Bugle Call

Brochures, Battlefield Guides, and Bullets: Behind the Scenes at Newcomer House

March 25, 2015

National Park Service Antietam Washington County Newcomer House Civil War Trails

Brochures, Battlefield Guides, and Bullets: Behind the Scenes at Newcomer House

Any given day during the spring, summer and early fall you might see someone rocking on the porch of the Newcomer House on the Antietam National Battlefield. Chances are good that someone will be a National Park Service volunteer ready to greet visitors with a story about the historic house, to show real bullets from the Civil War, or to share information about the many fascinating destinations around the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area.

The house is cared for through a joint agreement between the National Park Service (NPS) and the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau. I am the lucky “civilian” go-between for both entities, which means you might find me training a new volunteer docent, restocking brochures or chasing a garter snake off the back porch. My primary NPS partners are Chief Interpretive Ranger Keith Snyder and Head of Volunteer services, Ranger Christie Stanczak.

There are plenty of small details that need attention as the main tourist season approaches. On the practical side, NPS takes care of the big stuff – grounds keeping and house repairs. Just like your home, Newcomer House gets a thorough spring cleaning before it opens in April. Burned out lights are replaced and the brochure racks are stocked with the latest information from the three Heritage Area counties: Carroll, Frederick and Washington. But the most important preparation of all is reactivating the cadre of volunteers who give Newcomer House a heartbeat.

Newcomer volunteers are devoted students of Civil War history, especially in our area, and great storytellers. We are fortunate that the group, about 20 strong, includes some of the top-notch Antietam Battlefield Guides. Each volunteer brings his or her own special strengths to bear, which gives our visitors a very special one-on-one experience. 

Each March, veteran and new volunteers gather for an orientation session. Procedures are revisited and new initiatives are introduced. Perhaps best of all is the camaraderie of the group as they share new historical discoveries and tales of interesting visitor interactions, including the day “Abraham Lincoln” came through the front door.

This year’s orientation program included a special presentation by Battlefield Guide Joseph Stahl on the original Facebook, carte de visite (CdV), small photographs that were traded among friends and used as calling cards. When you visit, see if there are any of the modern-day CdVs still available at Newcomer House or create your own at our Civil War Selfies station.

Can you picture yourself behind the scenes at Newcomer House? There are many volunteer opportunities at Newcomer House and at the Battlefield. It’s easy to get involved. Your first step is to email me at rbknichols@gmail.com. The rest will become part of your history.

The Newcomer House was built in the 1780s as part of a prosperous mill complex and is one of the few original homes on the battlefield that is open to the public. Like other houses at Antietam, it is named for the residents who lived there in 1862, the Joshua Newcomer family. The house now serves as the official Exhibit and Visitor Center for the Heritage Area and is a perfect starting place for Heritage Area tourists. Hours are 11am-5pm Saturday and Sunday during April, May, October and November; daily June-September; and the first Saturday in December for the annual Antietam Illumination. 

Rachel Nichols

Contributing Author: Rachel Nichols

Rachel Nichols, heritage area assistant in Washington County, came to the staff in 2013 through a grant agreement with the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Center. While at the CVB, Rachel specialized in public relations for the organization. She has a strong background in... Read More