From the Liberty Bell to Independence Hall, Philadelphia is known for its historic sites. But, just a few hours away is another locale that also played an integral role in our country’s evolution — and it offers travelers much more than a history lesson.
Gettysburg is just about 140 miles from Philly, making it a perfect weekend getaway. For a quick elementary-school refresher, Gettysburg is the site of the seminal 1863 battle that turned the tide of the Civil War, and resulted in the highest number of casualties of the entire war.
The town’s place in history is evident today; some houses you can tour still bear damage from the battle, and visitors can walk through the house where Jennie Wade, the only civilian killed during the battle, was shot.
The town’s gem is, of course, Gettysburg National Military Park. There are a number of options for touring the battlefields: by bus, foot, horseback, with a licensed guide or in your own vehicle (maps and CDs are available to assist with self-guided tours).
Even non-history buffs will likely find the battlefields enthralling: The preserved landscape lends itself well to the imagination, as you can almost envision the charging soldiers around you as you traverse the fields. Markers designate where each sector of troops fought, and monuments pay tribute to the victims. The battlefields provide a must-see glimpse into our country’s past.
That past comes alive at the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center, which screens the engaging “A New Birth of Freedom,” narrated by Morgan Freeman about the Battle of Gettysburg’s historic role. Also at the center, visitors can take in the Gettysburg Cyclorama, a fascinating panoramic painting, enhanced with three-dimensional landscapes and sound and lighting effects, that dates to the 1880s and whose creator worked with battle veterans for authenticity.
Historical accuracy is also on the menu at Dobbin House Tavern. Built in 1776, the former home of the Rev. Alexander Dobbin now houses two restaurants: the formal Alexander Dobbin Dining Rooms, featuring traditional colonial fare, and the more casual Springhouse Tavern, on the home’s lower floor. While the latter offers more modern dishes, including deli sandwiches, salads and steaks, the setting transports diners back hundreds of years — fireplaces warm the room, with candles on each heavy wooden table and staffers dressed in period clothes. Reservations are a must for the dining rooms and, while the restaurant’s popularity means there’s often a wait for a table in the tavern, visitors can spend the time in an expansive gift shop or touring an upper floor, where you can peek into the attic space used to hide slaves escaping along the Underground Railroad.
For accommodations, check out Country Inn & Suites. A Carlson property, the hotel is in an ideal location — a few-minutes’ drive from the battlefields and center of town, yet just far enough to be removed from the crowds and congestion (and right next to an outlet mall!). With an indoor pool, Jacuzzi, fitness center and extensive breakfast buffet, Country Inn offers modern luxury while you explore history.
While Gettysburg is a big draw for American-history aficionados, Bryan Johnson, the hotel’s openly gay general manager, said the town is also a haven of cultural offerings.
“There’s always the history; that’s a big portion of what we do here, but it’s not everything,” he said. “There’s great culinary experiences, festivals, antiques shops and art galleries downtown.”
While Central Pennsylvania is not always known for rolling out the LGBT welcome mat, Johnson, a Gettysburg native, noted that the town, long schooled in hospitality, is a welcoming and diverse locale.
“We have such a great community here, with the friendliest people,” he said. “As an LGBT person who lives here myself, I’ve had a wonderful, absolutely wonderful, experience. I’ve had several LGBT friends visit and they had that assumption, that it wouldn’t be welcoming because of where we are in the state, and they found it to be completely different, completely welcoming. LGBT travelers often visit big cities, but I think it’s near-sighted to overlook small towns like ours because we really have a lot to offer.”
For more information on Gettysburg, visit destinationgettysburg.com.