Tour America's Treasures


An invitation to tour America's historical sites...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On Hiatus


Illustration by Gustave Dore for
Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven."
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
(Cross-posted in 21 Essays…)

With apologies for the unexplained radio silence, I’ve been enjoying a temporary hiatus from both my blogs, Tour America’s History and 21 Essays.

During this dormant period, I’ve been devoting much of my free time to one more rewrite on The Poem Beasts, the young adult fantasy novel that my son and I wrote several years ago. A year ago, I published several poems from the novel on 21 Essays where they’ve received a fair amount of attention and praise. My goal is to have the next draft of The Poem Beasts completed by the end of January 2014.

I hope to return to regular posting of a restructured Tour America’s History in March. At that time, I anticipate making some significant changes to the blog in order to accomplish the original goal:  to cover more than 1,300 sites in six years. At the current rate of publication, it would be more like sixty years…

After Tour America’s History returns to steady production, I’ll turn my attention to reviving 21 Essays.

© 2013 Lee Price

Thursday, August 15, 2013

State Library of Pennsylvania: General Assembly Collection



View State Library of Pennsylvania in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Pennsylvania page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

After treatment:  The Statutes at Large, a law book from the Pennsylvania
General Assembly Collection at the State Library of Pennsylvania.
.Photo courtesy of the State Library of Pennsylvania.

State Library of Pennsylvania:  General Assembly Collection
Forum Building
607 South Drive
Harrisburg, PA


The Treasure:  The Pennsylvania General Assembly Collection was the Independence Hall law library readily available to the Founding Fathers when they were writing both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

Accessibility:  The State Library of Pennsylvania is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 9:30 to 5 and the second Saturday of each month from 9:30 to 4:30. For information on the rare collections of the State Library of Pennsylvania, including the General Assembly Collection, check the contact information on the Rare Collections Library page.

Background:  You’d think it would be the most famous library in America. If embellished by a few quasi-historical anecdotes, the Pennsylvania General Assembly Collection might have had the potential to be the library equivalent of Betsy Ross’s flag, the Liberty Bell, or Boston’s Old North Church.

Before treatment:  The Statutes at Large
(same book as shown above).
Photo courtesy of the
State Library of Pennsylvania.
Instead, the Pennsylvania General Assembly Collection—the law library at Independence Hall at the time when the Declaration of Independence AND the U.S. Constitution were drafted and signed—became an inexplicable casualty of historic memory. Somehow, it quietly slipped out of recorded history after its move from Philadelphia to Harrisburg in the early years of the 19th century.

Yes, the resource library available to the Founding Fathers as they debated and wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the U.S. Constitution in 1787 was simply forgotten.

In the mid-1740s, Benjamin Franklin and Isaac Norris, II, spearheaded the drive to establish the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s library and make it one of the finest in the colonies. In his role as Clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly, Franklin purchased the core books of the Assembly library from William Strahan, a London bookseller. He selected these books to serve as a practical law library for statesmen, covering the breadth of English and international law.  Franklin and Norris then chose to round out the collection with additional volumes on philosophy, art, architecture, and the natural sciences. Today, these 420 books offer remarkable insight into the worldview of a Colonial statesman.

English law and philosophy forged the men who served in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the Second Continental Congress, and the Constitutional Convention. The volumes of the General Assembly Collection—the works of John Locke, the Statutes at Large, and the works of Coke, Puffendorf, De Vatell, Grotius, and many of the other great European legal authorities—represent the legal universe that gave shape and legal credibility to the revolutionary documents of that time.

In summer 1776, the General Assembly Collection was maintained in the Library and Committee Room of the State Assembly Building, now commonly known as Independence Hall. Access to the Library and Committee Room was through the back door of the main Assembly Chamber. The books were readily available for reference.  Appropriately, the library prominently contained not just law, but the works of John Locke, whose influence permeates the Declaration, inspiring the immortal phrase, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Conservation Center for Art and Historic
Artifacts book conservator Jim Hinz lays
down Japanese paper mends on the interior
of a front board.  Photo courtesy of the
State Library of Pennsylvania.
Eleven years later, the Constitutional Convention met in secret at the State Assembly Building to draft a new set of laws to govern the young nation. Once again, the General Assembly Collection served as a readily available resource library to the assembled statesmen. Edmund Randolph wrote the first draft of the Constitution, which was then rewritten by James Wilson of Pennsylvania, and polished by a committee of Alexander Hamilton of New York, William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, Rufus King of Massachusetts, James Madison of Virginia, and Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania.

