United States v. Gettysburg Electric Railway Co.

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United States v. Gettysburg Electric Ry. Co.
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 8–9, 1896
Decided January 24, 1896
Full case nameUnited States v. Gettysburg Electric Railway Company
Citations160 U.S. 668 ( more )
16 S. Ct. 427; 40 L. Ed. 576
Eminent domain for historic preservation "seems" to be "a public use". [1]
Court membership
Chief Justice
Melville Fuller
Associate Justices
Stephen J. Field  · John M. Harlan
Horace Gray  · David J. Brewer
Henry B. Brown  · George Shiras Jr.
Edward D. White  · Rufus W. Peckham
Case opinion
MajorityPeckham, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
Appropriation Acts of 1893 (March 3) & 1894 (August 18), 1895 "Sickles Gettysburg Park Bill" (28 Stat. 651) [2]

United States v. Gettysburg Electric Ry. Co., 160 U.S. 668 (1896), was a case to prevent trolley operations on the Gettysburg Battlefield. The dispute began in August 1891 when the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association's board approved attorney Samuel Swope's motion to deny trolley right-of-way along GBMA roads. [3] Despite the 1896 US Supreme Court ruling that the railway could be seized for historic preservation, [1] as well as earlier legislative efforts to appropriate federal acquisition funds, create a War Department commission, and form the Gettysburg National Military Park; the trolley continued operations until obsolete in 1916.



Near the end of the 19th century, tourists to the 1863 Gettysburg Battlefield typically arrived at the borough by train and paid fees for horse-drawn jitney taxis to travel over the battlefield on primitive wagon roads of the private Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association. The GBMA owned less than 600 acres (240 ha) of the battlefield's much larger area, [4] and nearly all military engagement areas were privately owned and had twelve small GBMA-owned monument plots of 25 ft × 25 ft (7.6 m × 7.6 m). [5] Some owners rented land for camping, sold souvenirs/refreshments, and by 1894 required top dollar prices for real estate purchases. [6] [7] :'93 Similarly, the original battlefield roads had fallen into disrepair after the GBMA funds had become nearly exhausted by late 1882. [8] :4 Despite the preceding 1884 Round Top Branch steamtrain railroad that operated across the field of Pickett's Charge and Hancock Avenue to Round Top Station, an 1892 meeting next-door at the Round Top School formed an opposition committee of Cumberland Township voters (William H. Tipton was the only attendee favoring the trolley, [9] and the township subsequently granted road right-of-way.) [10]

Gettysburg Park Commission

The Gettysburg Park Commission (GPC) was established by the United States Department of War on March 3, 1893, [11] for "ascertaining the extent of...the trolley" [12] (trolley track construction began April 1893). [7] :'93 The Appropriations Act of 1893 on March 3 had funded $25,000, [13] a June 9 supplemental act directed "acquisition and designation by tablets of the lines of battle", [14] and the battlefield survey "was at once commenced" after topographer Emmor Cope was selected at the first commission meeting on July 1. [7] :'93 Federal acquisition of land that would become the 1895 Gettysburg National Military Park began on June 2, 1893, with a tract of 0.387 acres (0.157 ha) from John H. Miller & wife. [5] :315 By July 1893, GPC commissioner John B. Bachelder reported to the Secretary of War [15] about battlefield railbed construction (notably planned along the west of The Angle's historic stone wall), [16] and acting secretary Lewis A. Grant referred the complaint to the acting Judge Advocate General. [15] [ who? ]

Trolley right-of-way over the private 900 sq ft (84 m2) 72nd Pennsylvania Infantry Monument tract at The Angle was denied by June 13, 1893; [16] [17] and the route was changed to instead use the Emmitsburg Road. [18] During the July 2–3, 1893, New York Monuments Commission visit for dedicating the 44th New York monument with observation deck on Little Round Top, two altercations against photographer Tipton resulted in a writ by local judge McClean against General Daniel Sickles, General Daniel Butterfield, and two civil war colonels. [19] The writ was followed by an August 2, 1893, trolley complaint to the commonwealth by the GBMA, Edward McPherson, and thirty-nine other citizens; and a counter petition by 268 Gettysburg and 58 Cumberland township citizens favoring the trolley. [10] The PA Attorney General denied action after the subsequent hearing: "the right of owners of private property—whatever public interest may attach to it—to dispose of it to passenger railway corporations, cannot be disputed. ...the line itself...has been chosen with a view of affording tourists the best possible means of visiting and viewing this great battlefield and doing the least possible injury to its natural conditions". [10]

