The historic Tillie Pierce House in Gettysburg is too rich in history for its reputation to be tarnished by legal trouble, says new owner Susan Saum-Wicklein.
The 182-year-old home reopened last month as a bed-and-breakfast after financial and legal problems forced out the former owners Keith and Leslie Grandstaff. The Grandstaffs spent months fighting the foreclosure in a bitter legal battle that provoked resentment among the business community in Gettysburg.
Now, though, Saum-Wicklein and her partners are working to again cast the historic house in a positive light.
"This house withstood the invasion of Confederate soldiers so it's certainly going to withstand these issues," she said. "It's so rich in history and bigger than any of that stuff.
Saum-Wicklein, who runs Gettysburg Ghost Tours, is the manager of the newly formed Baltimore Street Properties LLC. This new company also includes George Lomas, owner of The Regimental Quartermaster, and Johlene "Spooky" Riley, who also works at Gettysburg Ghost Tours.
Baltimore Street Properties reached an agreement with a Delaware lender last month to reopen the bed-and-breakfast. And although the house is being leased now, the group plans to eventually purchase the bed-and-breakfast, Saum-Wicklein says.
Built in 1829, the Tillie Pierce House, at 303 Baltimore St., was the home of James Pierce, a wealthy Gettysburg butcher. His daughter Matilda Jane "Tillie" Pierce witnessed the Battle of Gettysburg and cared for wounded soldiers. She later wrote a popular civilian account of the battle.
"I think it's such an amazing feat for a young woman," Saum-Wicklein said. "Here's a 15-year-old girl who experienced the wounded soldiers, the surgeries, and the agony of it all."
The bed-and-breakfast, considered one of the most authentic Civil War era houses in Gettysburg, was closed at the end of April and purchased by Jerzy Wirth, of Wilmington, Del., at a sheriff's auction for $3,173 in processing fees and about $40,000 in back property taxes.
Wirth had provided the Grandstaffs a $40,000 high-risk loan about four years ago when they were working to renovate the house that was asbestos ridden, split into low-rent apartments, and had previously been rumored to be a site of drug activity.
The Grandstaffs were never able to get ahead of increasing renovation costs and Wirth bought out the mortgage on the house, owned by PNC Bank, when it became evident that he'd lose out on the loan.
Grandstaff, a former mayor of Townsend, Del., and his wife Leslie purchased the Tillie Pierce House six years ago to open a bed-and-breakfast. Keith had been laid off from his job writing policies and procedures for JPMorgan Chase and Leslie left her work with the state museums.
The renovations exceeded expectations and a $330,000 loan wasn't enough. In an effort to increase business once open, the couple marketed the house to the ghost-hunting industry and the residence was featured in an episode of "My Ghost Story" that appeared in April on the BIO channel.
Keith said the couple lost everything when the bed-and-breakfast was foreclosed upon. That process proved a contentious ordeal for the Grandstaffs and other local businesses. But Wirth, like the new operators, is hoping to put it all behind him.
"It's like a short-term black eye that will be repaired given proper treatment," he said. "With a little care, it can go from something that was a disappointment to something that's a real asset to the community."
ABOUT THE HOUSE û
Built in 1829, the Tillie Pierce House was the home of James Pierce, a wealthy Gettysburg butcher. His daughter Matilda Jane "Tillie" Pierce witnessed the Battle of Gettysburg and cared for wounded soldiers. Her childhood home is located at 303 Baltimore St. in Gettysburg.
After spotting Confederate soldiers in town, 15-year-old Tillie left the house for The Jacob Weikert Farm, near Little Round Top. What started out as an attempt to stay out of the battle led her to some of the worst fighting.
On the evening of July 1, she visited a barn that had been converted to a hospital. She later wrote, "Nothing before in my experience had ever paralleled the sight we then and there beheld."
Her book, "At Gettysburg: Or What a Girl Saw and Heard at the Battle," was written 25 years after the fighting and is among the most-popular civilian accounts.
In 2006, the house was renovated and made into a Civil War-themed bed-and-breakfast. The residence was also featured in an episode of "My Ghost Story" that appeared April 2 on the BIO channel.
IF YOU GO û
The Tillie Pierce House Inn, located at 303 Baltimore St. in Gettysburg, has reopened as a bed-and-breakfast. The house is considered among the most authentic in Gettysburg. Rooms range from $125 to $175 per night. For more information call (717) 398-2847.