Civil War foot traffic benefits local businesses

The economic benefit of Civil War sesquicentennial events is expected to be huge, and businesses that incorporate historic observances into their marketing plans stand to reap the rewards.

That’s the consensus of stakeholders involved in hosting, attracting and tracking Civil War foot traffic.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Maryland Campaign of 1862, which included the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. The sesquicentennial of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg will be celebrated in 2013, but organizers said many people are making that trip this year, via Frederick County, to avoid next year’s crowds.

For the 12 months ending in May 2012, demand for hotel rooms in Frederick County rose 12.7 percent over the previous 12 months, with 510,665 room nights used during the period, according to Smith Travel Research.

Interest in the Civil War is credited for the increase in visits.

“We have been busy all year with people coming because of our Civil War history,” said John Fieseler, executive director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County. “It has been gratifying to see people arrive at the Frederick Visitor Center from more than 1,000 miles away with the center’s Civil War-focused ad torn out of a magazine and pages printed out from our website in hand.”

In the 12 months ending June 30, hosted more than 1 million page views for the first time. Civil War 150th anniversary events are often cited as a reason for traveling here now, Fieseler said, and the center is also getting tens of thousands of requests to mail out visitor guides.

Some visitors from the western half of the country are spending five to seven days in Frederick to visit sites in the region.

Civil War information is getting picked up more than usual, Fieseler said, while local battlefields and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine report increased visitation.

The 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s 1862 Maryland Campaign was named by the American Bus Association as one of its top 100 events.

According to the bus association, one coach is worth nearly $12,000 to a destination, factoring in meals, lodging, entertainment and shopping. When coach services are added, the number can exceed $13,000, Fieseler said.

The economic impact of the sesquicentennial on this area cannot be overestimated, said David Price, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine’s director of strategic initiatives.

Local businesses benefited from the museum’s first Cigar and Whiskey Night held recently at the Pry House Field Hospital Museum at Antietam National Battlefield. The fundraiser sought to share the Civil War experience through stories, tastes and smells.

“We charged $75 to smoke Civil War commemorative cigars from Davidus Cigars, we used Applause Caterers and served whiskey from Catoctin Creek Distillery, which is sold at Ye Old Spirit Shop,” Price said.

The night was a success, Price said. The museum raised nearly $1,000, “and we spent real dollars at all those businesses.”

“But the truly unique experience was doing all of this while standing on the original boards in the barn where Abraham Lincoln stood, and on the grounds where Gen. George B. McClellan had his headquarters.”

Visitors from as far away as North Carolina bought tickets to the event, and many have committed to sharing their experience — the smell of the cigars and the taste of the whiskey, the real-life sensations experienced by soldiers 150 years ago — and returning for another Cigar and Whiskey night Sept. 22.

“So this economic impact is exponential and will be seen over a period of years,” Price said.

The museum has been Frederick’s No. 1 tourist attraction for many years, and visits are expected to increase over the next five years, Price said.

“Our presence here benefits restaurants, liquor stores, toy stores and farms.”

The museum is partnering with Brewer’s Alley to create a series of commemorative beers based on Civil War recipes. The first, Antietam Ale, will be released in September to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. The economic impact for Brewer’s Alley will be the production and sale of 200 cases of beer, Price said.

The museum is partnering with the Wine Kitchen on Carroll Creek to host a series of happy hours featuring drink recipes from the Civil War, and it recently concluded an arrangement with South Mountain Creamery to hold an event at the creamery’s store commemorating the anniversary of the Battle of South Mountain on Sept. 14 and promoting the museum’s Soldier’s Fair at the Pry House Museum.

The Soldier’s Fair is expected to bring many of South Mountain’s 8,000 customers from Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland to spend money in Frederick County, Price said.

“We attract international visitors who come specifically to see our museum, who then eat at downtown restaurants and stay at hotels in the county and who then visit other areas,” Price said. “The best part about this anniversary is that it lasts for years instead of a day, and those who recognize the impact and steer their marketing to incorporate it will reap financial rewards.”

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