Gettysburg Railroad Station

The Gettysburg Railroad Station is a newly refurbished museum and office building located on Carlisle Street in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The station is notable for being the site of Abraham Lincoln's arrival to Gettysburg on November 18, 1863, one day before delivering the Gettysburg Address.

Pre-Civil War

The Railroad in Gettysburg

On December 16, 1858, a large celebration marked the arrival of railroad service to Gettysburg. The town became the western terminus of the Gettysburg Railroad Company, which ran convert|16.5|mi|km east to Hanover Junction, where it connected with the Hanover Branch Line. Using these tracks, the company was able to connect to the Northern Central Railroad, allowing passengers to reach locations such as Baltimore, Philadelphia and Harrisburg. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station: A Brief History," Gerald Bennett, p.2. Gettysburg Railroad Station Restoration Project, Gettysburg: 1999, 2006] Railroad service came to Gettysburg only after twenty-two years of frustration. In 1835, with the help of Representative Thaddeus Stevens, the town was able to secure a charter for the Pennsylvania Railroad. The project was intended to connect Gettysburg to the Potomac River and the B&O Railroad in the west. Due to the formidable Blue Ridge Mountains, however, progress was slow and expensive. In 1838, state funding for the project was eliminated and the Pennsylvania Railroad was abandoned. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 3.]

On March 4, 1851, Robert McCurdy, Josiah Benner and Henry Myers were able to secure funding and a charter to form the Gettysburg Railroad Company. Ground was broken on the new project on February 22, 1856. On September 14, 1857, the first passenger train entered Adams County. A locomotive first entered the borough limits on November 29, and railroad service officially began on December 16. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 4-6.]

Planning and construction

In the summer of 1858, The Gettysburg Railroad Company acquired a one-half acre lot from John H. McClellan, who owned what is now the Gettysburg Hotel. Three buildings were to be built on the property: a passenger station, engine house and freight station. Initial plans noted that the passenger station would cost US$2,070. The station was completed and began issuing tickets in May of 1859. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 9-10.]

Building characteristics

The station was built in the Italianate style, with arched windows, low-pitched roofs with eaves and decorative brackets. This style, which was popular in Gettysburg during the mid 19th-Century, can be seen in the Adams County Courthouse and the Evergreen Cemetery Gatehouse. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 7.] The completed station was a two-story building with two waiting rooms in the first floor and a large open room on the second. The waiting rooms separated men from the women and children, a common practice at the time. A spiral staircase was located in the eastern part of the building. The ticket booth, which was also used as an office, was a small connecting structure attached to the southeast part of the station. A long loading platform extended from the back of the station along the tracks. The building was technically a headhouse, as it was the western terminus of the railroad line."The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 10.]

Reversing the train

Because Gettysburg was the westernmost stop on the Gettysburg Railroad Company line, every train that arrived had to change direction and head back east. A series of switches and sidings were used to change the direction of the train. A switch from the main line allowed the engine to pull directly behind the Gettysburg Train Station, along a long loading platform. Once in position, the engine would back the passenger car onto a siding and release it. While the engine switched back onto the main line and reversed its direction on a turntable, the passenger car was rolled into position along the platform. As soon as the loading process was complete, the engine switched back onto the siding, connected to the opposite end of the passenger car and headed east.

The Civil War

The Battle of Gettysburg

Fighting in Gettysburg between Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia and George G. Meade's Army of the Potomac began on July 1, 1863. Some of the most critical action on the first day of the battle occurred in an unfinished railroad cut from the original 1835 Pennsylvania Railroad project. As wounded and dying soldiers flooded into town, the Gettysburg Railroad Station became one of the battle's first field hospitals. Private James Sullivan of the 6th Wisconsin infantry - from the famed Iron Brigade - was one of the wounded. On July 3, he and his fellow patients climbed to the station's cupola to watch the Union repulse of Pickett's Charge. He wrote that "There were ten or fifteen of us in the observatory, and they went wild wit joy...I forgot all about my wound...and had to sit down to keep from falling." ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 12-14.]

Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address

Railroad service returned to the station on July 10. Traffic primarily consisted of wounded soldiers being shipped away and the families of the armies trying to reach their kin. By the end of July, nearly 15,000 wounded troops had passed through the Gettysburg Railroad Station. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 15.]

