I currently live in DC, which makes Gettysburg a super convenient weekend trip. It’s less than a two-hour drive, so I really have no excuse not to visit!
Even though I grew up in Pittsburgh (also not too far from Gettysburg), I only recently visited Gettysburg for the first time. I’m so glad I finally made it! While America is considered young compared to most other countries, Gettysburg is so full of history that it makes you forget how short a time we have really been here.
The first thing I noticed about Gettysburg was the quaintness of the town. I love towns with character and old buildings that have been kept up over the years, rather than just torn down to build something new. It was really interesting to walk by and enter buildings that Abraham Lincoln had visited himself.
Fall is the perfect time of year to visit. Summers are hot and packed with tourists. Once the weather starts to cool off and kids are back in school, your experience will be a much more pleasant one. As we toured the town and the battlefields, there were still plenty of other travelers around, but not so many that it got irritating. However, all hotels and B&B’s were fully booked during a random October weekend, so we had to stay a little outside of town. Booking ahead is highly recommended so that you can stay in one of the many unique accommodations sprinkled throughout the town.
We were fortunate to experience perfect fall weather during our stay. The leaves were changing color, the air was crisp, and the sun was shining. I could not have asked for better conditions. We arrived late afternoon on Saturday and decided to walk around town for a bit prior to dinner. Throughout Gettysburg, you will find engraved plaques detailing the importance of the current spot you are standing on and what happened there during the civil war. You could spend hours, if not days, walking around and reading all of these fascinating pieces of history.
A friend recommended we have dinner at The Pub in the town square. It was packed and we had an hour to wait, but I’m so glad we did. The food was amazing! We had some buttery, garlicky soft pretzels as an appetizer that were out of this world. Our entrees came with beer battered fries, which were impossible to quit eating. And the French onion soup, well, I didn’t try it, but I hear it’s the best, and if I’m going by the quality of everything else I tried, I’d have to say that’s a safe bet.
After dinner, we went on a walking ghost tour. Due to the bloody history of the town, there are loads of ghost tours to choose from. We chose the two-hour tour that ended at a haunted orphanage. We started the tour outside of the orphanage, where we met our guide and learned about what we would see that evening. We began the tour by walking through town, where he pointed out important locations and told us their haunted history. We passed the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, where more than 3,500 Union soldiers lay to rest. He pointed out the oldest building in Gettysburg, the Dobbin House, built in 1776, which was home to the Reverend Alexander Dobbin, his wife, and 19 children, and which also served as a field hospital to both Union and Confederate soldiers. We walked by the Jennie Wade house, as the guide told us it was the site of the only civilian death during the Battle at Gettysburg, where Ms. Wade was killed with a shot through the walls while she was baking bread. We concluded the tour back at the orphanage. Once inside, we learned the sad, sadistic tale of the abuse these poor orphans endured and even got to tour the basement where the matron chained them to the walls. Several members of our group claimed to feel nauseous and lightheaded upon entering the supposedly haunted building. While I can’t validate their truthfulness, I did take a picture that appears to have caught an orb, so at least that’s something.
On Sunday, we began at the visitors’ center where we picked up the self-guided tour map and CD. There are many options for guided tours and bus tours, or there is the option to do a self-guided tour in your own vehicle with the CD providing commentary on the history of each stop along the way. Again, we had perfect weather as we drove among the battlefields and listened to our narrator detail the events that took place. The map indicates where you should stop along the route for significant events and to give you the opportunity to get out, walk around, and take photos. There are even several stops that have observation decks you can climb in order to get a better view. Since the self-guided tour is at your own pace, we decided to break it up and save the rest for our next trip.
We stopped for lunch at the tavern in the Dobbin House that we saw on the walking ghost tour the night before. The dining area was really cozy and lit all by candlelight. All the servers wore period clothing and the menu was limited to what would have been served during the 19th century. After lunch, we stopped for some homemade ice cream at a little shop down the road called Sunset Ice Cream Parlor. We got our cones and strolled across the street to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery where Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. This cemetery holds not only the graves of those from the civil war, but also graves of those from the wars that came after, such as World Wars I and II, Vietnam, and Korea.
It was a short trip, but we managed to see and do a lot. I look forward to my next trip, and learning more about this historic town. If you’re interested in American history and visiting this fantastic travel spot, let us know, we’d love to plan your trip for you!