The story of the three-day battle of Gettysburg, its aftermath, and President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal Gettysburg Address has been told thousands of times in hundreds of ways.
But the people who have lived in Gettysburg and the other 33 Adams County municipalities for hundred of years, and even the dinosaurs who once roamed here, have stories too. And the Adams County Historical Society is excited to tell them at its new 5,000-square-foot museum on Biglerville Road, Cumberland Township.
“There has never been a museum or historic site that truly paid tribute to the story of Gettysburg and Adams County,” said the society’s Executive Director Andrew Dalton. “This is a museum about the people of our community and how they dealt with events of national significance. They were ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events.”
The museum is part of a 29,000-square-foot facility that, when complete, will include a cafe, reading room, library, climate-controlled archive storage, event space, and conference room. It is currently an active construction site and the realization of a dream the society has had almost the entire time 25-year-old Dalton has been alive. Dalton and Education Director Tim Smith live and breathe the museum’s progress and can describe every detail without notes.
“Sometimes I come in here and stop to think this facility could be here in 100 years,” Dalton said. “It’s exciting to think about how many millions of people will come through here.”
Construction is expected to be complete in November and a soft opening is planned for February, in conjunction with filmmaker Ken Burn’s Film Festival at the Majestic Theater Feb 10-12.
The museum will be an interactive experience featuring videos by filmmaker and Gettysburg native Jake Boritt. Visitors will stand in a recreation of Samuel Gettys’ Tavern on Race Horse Alley, highlighted with audio recreating early 1800s tavern talk.
The Battle of Gettysburg is not ignored, but the focus is on how thousands of soldiers descending on the town affected the people who lived here. A 360-degree immersive experience will give museum goers an understanding of what it was like to stand in a home as bullets and cannon balls flew around it.
“We sunk the floor so we could have audio of a family hiding in the basement. You are basically in there and experiencing the battle with them,” Dalton said.
Adams County life after the battle is highlighted with stories about the apple industry, World Wars I and II, President Dwight David Eisenhower’s Gettysburg home, battlefield preservation, the evolution of tourism, and immigration. One wall is dedicated to people who made a large impact on this town, including former director of South Central Community Action Programs Jean Odom and teacher and battlefield guide Colonel Jacob Sheads.
The second floor will house archives, a library, offices, and the Battlefield Overlook Event Center. The event center will be available to rent for special events such as weddings, reunions and other parties. Giant windows present a beautiful view of Barlow Knoll, where fighting occurred on July 1, 1863.
“You need to make some means of making museum money besides museum admission,” Smith said.
Smith is most excited about expanding educational programming so he can share his love for Adams County history.
Dalton and Smith said the construction process has been going smoothly, mostly thanks to the support of many donors. The entire $10.5 million project is almost completely funded, but donations are still being accepted. The society must raise another $1 million by February 2023 to receive a $1 million “all or nothing” match from local philanthropists David and Pauline LeVan.
Loring and Jean Schultz, owners of the Farnsworth Inn in Gettysburg, excitedly presented a $5,000 check to Dalton on Sept. 15.
“We hope this inspires other people and other local businesses to step forward,” Schultz said.
More information on the Adams County Historical Society, including how to support the campaign, can be found at https://www.achs-pa.org.
Alex Hayes, Consulting Editor, has spent almost two decades in the Adams County news business. He is heavily involved in the community through his work at the YWCA Gettysburg & Adams County and volunteer roles at the Rotary Club of Gettysburg, Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church, the United Way of Adams County, and Healthy Adams County. Alex is also a freelance writer for several other publications in South Central Pennsylvania.