10 Years of Celebrate Gettysburg

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As our hometown magazine turns 10, we look back at where we’ve been and where we’re going.

The bucolic, rolling hills surrounding the ‘most famous small town in America’ of Gettysburg are steeped in hundreds of years of rich history. According to the Adams County Historical Society (ACHS), Native Americans used the land known today as Adams County as a “thoroughfare and hunting ground,” though they admit no conclusive evidence of a Native-American settlement in this area exists. In the 1730s and 1740s, European settlers began arriving on American shores, spreading westward to carve out new lives far from their homelands of Ireland, England, and Germany. Gettysburg was founded in 1786 and named for Samuel Gettys, an early settler and tavern owner. Small but thriving industries cropped up, including carriage manufacturers, shoemakers, and tanneries. In 1800, the boundaries of present day Adams County were carved out of existing York County, and Gettysburg became the county seat of Adams County. The population of rural Adams County would grow to 28,006 by 1860, and residents would work primarily in farming or farming related occupations. Many Adams Countians enlisted at the beginning of the American Civil War in April 1861; over the course of the four-year war more than 3,000 residents had enlisted, according to ACHS.

The lives of 2,400 residents and the future of our town were forever changed when the Civil War arrived at our doorstep. An aerial view of the town looks much like the hub of a wheel—10 roads all lead to the center of town, including U.S. Route 30 (Lincoln Highway), which was the nation’s first transcontinental highway. ‘All roads lead to Gettysburg’ and supplied several pathways for the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and the Union Army of the Potomac to converge in late June of 1863. The first three days in July of 1863 saw more than 170,000 soldiers clashing in and around Gettysburg, leaving 40,000 soldiers dead, wounded, or missing in its wake.

The battle and its aftermath stunned our small town, which was suddenly thrust into the spotlight in American history books. The ACHS notes that on Aug. 15, 1863, prominent local businessman George Arnold (1799-1879) wrote to a friend that “our town has now become immortalized.” President Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery on Nov. 19, 1863.

In 272 words and under three minutes, he paid a tribute to “the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here.” The ACHS documents that in “1879 the first of about 1,300 monuments was erected on the battle eld, which eventually became and has remained the most heavily marked such place in the world.”

Gettysburg entered a period of rebuilding and rebirth during the years following the Civil War. In 1951, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower purchased a farm on the battlefield, and retired to Gettysburg a er his presidency. The ACHS notes that Eisenhower published a book in 1967 titled “At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends” in which he asserted that history is more than battles and assaults. “In a place like Gettysburg” he believed both natives and visitors “may easily become absorbed in the three days of conflict,” ignoring the fact that both before and since 1863, “history was also made here in quiet lives, on farms and village streets.”

APPRECIATING THE PAST, HIGHLIGHTING THE PRESENT

The three days of fighting here will always be known for its role as the ‘turning point of the Civil War.’ Many historians believe that this pivotal battle, in which the Union delivered a full and clear defeat of Confederate forces and halted Confederate invasion into Union territory, pushed the Confederacy past the point of recovery. Gettysburg’s deeply historical roots draw visitors from all corners of the globe to bear personal witness to this significant event in American history.

The idea of Celebrate Gettysburg came about when Jessica Dean, the magazine’s founder, publisher, and art director, realized her hometown lacked a lifestyle magazine geared specifically toward area residents. With her experience as art director at another regional publication and her love of Gettysburg—and all of Adams County—Celebrate Gettysburg was born.

Jaime Ridgley, founding editor of Celebrate Gettysburg “Editor’s Note,” Jan/Feb 2007

Today, the town of Gettysburg and surrounding Adams County, once known only for their history, have emerged as leading destinations in South Central Pennsylvania for business, tourism, and the arts. Since the magazine was born 10 years ago, we’ve seen definitive strides in economic progression. “Businesses are working hard to ensure tourists know that Adams County others more than history, with plenty of shopping, food, outdoor recreation, and art to enjoy,” says Carrie Stuart, president of Gettysburg Adams Chamber of Commerce. “New Oxford continues to be synonymous with antiquing, while northern Adams County is centered on the Fruit Belt, and the western part of the county is focused on outdoor recreation.”

New options in food, drink, entertainment, and retail help to bolster travel to South Central Pennsylvania, expanding tourism and the local economy. “The depth of Gettysburg, as a travel destination, has grown considerably,” says Carl Whitehill, director of communications for Destination Gettysburg, “and we believe that visitors are often driving that change themselves. Today, visitors are more apt to jump in their car and take a scenic drive out of Gettysburg and into the countryside to taste wine than they were 10 years ago. Visitors are also more apt to try different restaurants and experience an array of activities beyond the battlefield. We’re proud of how far Gettysburg has come and will continue to go in the next 10 years as a destination that others a variety of experiences.”

Still, the driving historical force behind Gettysburg has weathered a renaissance wrought with trials in the last 10 years. “In general, businesses, community organizations, and local governments have become better at communicating and working together as a result of tough circumstances like the economic downturn of 2008,” says Stuart. “We also worked through challenges and opportunities like the casino, 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, budget reductions, etc.”

