Gettysburg in Photographs: Then and Now

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.

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Figure A
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
http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002722752/

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Figure B
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.

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Figure C
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
http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994009272/PP/

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Figure D
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.

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Figure E
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
http://www.davidwillshouse.org/media/detail.htm?pid=23&catid=5
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Figure F
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.

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3 comments on “Gettysburg in Photographs: Then and Now

  1. alwagnerv says:

    For some reason it wouldn’t put the title on for me, but the title is: Gettysburg in Photographs: Then and Now.

  2. koesno01 says:

    All three of these sites have changed their purposes. Both houses and the train station have been turned into museums and tourist destinations. This shows that someone, somewhere between the late 1800’s and present day, decided that the town and the surrounding cultural landscape would be better off if the three buildings mentioned above, the train station, the David Wills House, and the Jennifer Wade House, were turned into tourist attractions. This shows the change in beliefs of the people through time about the importance of the locations. With cars and buses, the train station has become unimportant and now represents a relic from a past time that people can look at and remember the “good old times”. The houses had such historic significance that people decided it was worth more to allow people to pay to gawk and stare at and tour through instead of live in. These show changes in the cultural landscape of Gettysburg, from a “normal” town to one that now thrives on tourism.

  3. jhendon2013 says:

    When I first moved here in 1996 the train station was sort of dilapidated but was being used, if I remember correctly, as a visitor’s center. It’s too bad that the town hasn’t figured out a good way to use the building but I’m glad they’ve preserved it. Your observations on the photographs show that you are developing an appreciation of the town of Gettysburg as a very managed cultural landscape — people make decisions to preserve certain aspects of its appearance, and certain buildings. Nowadays if you own property within the historic district, it is very had to make changes to the exterior of the building and those changes have to be approved and be within the appropriate style. So in some ways Gettysburg’s lack of change is the result of active decision making — your comments on how buildings become museums and tourist destinations speak to this.

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