History is certainly everywhere in Gettysburg – through the streets, inside the buildings around town and out into the farm fields where war broke out more than 154 years ago. As one of the most visited historic destinations in America, Gettysburg attracts visitors from around the world to learn, to reflect and to remember those tragic three days in 1863.
But Gettysburg’s history doesn’t begin or end with the American Civil War. Today, the town remembers history of several eras – some that pre-date the epic battle, and others more modern.
At the same time, history buffs clamor to learn more, to dig deeper and to get their hands on as much history as possible. It’s in that spirit that we’ve compiled a collection of must-see locations for history buffs to whet their appetite for bygone times and to stir their passion for more learning in the Gettysburg region.
With that said, there’s just simply not enough room to list every museum and historic site in this history-rich town, so we focused on a few top spots and other – perhaps not as well-known – historic sites.
We’ll start our journey where Lincoln started his visit in Gettysburg – at the Gettysburg Lincoln Railroad Station. Built in 1859 just four years before the war came north, this train station stands today as reminder that Gettysburg was well-connected and a bustling carriage-making town prior to 1863. But it was a visit by the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, that makes this site so historic. The day before he delivered that moving speech, the Gettysburg Address, in the cemetery across town, Lincoln stepped onto the platform of the train station to begin his short stay in this war-ravaged town.
During and after the three-day battle, both armies found anywhere they could to treat wounded soldiers – churches, schools, homes and farms. The Daniel Lady Farm – a Confederate field hospital on the back of the southern battle line – witnessed such tragedy during those days as hundreds of soldiers were taken back to the farm for medical care. Today, the farm and adjacent home is open to visitors to learn more about Civil War era medicine and the history of the now famous farm.
In Gettysburg, we don’t just “like Ike” … we love Ike! Like so many of Gettysburg’s visitors, Dwight Eisenhower – fresh off command of the allied forces in World War II – hoped to relax with his family in Gettysburg. He purchased a farm and had big plans to restore the home and retire. Even though his future changed and he became the 34th President of the United States, he kept his Gettysburg home. Today, several decades later, the Eisenhower National Historic Site is open to visitors as an artifact of the 1950s and 60s. During his time there, he hosted many national and international leaders, as well as his loving family.
While the inside of the house is closed right now, you can still tour the grounds.
Elizabeth Ann Seton made history as America’s first native-born saint. As a widow and single mother of her own five children, Elizabeth Seton started the first free Catholic school for girls and a new order of sisters, which now includes thousands throughout the world. The National Shrine of Elizabeth Ann Seton tells the story of not only the saint herself, but the school and Catholic order of sisters she created. The grounds, several buildings and the basilica are all open to visitors.
After days of touring the battlefield or museums, many history buffs like to dig a little further – perhaps find some sort of family or hometown connection. The Adams County Historical Society is a place that houses a depth of information – about the war, about the region and the people who lived here. Staff and volunteers spend time with visitors poring over volumes of books, newspaper articles and other relics of information.
One of several covered bridges in the Gettysburg region, the Sachs Bridge is not only historic, it’s poetic. Spanning 100 feet over Marsh Creek, the Sachs Bridge we see today is actually a reconstructed structure built after rising waters swept the famous bridge downstream a couple decades ago. But its historic footprint and foundation help visitors understand the days that followed the Battle of Gettysburg and the retreat by the Confederate Army as thousands of soldiers marched home across the bridge.
Let’s break for lunch! We’re going to dine with Gettysburg’s favorite hometown hero, Eddie Plank. This Hall of Fame baseball pitcher set many records in the early 1900s including the first left-hander to reach 200 and later, 300 wins – mostly with the Philadelphia Athletics. Today, you can learn about Eddie and Gettysburg’s baseball star at Gettysburg Eddie’s – a sports tavern that celebrates Plank with delicious salads, burgers, and entrees. Eat up – more historic sites are on deck!
Formally, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, this beautiful church dates back to 1785, making it the oldest Roman Catholic church constructed out of stone in the United States. The Conewago Chapel, as it’s more commonly known locally, was decreed a minor basilica in 1962 and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The church – which still holds daily masses – and adjoining cemetery are open to the public during the day.
This national cemetery is the final resting place for more than 3,500 Union soldiers buried in the days and weeks after the battle, but again, it was Lincoln who made this place famous. He was invited to help dedicate the cemetery almost five months after the battle and his short, two-minute speech to dedicate the cemetery has secured his place and that of Gettysburg in the history books. Today, soldiers are buried in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery from more modern wars and the cemetery remains a peaceful place to reflect on the war and history of the nation.
Just a short drive from Downtown Gettysburg is an architectural marvel – a truly round structure built more than 100 years ago as a revolutionary design to raise dairy cattle. The Historic Round Barn is unique, for sure, but it’s become a local roadside landmark that features a farm market and is host to events during the warmer months. Take time to climb the stairs to the second level and stand there, with your mouth open, as you gaze in awe over the massive interior.
Like the Daniel Lady Farm and so many other buildings around town, the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church became a hospital for wounded soldiers, but again, it was a stop by Lincoln – and later, another U.S. president – that makes this church so historic. Our 16th President stopped here for a political event after his famous address, and 100 years later, the 34th President, Eisenhower, and the first lady became members of this congregation. The pews for both presidents are marked today with plaques.
History moves at top speed at this museum north of Gettysburg. The collection of motor racing history is front and center at the Eastern Museum of Motor Racing with a wide collection of race cars, motorcycles and other racing memorabilia that dates back several decades to the birth of the auto racing industry. It’s easy to get lost – mentally and physically – in the maze of artifacts which tell an amazing story of the growth of the racing industry to today’s modern motorsports.
The Civil War isn’t this gallery’s claim to fame. Lord Nelson’s Gallery in Downtown Gettysburg specializes in Eastern Indian and Frontier art of the French and Indian War periods. The gallery also features nostalgic fine art and handcrafted gifts. Lord Nelson’s is tucked on the first floor of the James Gettys Hotel, named after the town’s founder Samuel Gettys.
The historic Mansion House 1757 has served many nationally-recognized historic figures such as Patrick Henry and Robert E. Lee, but today it stands as a reminder that the Civil War wasn’t just about Gettysburg. Nearby towns like Fairfield, Pa., each played a part in the battle and the course of American history. Today, the tavern serves visitors nearly 255 years after it opened, their farm to table restaurant and Squire Miller’s Tavern serve up quality food, beverage, and service with unique takes on traditional favorites.
And last, but definitely not least, is the Gettysburg National Military Park, a big reason why millions of visitors travel from around the world to Gettysburg each year. These 6,000 hallowed acres of battle ground witnessed one of the biggest moments of our nation’s history as 170,000 soldiers clashed on this farmland surrounding the town of Gettysburg. Today, the 26 miles of roadway lead visitors past key locations such as Devil’s Den, Culp’s Hill, Little Round Top, and The Angle. The 1,300 monuments, markers and plaques are descriptive narratives of the three-day battle and the hundreds of cannons that surround the battlefield are reminders of the power of war.
For a complete list of historic sites, museums and other locations around the Gettysburg region, visit www.DestinationGettysburg.com.