Despite a lack of funds that halted construction in August 1893, [20] the railway began operations as early as September 1893 [21] and was completed to Tipton Park and Round Top Park in 1894. Also despite the lawsuit, a new trolley powerhouse was built to replace [22] the original in the borough that had burnt down by January 22, 1895, [23] and by October 1895 total trackage was 8.5 mi (13.7 km). [24] The trolley system had been sold to a new owner in the month prior [23] to passage of the February 11, 1895, "Sickles Gettysburg Park Bill" [2] that authorized federal land acquisition to form the Gettysburg National Military Park. [25] Also during the federal suit, the railway company became insolvent and Judge Dallas had placed it into receivership by September 1895. [24]

Federal case

US v. Gett. Elec. Ry. Co. began with the GBMA's April 7, 1894, bill in equity to block trolley use of a particular railway section over Hancock Avenue [26] as recommended by the 72nd PA Infantry committee in 1893: "set aside spots right in the route of the trolley". [17] Likewise, the US District Attorney [27] of a strip[ where? ] of 7.02 acres (2.84 ha) [28] of land on May 3, 1894; [29] and the trolley company responded with a bill in equity to stop the US eminent domain acquisition c.June 11. [13] The US motion to stop construction was dismissed c.June 20 by Judge Dallas of the United States Circuit Court: [30] "powers of congress are distinctly enumerated in the constitution, and in that enumeration none is included to which the uses for which it is proposed to condemn this land can be related, without, in my opinion, enlarging the constitutional grant by grafting upon its express terms a construction so lax and comprehensive as to be subversive of its limited character." [30] [31]

Judge Dallas swore in the jury of Adams County residents on June 29, 1894; [32] and the local hearing in front of the jury was September 11–15 after which "they adjourned for argument in Philadelphia." [7] :'94 On November 3, 1894, the jury identified $30,000 "as the measure of damage that would be done the Trolley by the proposed change".The Star and Sentinel - Google News Archive Search Both parties appealed the jury amount as too high/low (the company on November 12, 1894), [7] :'94 and the company agreed on November 13 to move tracks from the vicinity of Devil's Den and Tipton Station if the expense would be paid (refused c.December 4). [33] The US attorney Ellery P. Ingham filed an additional petition for condemning a second tract[ where? ] in January 1895, [34] which along with his June 7 petition [35] were denied by the Philadelphia federal court. [31] The 1896 reversal by the Supreme Court of the United States ruled historic preservation "seems" to be "a public use". [1]


"The impression in the town" was the Secretary of War would not pay the $30,000 nor "take further steps" to acquire the railway, [36] and the trolley operated even after the Commission—following a May 7 federal hearing [7] :'01—acquired 2 William H. Tipton tracts of 14.2 acres (5.7 ha) on December 31, 1901. [5] :321 In 1908, Borough of Gettysburg vs. Gettysburg Transit Co. required trolley payment of "car tax" assessed after the company failed to perform agreed maintenance of borough streets [37] (reversed August 1908). [38] In 1909, C. Taylor Leland vs. The Gettysburg Transit Company ordered a trustee's auction in the foreclosure of the 1898 mortgage [39] (purchased in September), [40] and an injury lawsuit was initiated [41] for trolley cars colliding on August 15 near Devil's Den. [42] Trolley operations ended in November 1916 when the railway had become obsolete with disrepair [43] and increased use [44] of battlefield avenues that had been improved with War Department Telford piking. [7]

First Army Appropriations Act of 1917

Congressional funding for the seizure failed in an attempted amendment on February 26, 1917. [45] After annual trolley operations on the battlefield hadn't commenced in the spring, the First Army Appropriations Act of 1917 funded $30,000 on May 9 for the "practically abandoned property". [46] Instead of paying damages to the trolley company, the funds paid for removing the tracks and acquiring the associated landowners' tracts (most had been deeded to the US years earlier). [47]

Remnants of the trolley were entered-documented in 2004 as historic contributing structures of the Gettysburg Battlefield Historic District. [48] Similar eminent domain acquisitions include the 1904 United States v. Five Tracts of land [49] that seized land near Reynolds Grove [50] and, on September 18, 1905, [5] Cunningham Grove. The 1974 Gettysburg National Tower, which was on private land not used for military engagements and which had been granted use of federal land, was seized in 2000 and demolished due to its appearance.