It was decided that a national cemetery would be built in Gettysburg, and the date for the dedication was set for November 19, 1863. President Abraham Lincoln, who was scheduled to give some short remarks at the ceremony, left for Gettysburg on November 18, 1863. Departing from the B&O station in Washington, D.C., his train was connected the Northern Central Railroad in Baltimore, Maryland. At 4:00 p.m., the train arrived in Hanover Junction, and continued to Gettysburg. President Lincoln and his entourage arrived at the Gettysburg Railroad Station at approximately 6:00 p.m. on November 18, 1863. From there, he would walk to the David Wills House in the center of the town. Lincoln spent the night in this house, where he most likely put the finishing touches on the Gettysburg Address. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 16.]

Recent scholarly findings suggest that Lincoln most likely did not work on the Gettysburg Address on the train ride to Gettysburg, contrary to popular opinion. Also, many scholars agree that Lincoln did not actually pass through the station, but merely walked around it.

The next day, Lincoln gave his immortal Gettysburg Address, which lasted less than three minutes. After the completion of the dedication ceremonies, Lincoln attended a church service at Gettysburg's Presbyterian Church on Baltimore Street. At approximately 6:30 p.m. on November 19, 1863, Lincoln returned to the Gettysburg Railroad Station and departed for Washington, D.C. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 16-18.]

From the Civil War to WWII

In the years following the Civil War, the Gettysburg Railroad Station resumed its normal activities. In 1866, a commercial telegraph was installed in the station. Although the station maintained a steady flow of passenger service, freight business was sporadic and unreliable. Mounting bills forced the Gettysburg Railroad Company to be sold. The station saw continued financial troubles and passed through a number of hands over the next two decades. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 18-19.]

In 1885, the Baltimore & Harrisburg Railroad purchased the station and expanded the line to the west, utilizing the unfinished railroad cuts. Later that year, the company was bought by the [Reading Railroad Company] , who later sold the line to the Western Maryland Railroad Company. In 1886, the construction of a major one-story addition to the station was completed. The original headhouse became the men's waiting room, and was separated from the women's room by a long hallway. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 20.]

Although the station went through a number of mergers and acquisitions over the next few decades, passenger and freight service continued in Gettysburg. By the late 1930s, however, America's increasing reliance on the automobile put a sustatial burden on Gettysburg's passenger service. In 1942, the station was forced to discontinue passenger service to and from Gettysburg. The Gettysburg Railroad Station's final passenger train departed at 4:00 p.m. on December 31, 1942. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 21-23.]

The last half of the 20th century

The station was essentially deserted starting in 1943, being inhabited only by the station operator. The operator's duties were the administration of freight train and the manning of the telegraph line. In 1948, the operator was moved out of the passenger station and into a building on Stratton Street. The station fell into general disuse over the next half-decade. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 23.]

On April 1, 1955 the Western Maryland Railroad Company leased the building to the Gettysburg Travel Council, which was formed to promote tourism in Adam's County. The station became a popular stop for tourists in Gettysburg. Over the years, ownership of the building switched hands several more times, eventually falling to CSX. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 25-26.]

Rebirth in the new millennium

Due to the concern of local citizens, a meeting was held in 1996 regarding the condition of the Gettysburg Railroad Station. An architectural survey revealed that the station was near collapse. Funding was allocated for the renovation of the station, and ownership of the building was officially transfered to the Borough of Gettysburg on May 6, 1998. The Gettysburg Convention and Visitors' Bureau vacated the building in March 2002, and renovation began in January 2005. The rehabilitation was completed in 2006, with a grand opening on November 18, 2006, the 143rd anniversary of Lincoln's arrival in Gettysburg. ["The Gettysburg Railroad Station," Bennett, 27-31.]

Current use

The Gettysburg Train Station is currently owned by the Borough of Gettysburg. The entire first floor of the station is currently used as a museum, which is open daily and free to the general public. The museum contains models, diagrams, exhibits, and artifacts which were found during the renovation of the station. The station is home to the Gettysburg Festival, whose offices are located in the second floor.


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