For most of the past 200 years, the General Assembly Collection has been sadly neglected, even narrowly escaping destruction by fire in 1897. The volumes eventually became scattered among various historic sites and among the general collection of the State Library of Pennsylvania. In the 1950s and 1960s, leadership at both Independence National Historical Park and the State Library of Pennsylvania realized the importance of the collection and began the task of re-establishing it as an intact colonial library. Between 1986 and 1991, Rare Books Librarian Barbara Deibler painstakingly gathered the General Assembly Collection into one place again.

Today, the General Assembly Collection is the centerpiece of a beautiful state-of-the-art Rare Book Room at the State Library building. Funding from Save America’s Treasures contributed to the conservation treatment of the volumes, as conservators from the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts addressed issues of rotted leather bindings, detached boards, broken hinges, loss of covering materials, and overzealous oiling.

The Rare Collections Library Reading Room
at the State Library of Pennsylvania.
Photo courtesy of the State Library of Pennsylvania.

The Forum Building, home of the State Library of Pennsylvania.
Photo courtesy of the State Library of Pennsylvania.

Notes from the Editor:  The above background information is adapted (with permission!) from a newsletter article that I wrote in 2007 for my workplace, the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts. For this particular project, I assisted with the writing of the original grant request. After funding was released, our team of book conservators was honored to work on this truly important project.

I still think the General Assembly Collection is one of the least appreciated of America’s great treasures. Here’s my original conclusion to the newsletter article:

The General Assembly Collection has the potential to offer unparalleled insight into the legal and philosophical thought that sparked the American experiment.  As the Collection becomes better known to both scholars and historians, it may yield new understanding about the currents that shaped the founding of a nation.

Note to scholars and historians: Get to work!

A conservator at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts
repairs the shoulder of the textblock of one of the volumes in the
Pennsylvania General Assembly Collection.
Photo courtesy of the State Library of Pennsylvania.

Other Recommended Sites:  The State Museum of Pennsylvania is located just three blocks from the Forum Building. The collections include over 4 million objects and its museum exhibitions cover all aspects of the state’s history, including its pivotal role in the nation’s political history and its industrial contributions, as well as outstanding Civil War exhibits.

Volumes of the Pennsylvania General Assembly Collection in
vault storage at the State Library of Pennsylvania.
Photo courtesy of the State Library of Pennsylvania.

© 2013 Lee Price


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fort Mifflin



View Fort Mifflin in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Pennsylvania page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

The Commandant's House at Fort Mifflin, built in the 1790s to serve as a citadel or
'fort within a fort' -- the place of last retreat.  Save America's Treasures funding
was used to stabilize the walls and install new rafters, roof, and cupola.
Photo courtesy of Fort Mifflin on the Delaware.

Fort Mifflin
Fort Mifflin and Hog Island Roads
Philadelphia, PA

Website:  Fort Mifflin

The Treasure:  Fort Mifflin became known as the “Valiant Defender of the Delaware” because of the courageous stand made here by a relatively small force of Pennsylvania militiamen in the fall of 1777.

Accessibility:  Fort Mifflin is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday from 10 to 4 from March 1 through mid-December.  Check the website for an extensive calendar of public living history events.

An 18th century Hessian map showing
Mud Island and Fort Mercer in 1777.
From the collection
of the Marburg State Library.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons
Background:  Once located on Mud Island, near the confluence of the Delaware and the Schuylkill Rivers, Fort Mifflin is part of the mainland today. Hog Island Road can take you to Fort Mifflin, but Hog Island is part of the mainland, too. Over the past two centuries, this portion of the Delaware River has been filled in, primarily now serving as home to Philadelphia International Airport. But despite the presence of planes flying low overhead, Fort Mifflin exerts its own strong presence today, evoking the feel of military life in the 18th and 19th centuries.

For its critical role in the Revolutionary War, Fort Mifflin deserves its own version of Rudyard Kipling’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.” Honoring heroism in the face of certain defeat, Kipling’s poem even has appropriate imagery to describe the siege of Fort Mifflin: “Cannon to right of them, / Cannon to left of them, / Cannon behind them / Volley’d & thunder’d.”

When the British troops under General William Howe occupied Philadelphia in September 1777, the General’s attention focused upon George Washington and his Continental Army located a short distance west of the city. Howe believed that he could defeat Washington if he could provide his own troops with appropriate supplies. But the supplies would have to be brought in by ships sailing up the Delaware River, passing Mud Island—and its Mud Island Fort (named Fort Mifflin two decades later)—en route.