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  1. 1 2 3 United States v. Gettysburg Electric Ry. Co. , 160U.S.668 (1896).
  2. 1 2 "Gettysburg National Military Park Established By Sickles, Bill Passed In February 1895" (Google News Archive). Gettysburg Times. February 10, 1970. Retrieved 2011-03-06.
  3. Hamilton, Calvin; GBMA secretary (August 25, 1891). "minutes, Board of Directors of the Gettysburg Battlefield Mem. Association" (1982 transcription). Minute Book...1872-1895. Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association . Retrieved 2011-07-10. Gen. Gobin and W. C. Sheely Esq. representing the Gettysburg Electric Rail Way Company appeared before the Board and asked the right of way over the Association's grounds and along the several Avenues marking the lines of battle. On motion of S. Mc. Swope Esq the request was not granted and the secretary was directed to so notify said Company. (cited by Unrau p. 64)   NOTE: In 1894 during the trolley suit, Swope became a judge.
  4. Defandorff, Jason F. (1916). United States Military Reservations, National Cemeteries, and Military Parks: Title, Jurisdiction, Etc. U.S. Government Printing Office. p.  321.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Defandorff, Jason F. (1916). "Gettysburg National Park". United States military reservations, National cemeteries, and military parks. U.S. Government Printing Office. p.  315 . Retrieved 2011-04-19.
  6. "Battlefield Avenues" (Google News Archive). The Star and Sentinel. May 8, 1894. Retrieved 2011-05-26. land sold on what is now the battlefield has sold within my recollection from $40 to as high as $300 per acre, and that the value incident to improvements brought about by the battle, has no doubt enhanced the value of all the land on the field, and there is no just reason why the owners who suffered should not be paid a full value for its appropriation by the Government.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Gettysburg National Military Park Commission. "An Introduction to the Annual Reports of the Gettysburg National Military Park Commission to the Secretary of War". The Gettysburg Commission Reports. Gettysburg, PA: War Department.   "On "July 8, 1894, the Attorney-General of the United States directed proceedings to be commenced against the electric railway at Gettysburg".:'94
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  9. "Road Meeting" (Google News Archive). Star and Sentinel. April 12, 1892. Retrieved 2011-07-10. Theodore McAllister was chosen Prest.; Levi Plank, Vice-prest., and John C. Shriver, Secretary. ... Speeches were made by James Hersh, Harvey D. Bream, John C. Shriver, David Mehring, Robert Bream, Levi Plank and Wm. H. Tipton. ... Messrs. Hersh, Harry D. Bream and Theodore McAllister were chosen the committee. ... N.M. Horner [and] Nicholas Redding also attended (1892 Gettysburg Compiler, 1942 Out of the Past articles)
  10. 1 2 3 Hensel, W. U. (August 7, 1893), Gettysburg Trolley: Attorney General Hensel Refuses to Interfere (letter), retrieved 2011-05-24, refusal of the Seventy-second Pennsylvania Regiment Association to allow the railway to pass over a small plot of ground owned--but not used--by this association ... 'general operations act' of 1874 (published in Gettysburg Times, August 15)
  11. "Gettysburg National Military Park Marker" (HMdb.org webpage for marker 14520). War Department. 1908. Retrieved 2011-02-08. (NPS webpage for monument MN508) Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine
  12. "The Invasion of Gettysburg" (PDF). The New York Times. June 4, 1893. Retrieved 2011-07-10. The commission held its first meeting at the Eagle Hotel in Gettysburg Wednesday evening
  13. 1 2 "Gettysburg Trolley: The Other Side Takes a Hand in Legal Fighting" (Google News Archive). Gettysburg Compiler. June 12, 1894. Retrieved 2011-07-10. "said act of Congress was simply to indicate by means of tablets the lines of battle and the general positions occupied by the two armies. It was not intended to mark each and every position assumed by each and every part of the two bodies throughout the three days of the battle. Such an attempt would be impracticable, confusing and valueless. (Attorneys Hart, Hebner, & David Wills)
  14. "Gettysburg Trolley Appeal" (Google News Archive). The Philadelphia Record. June 16, 1894. Retrieved 2011-07-10.
  15. 1 2 Bachelder, John (June 16, 1893). "preliminary report to Secretary of War" (Google News Archive). Retrieved 2011-07-10. (local article, New York Times article)
  16. 1 2 "The Trolley Road" (Google News Archives). The Star and Sentinel. June 13, 1893. Retrieved 2011-05-26. Mr. W. H. Tipton, President of the Town Council,... As for Little Round Top it was bare of timber at the time of the battle and the Association has simply removed the growth of almost 30 years. ... The regiment has declined to sell... The following is the route of the road... The Reading's Round Top Branch, taken with the power of eminent domain ... have to...persuade the authorities of Cumberland township to grant them the Taneytown road.