Gettysburg has undergone several notable advancements that have enhanced the visitor experience. “At ACHS, we have seen a number of new historical venues: a new museum and visitors center for the Gettysburg National Military Park, David Wills House, Gettysburg Seminary Ridge Museum, and Gettysburg Heritage Center,” says Benjamin Neely, ACHS executive director.

Anniversary celebrations are both entertaining and informative. They promote good will and fraternalism, encourage enterprise and initiative, and create a just and pardonable pride in progress and achievement.

Leighton Taylor “A Sesquicentennial Spectacular,” Jul/Aug 2012

The Gettysburg area had been preparing for the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg for years, and was rewarded by a dramatic increase in visitor attendance. “Tourism has helped drive the economy in Adams County considerably, bringing in $671 million in 2013, much higher than 10 years prior,” says Whitehill.

A revival of Gettysburg’s antiquity by way of new and inventive artifact displays and battle immersion breathes new life into stories that are centuries old. “Businesses in the tourism industry continue to adapt and find ways to tell their story better and in more relevant ways, and Gettysburg is creating an experience that visitors will continue to return for year after year, sustaining the vital economy that tourism now supports,” says Whitehill.

The contiuence of these events helped to locally o set the national economic downturn, says Sue Boardman, leadership program director of Gettysburg Foundation. The town of Gettysburg itself also received a facelift. The revitalization of Steinwehr Avenue reinforced Gettysburg Borough as a hub for tourism. “That end of town has improved dramatically in appearance and quality of business. It took a perceived negative to inspire this positive change,” adds Boardman.

The Steinwehr merchants were proactive. They’re doing a lot to take pride in an area that needed a facelift, and they’re working together. That sets the tone that maybe we can do that for the entire Gettysburg area.

Deb Adamik, president of Main Street Gettysburg “Steinwehr Rising,” Sep/Oct 2012

Lincoln Square and its surrounding blocks are evolving, too. New restaurants and retail shops are se ling in, and offering tourists and locals alike new venues to spend time and money. “The community has changed a lot in the past 10 years,” says Jessica Dean, cofounder and art director of Celebrate Gettysburg. “I think the biggest change is the quality and diversity in the businesses, shops, and organizations. No longer do residents have to travel an hour or more to find funky stores or interesting galleries/art exhibits or to watch a performance—all of that and more can be found in Adams County on any given day.”

ANTICIPATING THE FUTURE

It takes a certain type of perseverance and reinvention to move forward, especially while being mindful of the unique challenges for a small town with so much history. Each year brings obstacles and successes, do ing the journey with discernible moments to reflect on hopes for the future. One of the major goals among many involved in the Gettysburg economy is navigating the delicate passage of bringing the past into the 21st century. “This town is resilient,” says Boardman. “Now that the big events of the last decade are over, businesses, along with the military park, are seeking new ways to draw and engage visitors.” ACHS plans to utilize technology to aid the global audience in virtual access to their collections. “ACHS is looking to do more projects with the goal of bringing the collections to the public,” says Neely. “ACHS archives will be more widely available in a digital format.”

Dean agrees that expanding access in the technological arena is important. “We have aspirations to make the publication bigger, be er, and even more accessible,” Dean says. “We want to expand the website in order to accommodate the many timely news events that happen over the two-month span [between publications].”

The Chamber plans to focus on envisioning the future for Adams County, and take calculated steps to ensure that vision remains bright. “The Chamber will continue to foster the growth and well-being of businesses in Adams County, and advocate and protect the interests of existing businesses in Gettysburg and Adams County,” says Stuart. “As a community, Adams County needs to look at how to balance our desire to preserve our history with establishing a good tax base and providing the services residents expect.”

Balancing Gettysburg’s history and economic growth is both an ongoing and familiar task for Destination Gettysburg. “Gettysburg is likely to keep growing in both numbers and variety of what it offers its visitors. While the battle eld has always been, is now, and will always be the area’s biggest draw, Gettysburg has enormous potential to extend visitors’ stays even longer with a wide array of opportunities,” says Whitehill. “Destination Gettysburg hopes that it will continue to be a driving force in building the area’s largest industry of tourism. Our goals moving forward are to develop more experiences throughout Adams County, both by marketing those experiences be er but also by encouraging the creation of more experiences through the success that we’ve seen. Additionally, it is our goal for the Destination to continue to remain relevant to today’s traveler, both with the amenities the Destination provides its visitors as well as the stories we tell our visitors so that our lessons of history are relevant to today.”

Our Gettysburg address marks our location both within history and on a map. The area’s longstanding focus on history and tourism has merged with an eclectic mix of local businesses and reinforces the diverse options available to residents and visitors alike. Just as in the town we feature, the anniversary of 10 years in publication caps a decade of learning, growth, and change.

“In a world where there are so many things that are wrong, and negative headlines fill our inboxes, TVs, etc., we want to focus on the good and those things that make this area so special,” says Dean.

We’d like to thank the community for being so supportive. We extend a special thanks to all of those who have been involved to make this idea a reality. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Jaime Ridgley, founding editor of Celebrate Gettysburg “Editor’s Note,” Jan/Feb 2007

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