The Pennsylvania militiamen at Fort Mifflin were determined to keep the supplies from General Howe and his troops. They set up an underwater line of chevaux-de-frise, logs tipped with fierce iron spikes, capable of ripping lethal gouges into the hulls of passing ships. The British fought back with cannon bombardments of the Mud Island Fort, but the rebels showed themselves capable of withstanding the punishment. At night, they repaired any damage inflicted to the walls of the fort.

A Revolutionary War reenactment at Fort Mifflin.
Photo courtesy of Fort Mifflin on the Delaware.
After a month-and-a-half-long stalemate, the British massed their full strength against the fort. On November 15, 1777, they brought in more than 200 additional cannons, dramatically increasing the fury of the assault. Spectacularly outnumbered, the fort on Mud Island had about a tenth that number of cannons with which to respond. By the end of a day of massive bombardment, approximately 250 Colonial soldiers lay dead or wounded. That night, the survivors set fire to the fort and retreated across the Delaware River to their allies at Fort Mercer in Red Bank, New Jersey.

By holding out for so long against the British, the militiamen at the Mud Island Fort bought George Washington needed time to establish winter quarters for his troops at Valley Forge. The fort itself, largely destroyed by fire and cannon, passed into legend as the “Valiant Defender of the Delaware.”

The fort was rebuilt in the 1790s, at which time it was officially named after Thomas Mifflin. Its long-standing military history subsequently encompasses service in the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World War II. Today, it continues to serve as an active base for the United States Army Corps of Engineers—making it the only currently active base that dates back to before the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Overhead view of Fort Mifflin.
Photo courtesy of Fort Mifflin on the Delaware.

Notes from the Editor:  Not every one comes to Fort Mifflin for the history. Some come for the ghosts.

Other Recommended Sites:  Across the river in New Jersey, you can visit Red Bank Battlefield Park, the site of Fort Mercer, where the Pennsylvania militiamen retreated after the siege of Fort Mifflin. At Red Bank, the 18th century James and Ann Whitall House is sometimes open for tours (and the parkland along the Delaware is a wonderful place to fly a kite).

Sunset at Fort Mifflin.
Photo courtesy of Fort Mifflin on the Delaware.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Thursday:  State Library of Pennsylvania

© 2013 Lee Price


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Johnstown Flood National Memorial



View Johnstown Flood National Memorial in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Pennsylvania page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.


The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a summer resort clubhouse that
flourished in the decade preceding the Johnstown Flood. The South Fork Club owned
the dam and reservoir that collapsed in May 1889 causing the catastrophic flood.
Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.

Johnstown Flood National Memorial
733 Lake Road
South Fork, PA



The Treasure:  Located on the shore of a giant reservoir called Lake Conemaugh, the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was witness to unimaginable tragedy on May 31, 1889, when the dam broke unleashing a catastrophic flood.

Accessibility:  The park grounds of the Johnstown Flood National Memorial are open daily from sunrise to sunset, and the Visitor Center is open from 9 to 5. During current restabilization work, the interior of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club will only be accessible on special tours.

A scene of the flood's aftermath.
From the Robert N. Dennis Collection
of Stereoscopic Views at the
New York Public Library.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons
Background:  As with modern instances of catastrophic tragedy, like the September 11 terrorist attacks, the large story of the Johnstown Flood encompasses thousands of smaller stories, each grounded in individual lives that were instantly and irrevocably changed. When the dam collapsed, it unleashed 20 million tons of water that burst through a series of small towns before smashing into the City of Johnstown. In just under an hour, the water swept down a narrow 14-mile path, picking up trees, remnants of buildings, debris of all sorts, animals, and people, sometimes rising to a height of 60 feet. In the words of one witness, it looked like “a huge hill rolling over and over.”

The death toll exceeded 2,200.  Photographs taken later, during the rescue operations, depict the small villages of South Fork, Mineral Point, East Conemaugh, and Woodvale and the city of Johnstown smashed to pieces.

Stereoscopic view showing the desolation in front of Johnstown's Stone Bridge.
From the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views at the
New York Public Library.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Debris on Main Street in Johnstown.
From the Robert N. Dennis Collection
of Stereoscopic Views at the
New York Public Library.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons
The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club played a controversial role in the flood. Unlike the working class environment of Johnstown, the South Fork Club was a rustic getaway location for some of the country’s wealthiest industrialists. Andrew Mellon, Henry Frick, and Andrew Carnegie were among the members who enjoyed waterfront access to the giant reservoir called Lake Conemaugh, up in a mountain summer resort 450 feet above Johnstown. The Club owned the dam and, notoriously, did little to maintain it.