  17. 1 2 "The Electric Line on the Battlefield & The Seventy-Second's Committee" (Google News Archive). The Star and Sentinel. June 20, 1893. Retrieved 2011-07-10. Work is about to be commenced on Little Round Top. From the [Round Top Park] dance house... Acting Secretary Grant referred this report...to Col. Lieber ... Attention is invited to the act of the Pennsylvania Legislature of two years ago giving the authority to condemn land etc., and also to the general authority by Congress to the War Department to condemn lands for National Cemeteries. ... The trolley people propose to build a station just where Hancock was wounded. ... Seven hundred to a thousand tents will be pitched on East Cemetery Hill
  18. "Electric Railway" (Google News Archives). The Star and Sentinel. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. April 2, 1894. Retrieved 2011-04-17. has made embankments and laid its tracks along the Valley of Death and up a part of the slope of Round Top itself. It connects with the Round Top railroad at a point immediately in rear of the warehouse at Round Top station.
  19. "SUED BY A SNAP-SHOT MAN; GEN. SICKLES'S UNPLEASANT EXPERIENCE AT GETTYSBURG. A Photographer Who Was Sent Off the Field by His Order Resorts to Law -- Dedication, of the Forty-fourth New-York's Monument -- Speeches by All the Surviving Generals -- Gov. Flower Compliments the Commissioners Upon the Work They Have Done for the State". July 4, 1893 via NYTimes.com.
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  24. 1 2 "Gettysburg Railway Receivers" (Google News Archive). The Philadelphia Record. September 22, 1895. Retrieved 2011-04-17. owing to sundry misfortunes and the embarrassment brought about by litigations, the company has become insolvent and has a floating indebtedness of upward of $10,000, which it is wholly unable at present to pay.
  25. ...Historians Peer Review of the Process Developed by GNMP ... General Management Plan 1999 History (Report). NPS.gov. March 1998. Retrieved 2011-02-13.
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  31. 1 2 "Trolley In Gettysburg: Judge Dallas Decides The Government Has No Rights" (Google News Archive). Meriden Weekly Republican. April 25, 1895. Retrieved 2011-07-10. The land described in the petition is adjacent to the Gettysburg National cemetery. ... This battle-field is of transcendent national interest. The ground is hallowed and made sacred by the blood shed upon it at the most important epoch in the nation's history--in the supreme hour of its life. (dissenting opinion, PA Judge Butler)
  32. "Gettysburg Battlefield Jury" (Google News Archive). The Philadelphia Record. June 23, 1894. Retrieved 2011-04-17. George Stonesifer of Littlestown; David Rhoads, Freedom township; Alexander S. Hines, New Oxford; David P. Forney, Conewago township; Thomas G. Neely, Huntingdon township; Peter Kready, Hamilton township, and A. Fleming White, Freedom township.
  33. Heebner, Chas; et al. (December 4, 1894), "Battlefield Commission vs The Trolley Company" (Google News Archive), Gettysburg Compiler, retrieved 2011-04-20, the Company will very gladly agree to the changes desired, approximately as indicated on the blue prints hereto attached
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  37. Borough of Gettysburg vs. Gettysburg Transit Co. ( Adams County Superior CourtJuly 29, 1908). [cited by Google News Archive (Gettysburg Compiler)]
  38. "Judgment Reversed" (Google News Archive). New Oxford Item. August 6, 1908. Retrieved 2011-07-12. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania...reversing the decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Adams county.
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  47. "12". Claims for damages to and loss of private property. First Army Appropriations Act of 1917 . May 12, 1917. p. 59. Amos Leister tracts ['96,'02, 0.14 acres], the F. G. Pfeifer tracts [tbd], the Jacob Benner estate tract [tbd], the Simon J. Godori tract ['94, 0.55], the Jacob Masonheimer tract ['93, 0.59], the Annie E. Beecher tract [tbd], the Rosanna E. Wible tract ['09, 15.48], the James W. Timbers tract [tbd], the S. W. Crawford tracts [tbd], the William H. Tipton tract [tbd], the Calvin P. Krise tract ['04, 3.85], the George Bushman tract [tbd], and the Peter D. Swisher tract ['01, 9.2]
  48. "Electric Trolley Bed". (structure ID RR02, LCS ID 080808) List of Classified Structures: GETT p. 44. National Park Service. 1894. Archived from the original on 2012-09-17. Retrieved 2011-07-10. [rail] trail along Plum Run at Devils Den, runs N through Rose Farm & stops near The Loop. Pair of cut stone block abutments over Rose Run, 5' high, 25' long & approx 10' apart.
  49. United States v. Five Tracts of land( United States Circuit Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania October 2, 1900 ).
  50. "Round About Town". April 20, 1904. Retrieved 2011-02-28. ...John C. Group, of Idaville, and David Maring, of Cumberland township, have been appointed a jury of viewers to condemn five tracts of land on the battlefield, ten acres owned by Mrs. Cunningham near Round Top and four tracts belonging to the Land Improvement Co. near Reynolds Grove along Chambersburg. pike.