Unique, Detailed View of History at Best Gettysburg Historic Attractions
By Tawanna Browne Smith
Family Travel Expert
An Attraction that lifts history off the page and leaves you walking away with more in depth knowledge and a different perspective on history is an attraction that's done its job. The truth of the matter is that there are some attractions that do a better job than others.
However, when you visit a destination like Gettysburg, where the town itself is an attraction, it's hard not to get it right. Many buildings date back to the late 18th century with the Dobbin House Tavern being the oldest, built in 1776. Re-purposed as inns, restaurants, museums and the like, Gettysburg's historic sites are functional properties and not just relics of the past.
Even if you were never a fan of your history school lessons, you'll walk away with a different appreciation for Gettysburg. There's something to be said about walking the hallowed ground of the Battlefield; or taking a tour of orchards and fields via horseback or Segway; or visiting a reenactment tent site; or stepping into the home where Lincoln slept before his Address; or looking at the bullet holes in the door of the only civilian casualty in Gettysburg. These and other experiences will leave an impression on you. You may even walk away a bigger fan of history. Whatever your goal in visiting Gettysburg's historic attractions, you won't leave town unaffected.
Seminary Ridge Museum
Seminary Ridge Museum is the newest addition to Gettysburg, just in time for the 150th anniversary of the Battle. The first day of the battle took place on Seminary Ridge. Once, the "Old Dorm" of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, the building is famously known as the perch where Union Gen. John Buford stood on July 1, 1863 to watch Confederates amass west of Gettysburg. At the museum, you can experience this first day, learn about how the wounded were cared for in the Seminary field hospital, and dig into deeper issues of faith and freedom. (717-339-1300)
David Wills House
The David Wills House is one of the three stops that President Abraham Lincoln made when he came to town to deliver his Gettysburg address. Wills was a successful local attorney who was adept at real estate. When Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin saw what had been left of the bodies after the battle, he commissioned Wills to find land to bury the dead. Wills hosted Lincoln in one of his upstairs rooms, the evening before he delivered the address. Today, the house exhibits Lincoln's visit to town, the creation of the Soldier's National Cemetery and the Gettysburg Address. (877-874-2478)
Eisenhower National Historic Site
Eisenhower led the Allies to victory in World War II as an army general and then the country through the Cold War. After all the traveling around the world that General Eisenhower did, he chose Gettysburg to be his retirement home. The 230-acre Gettysburg farm served as the Eisenhower's weekend retreat during his Presidency and his retirement home thereafter. The President hosted many important world leaders in this informal setting, where he practiced his one-to-one diplomacy. Many of the home's original furnishings and the family's personal things remain and include several of the President's own paintings. It provides a unique and intimate glimpse into the life of a popular president and five star general. Self-guided walks and house tours are available. (717-338-9114)
General Lee's Headquarters Museum
At the time of the Civil War, this picturesque, duplex-style house was the home of the Widow Thompson, her daughter-in-law, and her two small children. In July 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee established his personal headquarters here and shared occupancy with the family. Lee's staff chose this stone house for its thick walls and its close proximity to the center of the Confederate line. This is where they planned their campaign. The museum houses original Civil War artifacts and relics, on showcase. There's also a gift store to remember your visit and take home a little Civil War history with you. (717-334-3141)
As horrifying as it must have been to be one of the 150,000 soldiers who marched into Gettysburg during the summer of 1863, it was equally terrifying to the more than 2,000 civilians who witnessed the devastation. George Shriver was away fighting with Cole's Calvary. He left behind his wife Hettie Shriver and their two daughters. Confederate sharpshooters nested themselves in the attic of the Shriver's home. The Shriver House, which has been restored to its mid-19th century appearance, memorializes one family's experiences and offers visitors the chance to understand how the Battle of Gettysburg affected the lives of civilians. (717-337-2800)
The Soldiers' National Cemetery - Gettysburg National Cemetery
Soldier's National Cemetery was designed by William Saunders, the same architect of Washington, D.C. - it's arch like design being his signature. Local attorney David Willis was commissioned to find land in Gettysburg in the aftermath of the Battle, to find and buy land to be used for a proper burial ground for Union dead. Within four months of the battle, bodies were reinterred on the 17 acres that became the National Cemetery. Dedicated on November 19, 1863, it was this ceremony that brought Abraham Lincoln to Gettysburg to give his now famous Gettysburg address. The cemetery wasn't completed in time for the dedication but within a few years over 3500 Union soldiers who had been killed in the battle were reinterred to this final resting place. (717-334-1124)
Sachs Mill Bridge
The Sachs Covered Bridge is located off Pumping Station Road. The bridge was constructed in 1852 and is an excellent example of town-lattice truss construction. It was used by both Union and Confederate troops during the Battle of Gettysburg. And luckily for the town, it wasn't hostaged and destroyed, which is what happened in so many other battles. Today, visitors can walk across the lattice bridge which spans 100 feet in length. The bridge is only one of the sites that can be viewed on the 36-mile, self-guided Scenic Valley Tour. It is one of few covered bridges left in the countryside. (717-334-6274, 800-337-5015)
Gettysburg Battlefield Tours
Tour the historic Gettysburg Battlefield aboard an open-air, double-decker bus. Gettysburg Battlefield Tours give you an opportunity to sit back, relax, and let someone else do the talking and driving. On your tour, you will be provided with with an electric headset guide, complete with battle sound effects, as you drive along the Battlefield. When the weather is nice, you can enjoy the open-air double decker buses, which are seasonal. If it's too warm for you, there are also air-conditioned buses. Interpretive tours are presented by licensed National Park Service guides who have extensive knowledge on the Battle and the area that you'll be covering. (717-334-6296, 877-680-8687)
Jennie Wade House
Jennie Wade was the only Gettysburg civilian casualty during the Battle of Gettysburg. Today, aside from minor changes and repairs, this historic home and its furnishings remain in virtually the same condition as when Jennie met her death. It gives a unique perspective of what life was like when the war came to town. The kitchen door even bears the scars of the bullet that killed her. The house is like a shrine to 20 year old Jennie Wade. You can tour the home with a guide dressed in period attire who will take you back to the day when Jennie Wade met her death. Next door you'll find related gifts and souvenirs. (717-334-4100)
Gettysburg National Military Park
The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most definitive of the Civil War, and this massive park serves as a memorial to the battle's significance in American history. The park surrounds the town, encompassing almost 6,000 acres and 35 miles of roads. Hundreds of monuments, markers, and memorials, along with three observation towers, are located on the battlefield. Observe the sites on your own, join a guided interpretive walk, or enjoy an auto tape tour of the park. Because the National Military Park preserves the more than 6,000 acres of farms, trees, hills, orchards, and woods that were present during the Civil War, the landscape looks much the same as it did in 1863. (717-334-1124-422)
About Tawanna Browne Smith
Tawanna has had a wanderlust spirit since she was 13. A dozen or so addresses later, she now resides in Maryland with her husband and two sons. Tawanna is the founder and creator of Mom's Guide To Travel, a family travel blog. She's also a contributor to the Travel Channel. If she's not traveling somewhere out of state, she's either shopping or searching for the best crabcake or the best cupcake in the Baltimore-Washington area.
Read more about Tawanna Browne Smith here.