To their credit, leaders at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club saw potential disaster unfolding in the torrential rain that preceded the dam collapse. In the hours before the dam gave way, Club president Elias Unger and resident engineer John Parke strove to save the dam and warn people in danger’s way. But it was too little too late. Parke saw the water break through:  “(T)he fearful rushing waters opened the gap with such increasing rapidity that soon after the entire lake leaped out… It took but forty minutes to drain that three miles of water.”

Stereoscopic view of the nearly-emptied reservoir following the flood.
From the Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views at the
New York Public Library.  Source:  Wikimedia Commons.

Other Recommended Sites:  Another site connected with profound national trauma is located less than an hour’s drive from the Johnstown Flood National Memorial. Flight 93 National Memorial is located 37 miles south of the park. The site commemorates the heroic actions of the passengers and crew that brought down United Airlines Flight 93, crashing it into an empty field two miles north of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, in order to foil the plans of terrorists on board.


Wealthy members of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club would vacation
in cottages along Lake Conemaugh.  This cottage has been restored to reflect
its appearance in the days before the flood.
  Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.

Stabilization work in progress at the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club.
Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Wednesday:  Fort Mifflin

© 2013 Lee Price


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fallingwater



View Fallingwater in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Pennsylvania page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

Fallingwater.
Photo courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

Fallingwater
1491 Mill Run Road
Mill Run, PA

Website:  Fallingwater

The Treasure:  A Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece, Fallingwater is his iconic house on the waterfall—a sublime embodiment of Wright’s belief in “organic architecture.”

Accessibility: Advance ticket purchase is essential for all tours at Fallingwater. From April through November, the site is open daily (except Wednesday). Check the website for limited hours in March and December. The house is closed for tours in January and February, although Grounds Passes may be available, weather permitting.

First view of Fallingwater from the trail.
Photo by Lisa Price, courtesy of
Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
Background:  Fallingwater is nestled deep within a tranquil Appalachian oak forest. The beauty of the wilderness is enhanced by the Bear Run stream that cascades over ledges of Pottsville sandstone, creating picturesque waterfalls. As you approach, you can hear the falling water before you see the house. Fallingwater is a multi-sensory experience.

The wealthy owner of Kaufmann’s Department Store in Pittsburgh, Edgar Kaufmann (1885-1955) and his wife Liliane (1889-1952) were attracted to this rustic getaway, located in the mountains southeast of Pittsburgh, for its beauty and cool mountain air. In 1916, they altruistically fashioned the property as a weekend retreat, first offering it to their female employees and later extending the invitation to the men as well. At the Kaufmann’s summer camp, the air was clean, the pace was relaxed, and there were opportunities for hiking, swimming, fishing, and horseback riding.

In the 1930s, with the Great Depression severely decreasing use of the retreat by his employees, Kaufmann began to consider other uses for the property. Dedicated to early principles of land conservation, he was committed to keeping the primal Appalachian splendor of the land intact. But he was open to new aesthetic ideas, too. His son, Edgar Kaufmann jr., introduced his father to architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s revolutionary ideas. Wright’s concept of “organic architecture,” harnessing local materials to create modern buildings in harmony with the natural landscape, deeply appealed to Kaufmann. In 1934, he commissioned Wright to build his family a weekend vacation house showcasing the view of a particularly beautiful thirty-foot waterfall.

Kaufman pictured his new house facing the waterfall, so Wright’s proposal came as a surprise: he placed the house immediately above the falls, with decks cantilevered from a rock ledge and the stream’s water perpetually falling underneath the residence. In Wright’s vision, the house wouldn’t be a place for viewing a beautiful scene—it would be an essential new component of the beautiful scene. To their credit, the Kaufmanns thoughtfully considered and then embraced Wright’s approach. Both in its interior and its exterior, Fallingwater was conceived as a part of its environment.

When the main house was completed in 1937, Fallingwater was swiftly promoted to fame by a January 1938 Time cover story. Then 70 years old, Wright capitalized on his renewed fame with vigor and imagination—there were more astonishing masterpieces in him, including New York City’s famous Guggenheim Museum.

