In this post we will be examining photographs from three of Gettysburg’s most famous buildings: the Gettysburg Train Station, the Jennie Wade House, and the David Wills House. We chose these three because we have been focusing on them in previous posts on this blog discussing how they are part of the cultural landscape of the town.
These old images take us to a different time. They help us understand how the landscape of Gettysburg was in previous years, as well as how it has changed over time.
General Daniel E. Sickles and his housekeeper Miss Wilmerding leaving train station at Gettysburg, circa 1913: Library of Congress: Prints and Photographs Reading Room / Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Access Date: 13 October 2013
Gettysburg Train Station, Gettysburg, PA. Photo by Michael Esposito, 2013. Used with permission.
In the figures A and B, we see the famous Gettysburg Train Station. The older photograph is a picture of an old Union Civil War general arriving at Gettysburg for the 50th Anniversary of the battle. The station was a welcoming place for these veterans, as well as tourists who came from hundreds of miles away to visit the town. You can barely see patriotic banners hanging above the crowd of people, and you can almost hear a band playing and the cheers of celebration. When Lincoln came to town in November, 1863 to give his address, this is the place he first saw. The station was the welcoming center to all who came to Gettysburg.
Fast forward 100 years. The train station still stands, as you can see in Figure B, but it serves a much different purpose. Long gone are the days when guests and tourists arrived in town on the station’s platform. People use cars and buses to come to Gettysburg now, passenger trains don’t stop here anymore. From putting these two photographs side by side, we learned that the train station hasn’t changed relationally in the town. It is still the “big yellow building” next to the train tracks, but it’s representational meaning has changed. It is no longer a hub of welcoming and happy greetings, it is an empty building that serves as a testament to an earlier time when traveling was harder.
Jennie Wade House, Gettysburg, Circa 1903; Detroit Publishing Company; Library of Congress: Prints and Photographs Reading Room / Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. Access Date: 13 October 2013
Jennie Wade House, Gettysburg Pa. Photo by Michael Esposito, 2013. Used with permission.
In figures C and D is the famed Jennie Wade House of Gettysburg. Jennie Wade was a resident of Gettysburg during the battle, and, as legend goes, was baking bread when she was killed by a stray bullet. She was the only civilian killed during the battle’s three days. Soon after 1863, her house was made into a tourist destination, a place where people can still see the bullet holes in her kitchen door.
In figure C, we see an old picture of the house. It is partially blocked by a large trees. The sign showing tourists that this is the Jennie Wade House hangs outside on the street.
Fast forward 110 years later, the house looks the same, and the same sign hangs outside. The trees are gone, which led us to believe that maybe the owners of the house, or the local municipality thought that they were blocking a hot spot for tourists. The fence on the perimeter is gone, now replaced with flowers and a brick retaining wall. This makes the landscape look friendlier, more open for people to walk up and go inside.
Putting these two pictures side by side led us to believe that perhaps between 1903 and the end of the 20th century, there was some type of community agreement to make the town more friendly to tourists. It helps to show people the representational parts of town more clearly, so that tourists can find them easier and spend their money, or just visit.
The David Wills House, circa 1889: The David Wills House: a Partnership of the Gettysburg Foundation and the Gettysburg National Military Park. Access Date: 13 October 2013
The David Wills House. Photo by Michael Esposito, 2013. Used with Permission.
In both figures E and F is the famous David Wills House. This house was built before the battle in 1863, and was most famously used by Abraham Lincoln. David Wills was a Gettysburg College graduate and was the man who invited Lincoln to town to give a few remarks at the dedication of the new national cemetery. Lincoln stayed in the house and finished his famous Gettysburg Address there the night before he gave his address.
In figure E, we see the house as it stood in 1889. Although we can’t tell what shade of red the bricks are, we can see that when you compare that picture to one of the house today, figure F, not much has changed. Actually, it’s hard to see anything that has changed except for the area and land around the house. Today the house is a museum, not a private residence. The David Wills House, much like the other two buildings we have examined, tell us that in Gettysburg, buildings don’t change, but their functions and representational values do.