BY ELSIE D. MOREY / NOVEMBER 2017
In 1970, Thomas Ottenstein, a wealthy Washington, D. C. estate promoter wished to build an observation tower in Gettysburg. The Ottenstein tower, better known as the Gettysburg National Battlefield Tower, was to be 300 feet tall. It was to overlook the Gettysburg National Military Park and Gettysburg. Colonel Mitchell, National Tower Advisor, said the advantage of the tower is it can be located in an unobtrusive spot, avoid the commercial atmosphere and the visitor will be above and view the expansive of the field.
From the day plans for a tower to be built were proposed, opposition to the construction began. Many organizations were against the building of such a tower. The Lincoln Fellowship concerns were the tower is adjacent to the Soldiers National Cemetery. This will detract from the beauty and serenity of this patriotic shrine. The Adams County Historical Society opposed the observation tower as a commercial concern near the National Cemetery. George Olinger, President of the Society in 1970 expressed the minority opinion. He personally was not opposed to the general idea of a tower at Gettysburg, but was opposed to the site as it would permit visitors to look down upon the burials being conducted in the National Cemetery. George B. Hertzog, Director of the National Park Services, denounced this private venture and called the Tower of One Nation, as an insult to a national shrine. He believed the area had already suffered from encroachment an insult to a national shrine. Harry F. Biesecker, vice-president of the Adams County Commissioners wished to remind the Adams County taxpayers that this will be a tremendous asset to Gettysburg and Adams County, as the taxes paid will help the tax base keep pace with the schools and other needs.
In spite of all the controversy, Ottenstein made application for a building permit with the building officer of the borough. He also applied to the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) for an application. The FAA is responsible for all tall structures that might be a threat to air traffic, as the structure might need lightening as orange and white bands with a red light on top.
The controversy swirled about Ottenstein so much that he decided to move the tower to the Colt Park area. With that idea, Ottenstein learned all those permits already obtained would not be valid and he would have to apply for them again. The residents of the Colt Park area were up in arms of the location and filed a class action suit to stop the building of the tower.
In spite of all the lawsuits and a compromise with the National Park Service, the tower was built in 1974. This will be the topic for the Cumberland Township Historical Society public meeting at Church of the Brethren on Biglerville Road, December 4, 2017 at 7 pm presented by Speros Marinos. Please join us to learn more of the trials and tribulations of the Gettysburg National Tower.
Elsie D. Morey is chairman of the board of directors of the Cumberland Township Historical Society.