Reflecting on his work at Fallingwater, Wright later said:

“Fallingwater is a great blessing—one of the great blessings to be experienced here on earth. I think nothing yet ever equaled the coordination, sympathetic expression of the great principle of repose where forest and steam and rock and all the elements of structure are combined so quietly that really you listen not to any noise whatsoever although the music of the stream is there. But you listen to Fallingwater the way you listen to the quiet of the country…”
Frank Lloyd Wright
Talk to the Taliesin Fellowship
May 1, 1955


Interior view of the Hatch looking toward the west terrace.
Photo by Robert P. Ruschak,
courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

Notes from the Editor:  Fallingwater was the grand conclusion of my family’s Chicago vacation a couple of years ago. First, we visited the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park and enjoyed their walking tour of Wright-designed buildings in the area, including Unity Temple. Then on our trip back to New Jersey, we spent a lovely day at Fallingwater.

The editor at Fallingwater.  Photo by Lisa Price,
courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

Other Recommended Sites:  There’s another acclaimed Frank Lloyd Wright building less than seven miles from Fallingwater. One of the last residential homes to be completed by Wright, Kentuck Knob complements Wright’s earlier work at Fallingwater. Perched near the summit of a 2,050-foot mountain, it simultaneously celebrates and blends into the landscape of Pennsylvania’s beautiful Laurel Highlands.

View of the living room at Fallingwater, looking south.
Photo by Robert P. Ruschak, courtesy of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

Tour America's History Itinerary

Thursday:  Johnstown Flood National Memorial

© 2013 Lee Price

Friday, July 12, 2013

Moland House Historic Park



View Moland House Historic Park in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Pennsylvania page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

Moland House in Moland House Historic Park, Warwick Township.
Photo courtesy of the Warwick Township Historical Society.

Moland House Historic Park
1641 Old York Road
Hartsville, PA


The Treasure:  Moland House served as the administrative headquarters for George Washington and other Continental Army leaders during the 13-day Neshaminy Encampment in August 1777.

Accessibility:  The twelve-acre park is open during daylight hours year round. Guided tours of Moland House are available from 1 to 4 on the second Sunday of every month and additionally on the fourth Sunday from 1 to 4 between April and October.

Background:  The Continental Army arrived in Warwick Township, at the intersection of York and Bristol Roads in Bucks County, on August 10, 1777. There were probably no more than 500 people living in the township at the time, but it was a settled area with a church, a tavern, a mill, and ready access to fresh water thanks to the Neshaminy Creek. The local residents, primarily Scotch-Irish, were natural supporters of the struggle for independence.

The Council-of-War Room at Moland House.
Photo courtesy of the Warwick Township Historical Society.
In one day, approximately 11,000 Continental and militia soldiers arrived in town, swelling the population by more than 2,000%.  The troops came from Morristown, New Jersey, where they had been keeping tabs on the British troops in New York under the leadership of General William Howe. When Howe’s troops sailed south, Washington and the Continental Army followed by land, unsure of where the British troops would choose to strike next. They took a holding position north of Philadelphia, waiting to hear if an attack on the city was imminent. Warwick Township was identified as a discreet location to await solid information.

Washington and his staff moved into Moland House, almost certainly the finest residence in the area. A substantial stone farmhouse, Moland House was built by John Moland in the mid-1700s. John Moland was a well-respected lawyer who appears to have worked in both Philadelphia and Bucks County. He died in 1761, leaving a widow and five children. While it would have been inconvenient to have her house at the center of all the military activity, Catherine Moland probably appreciated any reimbursements that Washington provided (records exist showing settled bills for food and furniture, as well as a final cleaning of her kitchen).

The Neshaminy Encampment, as it is known, came between the Crossing of the Delaware and Battle of New York in late 1776 and the looming Battle of Germantown in October (followed by the famous winter encampment at Valley Forge). Nine days into the 13-day Neshaminy Encampment, the Marquis de Lafayette arrived on the scene and joined the leaders of the Continental Army in their deliberations at Moland House. According to legend (and no facts appear to contradict it), Betsy Ross’ “Stars and Stripes” flag may have been unfurled for the first time as the troops left Warwick Township on August 23, heading down York Road toward Philadelphia.

Today, the Warwick Township Historical Society manages the historic home and surrounding park for Warwick Township. They host frequent special events and annual reenactments of the Neshaminy Encampment, as well as guided tours of the historic house.

As seen here, Moland House fell on hard times in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.
In 1996, Warwick Township received ownership of the abandoned house.  The
following year, they entered into a management agreement with the Warwick
Township Historical Society to restore, maintain, and operate the property.
Photo courtesy of the Warwick Township Historical Society.

