Tuesday, December 20, 2022

There's More to Gettysburg Than Just the Battlefield

History buffs love visiting the Gettysburg battlefield to learn about the infamous and bloody three-day battle. Over the years, I've visited the area many times, even touring the battlefield via Segway, which in my opinion is the best way to do it. 

I've also taken ghost tours, which can be filled with historical tidbits and can be very interesting, as well.

However, my favorite thing to do is simply stroll around the downtown area, enjoying the little boutique shops, dining at the restaurants, taking part in tastings at the wineries and learning more about some of the structures identified by historical markers. 

A tasting at Reid's Winery Tasting Room and Cider House on Baltimore Street.

One of my favorite downtown buildings inspired me to reach out to author Brad Gottfried to learn more about the structure pictured below. Gottfried knows the Gettysburg area well, having written 17 books on the subject. He informed me that the structure was once a service and parking garage--which was quite a let down, being that it is so attractive. If you zoom in on the information underneath the arch, you'll see that it dates back to 1916. They sure knew how to park in style back then, I said to myself, wondering why modern-day parking garages needed to be so brutalist. These thoughts went through my head when I began researching and discovered through the 'Celebrate Gettysburg' facebook page that it was initially intended for a movie theater, until a hotel moved in nearby, necessitating the need for parking. That made more sense.

This beautiful building once served the community as a parking garage.

After I got over the notion that this beautiful building was used for parking, Gottfried took me on a tour where he offered details on other points of interest and I left knowing much more about the interesting and walkable downtown area.

Historical Houses

The Will's House

"Return Visit" is built to scale.

One of the most-oft photographs of downtown Gettysburg is the statue of Lincoln standing beside a tourist near the David Wills Housewhere he worked on his famous Gettysburg Address. Artist J. Seward Johnson, Jr., of Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fame, was responsible for creating the now-famous piece, which shows Lincoln pointing up at the room in which he stayed. I've always been rather fascinated with Seward Johnson's life-like sculptures. You can view more of them at the Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey. Once you've seen a Seward Johnson piece, you'll recognize it immediately. (You can see more of Seward Johnson's work and read about the Grounds for Sculpture in a blog I wrote here). This statue that stands on the Gettysburg square is called "Return Visit."

The Will's House, for a long time, charged admission. Today it is free and contains six galleries and two rooms that have been restored to their 1863 appearance. 

The Farnsworth House

The Farnsworth House Inn not only serves as a Bed and Breakfast, but also as a place to stop and have a bite to eat after a day of touring. 

The Inn was named after Brigadier General Elon John Farnsworth of the Union Army, who died in battle along with 65 of his men after being ordered by Major General Hugh Judson Kilpatrick to lead an unsuccessful charge against Confederate positions south of the Devil’s Den area.

The back part of the house, now featuring Sweney’s Tavern, was built in 1808, while the front of the house was added in 1833. Banker John McFarland, who built the house, fell on hard times and sold it to the Sweney family, who owned it during the battle.

Furious fighting began almost immediately when the Confederates inhabited the house during the very first day of the war. Confederate sharpshooters positioned themselves at a tiny window in the attic, shooting towards Cemetery Hill while laying on their stomachs. In fact, the shot that killed Jenny Wade, the only civilian directly killed in the battle, was said to have come from that very window. More than 100 bullet holes now riddle the walls of the house.

The Shriver House

Another interesting house near downtown is the Shriver House Museum and one that is foremost in my mind because of how I felt during a tour of the place. As we gathered around a docent, I began to feel a debilitating pain my stomach as if someone was twisting my insides. This was followed by a bit of panic and sweating and I wrestled with interrupting the docent by telling her, or fleeing, but I stuck it out, not wanting to create a scene and the feeling passed within a few minutes.

I learned later that the house was used as a hospital during the war. Was I feeling the way one of those soldiers felt after being shot in the stomach? I guess I'll never know.

Tourists who want to learn how people lived in the period of time before, during and after the Civil War get a clearer picture after visiting the Shriver House.

In the attic is a sharpshooter's nest where two confederates died.

Sharpshooter's nest in the attic of the Shriver House.

The Majestic Theater
The Majestic Theater dates back to 1925.

