Historic. There’s really no other way to describe Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Except quaint, friendly, accommodating, and, most importantly, nearby. Hanoverians have the unique opportunity to travel just 14 miles on Route 116 to experience what over four million visitors travel from across the country and beyond to enjoy each year: a glimpse into our nation’s history.
With just over 5,000 permanent residents and a flourishing student population on the Gettysburg College campus, it takes a community effort to sustain the tourist industry, which makes an important contribution to maintaining Gettysburg as a premier historical destination.
Visitors from near and far may be surprised when they see that while the town pays reverence to its significance in the Civil War, it remains a current and lively town.
“There is a living history to this town,” explained newly installed Mayor Theodore Streeter. “We wouldn’t be a place on the map if not for the battle; residents find this an exciting little place to live.”
It takes a unified and cooperative effort in order to provide the best experience for visitors, no matter which aspect of the town they take part in. With knowledgeable tour guides, easy transportation options, and extensive pedestrian accessibility, a day trip to Gettysburg is stress-free and worthwhile, providing history without the hassle.
Mark Nesbitt was no stranger to the history of Gettysburg and working with visitors: he had once served as both a Park Ranger and Battlefield Guide. However, in 1994, after publishing his first book Ghosts of Gettysburg three years earlier, Nesbitt was presented with another opportunity to entertain and educate tourists. With that, the Ghosts of Gettysburg Candlelight Walking Tours was born, the first ghost walk tour in town.
Since its origin, the tours have been featured on several national television programs, helping to give Gettysburg more national exposure. Nesbitt personally worked with teams from Ghost Hunters, Mysterious Journeys from The Travel Channel, and the History Channel, among others.
“We always relate the ghost story to the history of the haunted site. I’ve always thought without the history – the reason why there is a ghost associated with it – the ghost story rings kind of hollow,” explained Nesbitt. “Besides it’s an easy way to remember the history of Gettysburg: through the folklore.”
Located on Baltimore Street, the tours began as a way to attract visitors to the downtown area at night besides dining and shopping. Nesbitt’s tours are now joined by 12 other registered ghost tour businesses in town, according to Mayor Streeter.
Tour guides combine a mix of storytelling, history, and interactive skills to create an engaging environment throughout the excursion, complete with Civil War era garb. With over 10 tour guides and three tours to choose from, visitors encounter a unique experience in the downtown area.
“Customer’s often see many parts of Gettysburg they may not have seen before. We have a beautifully restored downtown area with more remaining buildings from the battle than they have on the National Park,” added Nesbitt. “And the Gettysburg College Campus is truly one of the most beautiful parts of town with some great architecture.”
While hotel chains certainly are dominant in the area, inns and bed and breakfasts provide an alternate and more authentic and comfortable option for visitors looking to extend their stay.
As inn keepers of the historic Brafferton Inn, the Hodges family understands what it means to be part of a living history. The inn yields the distinction of the oldest deeded house in Gettysburg as well as the oldest continual residence. This blend of historic charm and contemporary magnetism is what attracted the Hodges to purchase the Inn in 2005.
“When I retired 13 years ago, my son and business partner set out to find a bed and breakfast. We wanted to find a destination area, therefore Gettysburg was perfect,” said Joan Hodges, who runs the Inn with her son, Brian and his wife AmyBeth.
The main commitment of the inn keepers is not only to preserve the antiquity of the home, but also provide a memorable and relaxed experience for visitors.
Located just a block from center square, the Inn is nestled in the bustling atmosphere of the downtown area, and within walking distance to shopping, dining, and other historic sites.
A unique design encompasses each of the 17 rooms, including 9 suites. Brian Hodges’ experience in the restaurant business allows the Brafferton Inn to provide a home-style and sought-after breakfast at 3 different times in the morning.
Much like the guests, Joan explained that she and her family “enjoy the ambiance and history of Gettysburg.”
While the downtown area boasts numerous businesses and restaurants, the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center is located just outside of town, and is a can’t-miss destination for most visitors.
The expanse of the Visitor Center surprises most tourists as it blends seamlessly with the battlefield flanking its outskirts. Built in 2008 and run by the Gettysburg Foundation, the goal for the Visitor Center was to provide a stable home for the National Military Park’s Civil War artifacts, while serving as a central location for visitors to learn about the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War allows visitors to understand each pain-staking day in the Battle as well as see its integral place in American history. The 11 galleries provide interactive exhibits, visual “stations,” and short videos centered on the three-day Battle of Gettysburg.
The Visitor Center is also home to the exclusive showing of the film A New Birth of Freedom, sponsored by the History Channel, which details the importance of the events that occurred during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Likely one of the most unique and inspiring aspects of the Visitor Center is the famed Battle of Gettysburg Cyclorama painting. Painted in the 1880’s by French artist Paul Philippoteaux, the expanse of the piece measures “longer than a football field and as tall as a four-story structure” and allows visitors to view the Battle, particularly Pickett’s Charge, in an unparalleled way.
No tourist experience would be complete without souvenirs – the Visitor Center houses an extensive Museum Bookstore where literature, souvenirs, and historical memorabilia can be purchased.
Visitors can tour the Battlefield via a Licensed Battlefield Guide or through a self-guided tour, with the official audio CD or by simply following the Official Map and Guide.
Anyone who visits Gettysburg can appreciate the authenticity and pride of the place and its people.
“I like to think most people who come to Gettysburg feel it as much as they see it,” concluded Nesbitt.
Whether visiting for just the day or a longer stay, the Gettysburg experience has the unique ability to help visitors cultivate an unwavering appreciation of the past, even if they live just miles down the road.