In 2002, Save America's Treasures contributed funding to
support the restoration of the historic Moland House.
Photo courtesy of the Warwick Township Historical Society.

Other Recommended Sites:  In nearby Warminster, you can visit Historic Craven Hall, a stately Federal/Greek Revival Home. The grounds of Craven Hall also host the John Fitch Steamboat Museum which celebrates Fitch’s invention of the first commercial steamboat, which made its maiden trips on the Delaware River in the summer of 1790.

George Washington's office during the Neshaminy Encampment at Moland House.
Photo courtesy of the Warwick Township Historical Society.

Tour America's Treasures Itinerary
Thursday:  Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

© 2013 Lee Price


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Gettysburg National Military Park



View Gettysburg National Military Park in a larger map

Visit our Tour Destination: Pennsylvania page to see the entire tour of the state’s Save America’s Treasures sites.

Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center.
Photo courtesy of Gettysburg National Military Park.

Gettysburg National Military Park
Museum and Visitor Center
1195 Baltimore Pike (Route 97)
Gettysburg, PA


Gettysburg  (site of the Gettysburg Foundation)

The Treasure:  The Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center preserves approximately 300,000 artifacts and 700,000 archival documents that bear witness to the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg, and a century-and-a-half of reflections and commemorations. 

Accessibility:  The park is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. from April through October and from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. from November through March.  The Museum and Visitor Center is open daily from 8 to 6 from April through October and 8 to 5 from November through March.

Background:  “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”
Abraham Lincoln
The Gettysburg Address
delivered on November 19, 1863

Ranger program at Devil's Den.
Photo courtesy of Gettysburg National Military Park.
Lincoln went on to say that the ground of Gettysburg was hallowed not by his words but by the men who fought here. Strolling through the nearly 6,000-acre park today, perhaps on one of the informative ranger guided programs, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine war visiting this now-bucolic landscape of fields, pastures, orchards, and woodlots. People come here to reflect upon a turning point in the country’s history, a nation’s destiny pivoting upon the single bloodiest battle ever fought on American soil. With Confederate troops under the leadership of General Robert E. Lee and Army of the Potomac troops under General George Meade, more than 160,000 men clashed here. Nearly a third of them—51,000—died here.

While the scope of the Battle of Gettysburg can best be appreciated by walking the park grounds, hundreds of individual stories are evoked by the artifacts displayed at the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center. These artifacts offer a tangible link to the lives of the soldiers. Each piece has a story to tell. Someone wore this uniform, played this bugle, read this letter, drank from this cup, and shot this gun. Robert E. Lee sat at this camp desk. A soldier carried this pocket-size Manual of the Christian Soldier, and he died when a bullet passed clean through it. You can see the bullet hole.

For many years, Gettysburg’s visitor center was located on Cemetery Ridge, the famous site of Pickett’s Charge, a last-gasp Confederate infantry assault on the third day of battle. With the donation of 50 acres neighboring the park in 2000, the Gettysburg Foundation and the National Park Service were able to build a new center, enabling them to return the original Cemetery Ridge site to park land, more appropriate for interpretation and commemoration. In 2008, the new Museum and Visitor Center opened, with nearly double the amount of museum exhibition space than previously available.

John Brown's cell door.
Photo courtesy of
Gettysburg National
Military Park.
Save America’s Treasures funding contributed to the conservation and rehousing of many of the artifacts now displayed in the exhibition areas. It is one of the country’s great Civil War collections. The core of it dates back to a collection that began all the way back in 1863 when 16-year-old John Rosensteel began picking up interesting items, instituting a family tradition of collecting Gettysburg artifacts. Later bequeathed to the National Park Service, the George Rosensteel Collection continues to be the center piece of the museum.

The exhibits at the Museum and Visitor Center interpret the Battle of Gettysburg from many perspectives, including the origins of the conflict. A door from the Harpers Ferry prison cell where John Brown served time during his trial is among the most popular artifacts. It is a potent reminder of the many tensions that once enflamed the country, as incident after incident led inexorably to civil war.

Notes from the Editor:  This blog entry posted on July 3, 2013, as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the third and final day of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Other Recommended Sites:  From the Museum and Visitor Center, shuttle buses are available to the neighboring Eisenhower National Historic Site, the home and farm of General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Temporary entrenchments erected by Federal troops on Gettysburg's
Little Round Top, with Big Round Top in the distance.
Photographed in July 1863 by Timothy H. O'Sullivan,
from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Tour America's History Itinerary
Tuesday:  Moland House

© 2013 Lee Price