Often referred to as the “Most Famous Small Town in America,” this charming and historic town blends into the surrounding Gettysburg National Military Park, where the Civil War’s most pivotal battle determined America’s destiny. In many ways, this southern Pennsylvania town has itself been shaped by American history.
Gettysburg, the seat of Adams County, Pennsylvania, was founded in 1786 and named for Samuel Gettys, an early settler and tavern owner. The county, approved by the state legislature in 1800, was named after the current President John Adams.
The saying “all roads lead to Gettysburg” refers to the confluence of several well-traveled arteries leading directly into the town, which is one reason why the Battle of Gettysburg took place in and around the town in July of 1863.
At the heart of Gettysburg, lies picturesque Lincoln Square, named for our nation’s 16th President Abraham Lincoln, who stayed at the home of David Wills, located on the square, the night before delivering the world-famous Gettysburg Address in November of 1863. This immortal speech is lifted up as one of the most famous speeches in American history, and is memorized by school children world-wide, for its enduring effect on issues of human equality.
While Gettysburg’s quaint, brick-lined streets are steeped in history, the town itself is making a new kind of history as a world-class destination. Gettysburg is experiencing a cultural renaissance with the emergence of art shops and galleries, the dynamic Adams County Arts Council, many cultural events associated with Gettysburg College, the return of a downtown theater venue thanks to the recent breath-taking renovation of The Majestic Theater, and now the creation of America’s newest cultural festival, “The Gettysburg Festival~Celebrating America.”
Governor Edward G. Rendell proclaimed in October of 2007, “Gettysburg is on the national and international stage for its historical significance. (The Gettysburg Festival) will boost its standing as the host of a world-class arts festival.”
Gettysburg boasts world-class accommodations and dining options, unique downtown shopping districts, a nearby shopping outlet center, fun and diverse area attractions, and a friendly welcoming hospitality industry.
The town is surrounded by a beautiful scenic and historically rich landscape featuring plentiful fruit orchards, wineries and working farms. While tourism is the area’s number one industry, agriculture is the second-leading industry.
The latest figures from the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau show that 2.9 million visitors travel to Gettysburg annually. Gettysburg’s location in the heart of America’s Mid-Atlantic Region, is such that 60% of the entire North American population is within a day’s drive (600 miles).
As early as the 1730’s, English, German, and Scot-Irish settlers began arriving in what we now know as Adam’s County to escape religious prosecution. Shortly after in 1786, James Gettys, son of settler Samuel Gettys, purchased and divided the land that later became the Borough of Gettysburg.
The town grew rapidly, and the borough was named the Adams County seat in 1800. As it entered the antebellum era, Gettysburg found itself mirroring national controversies over abolition, federalism, and public education.
Gettysburg residents fell quickly into the war routine when Robert E. Lee moved his confederate troops into Gettysburg. Confederate troops commandeered buildings, churches and schools were transformed into hospitals and shelters, and residents risked their lives to keep wounded union soldiers hidden during the intense three-day battle. The only civilian casualty occurred on the 2nd day, when Jenny Wade was shot and killed by a confederate sharpshooter.
On July 4th the union emerged victorious and citizens immediately began taking care of wounded, dying soldiers and reconstructing what remained of the town. 22,000 acres were destroyed and nearly 8000 men were killed or mortally wounded in battle; fields were trampled, fencing was broken, and buildings were burned.
On Nov 19th, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery, Abraham Lincoln delivered the famous Gettysburg Address. The impact of the battle and its aftermath had transformed the Borough of Gettysburg from a battleground into a national icon.
Following the battle, Gettysburg began to grow, along with the rest of Adam’s County, in the areas of agriculture and tourism. Battle veterans and the war department were the first groups to develop the industry of tourism within the Borough. The National Park Service took over management of the battlefields in 1935, and tourism now plays an integral part in the borough.
The last 20 years have been a major development period for Gettysburg, but despite its growth, the borough has preserved its integrity and buildings to help its residents, and visitors, understand the importance of history even throughout significant times of change.
For more information about the Gettysburg area, visit www.gettysburg.travel.