Gettysburg, Pa. A 1970s steel observation tower that preservationists say desecrated the hallowed ground of Gettysburg was demolished Monday on the anniversary of the battle that saved the Union.
The 393-foot tower was blown up with 10 pounds of explosives as part of a National Park Service campaign to remove modern structures and return the Gettysburg Battlefield to the way it looked in 1863.
The $2.5 million tower, erected on private land on the edge of the national park, opened to tourists in 1974 over the objection of park officials. Last month, a federal judge ruled the government could seize the site. The government set aside $3 million to compensate the owners.
On Monday, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt led the countdown. Civil War buffs staging an annual war reenactment fired off two artillery pieces, one Union and one Confederate, that were pointed at the tower.
A moment later, as smoke from the cannons swirled, the explosives at the base of the tower were detonated, and the structure collapsed into a parking lot.
The demolition came 137 years to the day after Union forces turned back Pickett's Charge, a Confederate assault led by Gen. George Edward Pickett.
For preservationists, the destruction of the Gettysburg National Tower was a fitting end for a structure many considered an abomination on a landscape that was dedicated by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address.
"To a preservationist, demolition is almost always an ugly word," Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "But not today. Today, we're doing something right."
"We're just anxious to see the monstrosity go down. It destroys the authenticity of the battlefield," said David Holtzclaw, a history buff who had a front seat for the demolition. "When you try to picture in your mind what happened here 137 years ago, that destroys it. I'm happy to see it go."
The National Park Service also plans to restore fences, orchards and lanes that were present in 1863 and remove modern buildings that sit on the battlefield.