Downtown Gettysburg is also home to the Majestic Theater, which dates back to 1925 and at the time was known as the largest vaudeville and silent movie theater in south-central Pennsylvania.

In the late 1950s, it wasn't unusual for patrons to take a seat, only to spot Mamie and Dwight Eisenhower in the audience. 

In 2005, the theater underwent restoration to bring it back to its original charm and today people visit to enjoy music acts, comedians and classic films.

Learn about History during a Virtual Reality Experience

The Gettysburg train station.

Located a few steps away from the Majestic Theater is one of the newer attractions operated by the Gettysburg Foundation. "Ticket to the Past," located at the Gettysburg train station, transports visitors back to 1863 when the structure served as a hospital, a supply station and a presidential arrival platform.

Bringing stories to life are: Cornelia Hancock, soldier caregiver and hospital heroine, Eli Blanchard, soldier, musician and amputation assistant and Basil Biggs, Gettysburg Resident and Facilitator for the Fallen (exhuming Union soldiers for reburial). Visitors will also witness a recreation of Lincoln's arrival in Gettysburg and learn more about this important period of time in our nation's history.

For tickets, visit GettysburgFoundation.org/Ticket-to-the-Past.

Shopping Opportunities Abound

LARK is located in a historic building on Lincoln Square.

LARK carries this cute selection of clocks that I'm always tempted to buy.

One of my favorite places is LARK, especially during the Christmas season. If you're at a loss as to what to buy as a gift for someone who seemingly has everything, LARK is the place to go.The 5,000 square foot shop, which opened in 2011, is located in an historic building located at 17 Lincoln Square on one of the original 210 lots developed in 1785 by James Gettys. 

Other shops downtown offer everything from art, to home decor, jewelry, apparel and more.  Gallery 30, at 26 York Street, is another shop you won't want to miss. Below are a few shots of the many interesting and beautiful items that they sell.

Dining Downtown

There are plenty of places to eat in the downtown area. One of my favorites is the historic Dobbin House Tavern, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This popular restaurant and Inn is known as Gettysburg's oldest building and was built by Reverend Alexander Dobbin, an early pioneer who helped settle the area. Dobbin needed a large house to not only accommodate his first wife and 10 children she bore to him, but his second wife who came along with nine additional children after the first one died. You can probably imagine that space might be a huge deal to him and his family, but also for the students at the school he founded. "The Classical School" was a combination theological seminary and liberal arts colleged and was one of the first in the area west of the Susquehanna River.

The Dobbin House contains seven cozy fireplaces that are often lit in the winter, as well as original stone walls and woodworking that has been restored to appear as it did during the days of Dobbin. To add to the charm, the waitstaff greets customers in colonial clothing. What is even more interesting, however, is that the silverware and china that are used at the restaurant. They were recreated to match fragments that were discovered during a cellar excavation.

Restaurant customers dine by candlelight and can tuck into items like crab cakes, filet mignon and prime rib. Downstairs at the Spring House Tavern, customers will experience an equally interesting, yet more casual atmosphere where sandwiches and salads are served. I suggest getting there early to avoid a long line for both places. Unfortunately, neither takes reservations at this time, but both are open seven days a week for lunch and dinner.

If you like your libations, you may enjoy the only Irish-owned pub in Gettysburg, located at 126 Chambersburg Street. The Garryowen offers an impressive list of 120 Irish whiskies, a selection of Irish beer on draft, and other imported and domestic selections as well. Menu favorites are created from locally sourced ingredients and include Irish Stew, bangers and mash, authentic Shepherd's pie made from an old family recipe and Irish onion soup (made with Guiness stout). The Pub is open for both lunch and dinner and often features live music.

The Garryowen Irish Pub is the only Irish-owned pub in Gettysburg.

The Mahogany bar at the Garryowen at an unusual time before patrons arrived.

These are just a few of the places I enjoy when I visit Gettysburg. You may also be interested to know that, for such a historical place, it's not very crowded and parking is reasonable compared to many other places I've visited.

If you decide to take my advice and visit any of these destinations, the best place to set your GPS for is the Racehorse Alley Parking Garage, where you'll pay $1.00 per hour and if that's not a bargain for a major tourist destination, then I don't know what is.

Safe travels!