil War-era banjo conference at the Antietam National Battlefield and faux gas-lamp street lighting in Taneytown, where visitors can walk the roads that soldiers took to nearby Gettysburg, Pa., and enjoy gourmet food at Antrim 1844, an antebellum mansion turned bed-and-breakfast.

In May, President Bush honored the program with one of two Preserve America Presidential Awards for Heritage Tourism.

The Civil War region is Maryland’s 11th certified heritage area. Richard Hughes, of the Maryland Historical Trust, said the certification of the management plan last week came after nearly three years of planning. He also said the certification will help local communities tell their Civil War stories to visitors drawn to Maryland by major 150th anniversary events in 2012 and 2013.

“There is virtually not a town in those three counties that did not have major involvement in the Civil War,” Mr. Hughes said.

He said Maryland’s borderline status — a Union state below the Mason-Dixon Line — makes it especially appealing to history buffs.

“Divided loyalties were strong in the state, and all those stories of brother against brother, family against family — there are so many of those stories in Maryland,” Mr Hughes said.

The city of Hagerstown received a $55,000 grant to help develop a downtown sidewalk-cafe district and a $12,500 grant to help pay for Civil War-themed signs, brochures and banners.

The National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick received $4,500 to help pay for a lecture and concert series at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum at Antietam. Planned events include a talk next year by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian James M. McPherson, and the banjo conference this October.

“We saw the concert series as something that would be in line with the mission of the Heart of the Civil War, which is to bring visitors in and broaden their understanding of it — not just being a military issue, but the impact on the civilian population as well,” said Janet Bucklew, the museum’s development officer.

As the number of heritage areas has grown, so has the funding. The 2005 General Assembly increased the program’s funding to a maximum of $3 million annually, from $1 million.

The model for Maryland’s heritage areas is Canal Place, a transportation-themed enterprise in downtown Cumberland in the restored Western Maryland Station, alongside the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The project drew nearly 138,400 visitors last year and has sparked a revival of the city’s downtown over the past decade.

Restaurants, galleries and performing-arts spaces have opened in refurbished buildings along a brick-lined pedestrian mall that no longer looks like 1970s urban planning.

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