Gettysburg’s History Today: It’s All About the Battle

Gettysburg today is remembered as the scene one of the most violent battles in American history.  It is one of the most visited historic sites in the country, with nearly three million people visiting a year, spending 381.1 million dollars, employing over five thousand workers. [1] Gettysburg was a town long before the battle, but it would appear that the battle is the only thing Gettysburg is known for.

If you Google “Gettysburg,” the first thing that comes up is a site dedicated to Gettysburg. Navigating around the site you find a list of businesses in the area, which makes Gettysburg seem like any other small town in the United States. It has art galleries, attorney’s offices, car dealers, a college, and other familiar town amenities.[2] Most of the website (even the header of the website has a photo of Civil War reactors lined up with cannons and tents in the background) is dedicated to the battle. But the town was founded long before the battle. Upon visiting the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s website, you would expect to find more about the town itself, rather than the battle. You would be wrong; however, as this site, like Gettysburg.com, has a list of businesses and services the town provides, its history page leaves something to be desired. A paragraph about the Civil War and the impact it had, and has had on the town.[3]  Finding the history of the town before the war is difficult. It seems that the town did not exist before the war found it. But the town was established in the late eighteenth century, and was named the country seat in 1800 when Adams County was created. The town had a thriving industrial backing, as well as the normal banks, taverns, housing, etc. [4]

The Civil War and the battle defiantly put Gettysburg on the map, but there is more to the history of the town, but it seems that even the historical communities are oblivious to this. It seems that when one even takes place in the town that literally rocks the town they focus solely on that event, almost forgetting the rest of the history. I’m sure the town of Gettysburg has a more rich history that the battle sites portray, but no one wants to remember that. It makes me wonder, if the reason that the town focuses so much energy into the battle sites and little into the rest of the history, is it all about the money that the tourists bring with them?


[1] “Tourism in Adams County, PA,” Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, accessed June 28, 2012, http://www.gettysburg.travel/media/facts.asp

[2] “Area Merchants—Other Services,” Gettysburg.com, accessed June 28, 2012, http://www.gettysburg.com/communit/cocindex.htm

[3] “Town History,” Gettysburg: The Most Famous Small Town In American, Accessed on June 28, 2012, http://www.mainstreetgettysburg.org/history.html

[4] “History of Gettysburg,” Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, accessed on June 28, 2012, http://www.gettysburg.travel/about/history.asp

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4 comments
  1. Should the Gettysburg battlefield of the Civil War be the sole focus in Gettysburg, Pa.? Since any town/ city will leap at the opportunity to make money no matter what their resource is, it is not surprising that a historical site like Gettysburg would use the Civil War battlefield to increase revenue for their town. As I navigated through the Gettysburg website I learned that the population is a mere 7,600 (2010 census) and their main industry is… you guessed it, “tourism.” I think about the annual Colorado State Fair held every August here in Pueblo, inevitably, you will see many of the surrounding residents by the fair grounds creating makeshift parking lots on their property to make a quick buck by charging motorist 5 to 10 dollars for a parking spot. Some of these homeowners even have a good size empty lot so you can only imagine how much money they rake in during the State Fair. The way I look at it, Gettysburg is rich with history (obviously, beyond the Civil War battlefield), as you mentioned museums, 18th. century architecture, etc. and I guarantee the locals are thrilled to have the flood of tourists coming in to partake of what they have to offer. After all, making money is the American way, right?

    • Kristen Epps said:

      This is definitely part of the situation–having grown up in a tourist town, tourists are a serious nuisance, but they are a nuisance that brings cash into the economy. I’m sure the residents of Gettysburg, like the residents of where I grew up, are more than willing to take the tourists’ money, while making fun of them behind their backs.

  2. Umm…ever been to Cripple Creek? Granted, there was no Civil War battles fought down the main street, but there were other battles. Does Gettysburg have other battles that haven’t been told? The Spy, from The Killer Angels, tells readers that the town was insignificant. Was it? It obviously served a purpose for many…what was that purpose. I am not a Gettysburg historian.

  3. Amanda Hlavacek said:

    I think it is important to understand that there is more to Gettysburg than simply a battlefield. With that being said, any small town is going to use something significant to draw people to their location in an attempt to keep the area, and its population economically secure. You mentioned that the town had taverns and banks, is it possible that they, along with other buildings, were obliterated in the war? If this is so, it may explain why there is so little focus on other historical components to the town.

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