Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Enjoy History and More in Gettysburg

By: Traci Kerns

(Traci Kerns is a full time History Teacher, part time world traveler, aficionado of delicious food and good living.)

A view from the summit of Little Round Top
          Since hosting the largest battle in the Western Hemisphere from July 1-3, 1863, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania has become a magnet for amateur historians and Civil War enthusiasts.  An easy drive from Washington DC, Baltimore, or Philadelphia, Gettysburg makes for an educational and enjoyable destination for singles, couples or families.  Obviously, the draw for most driving through the rolling hills and farmland that abut the town is the battlefield itself.  Unless you are a Civil War historian, to attempt to take in thevast battlefield on your own is overwhelming and futile (and no, simply reading “The Killer Angels” does not prepare you).  Instead, visit the National Park Service website and arrange to take a tour of Gettysburg National Military Park with a licensed battlefield guide. For a very reasonable price, an expert will accompany you in your car to tour the battlefield, explaining the intricacies and hidden stories of the battle as you go (allow two hours minimum).  I recommend completing a battlefield tour with the guide early on your
Devil's Den
first day and then revisiting particular sites on day two or later the same day.  Make sure that you leave time for the superb museum and cyclorama, and to watch “A New Birth of Freedom” which will especially help younger visitors appreciate the significance of their visit.  For the more adventurous, you can also bike or horseback ride through the park!  For a different type of historical experience, visit the Eisenhower National Historic Site, located adjacent to the battlefield (there is a bus available from the visitor’s center).  At nearly 700 acres, this was the home Eisenhower retired to
after his presidency – after seeing his view, you will understand why!

Door to Jenny Wade House
            In addition to your visit to the park, a ghost tour is a delightful distraction to add to your itinerary.  There are plenty to choose from along Steinwehr Avenue, which is also where you will find most of your tourist shopping.  A favorite stop for ghost tours is the Jennie Wade House, home of the only civilian killed during the battle, as she kneaded dough in her kitchen for her family and wounded soldiers.  Another interesting battle artifact can be found at Mr. G’s Ice Cream parlor.  Here, you can sit at a “witness tree” table made from a sycamore that stood along Baltimore Street, which President Lincoln passed on his way to deliver his famous address.  Outside of the shop are two additional living witness trees. 
Dobbin House Tavern
            The Gettysburg area also has a rich culinary heritage and its local provisions are well worth your time.  To enjoy some history with your victuals, the Dobbin House Tavern is my preferred choice.  Built in 1776, the romantic, cozy tavern area is a casual place to dine after an exhaustive outing to the battlefield – an Adam’s Delight and a glass of local wine will refuel you for the remainder of your day.  Make sure you take time to visit the springs that run under the house and peek into the six charming colonial era dining rooms.  Leave enough time to visit Reid’s Winery & Cider House CafĂ© and Hauser Winery on the main square as you stroll amongst the antique shops (be on the lookout for plaques on homes that tell the stories of inhabitants who witnessed the battle).

            With a variety of places to stay, from dreamy bed and breakfasts, large family hotels with pools and the elegant Gettysburg Hotel on the square, Gettysburg is a popular four- season destination and is definitely on my list to return to in the future.  It is a quaint location, perfect for spending time wandering the battlefield, imbibing local ciders or driving the surrounding countryside, dotted with covered bridges and breathtaking vistas across wooded hills.  Although the small town of Gettysburg is best known for the tragic battle that made it infamous, there is much more to this charming, bygone region that is worth seeking out.

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