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Celebrate Gettysburg, Pa. and its presidential past

1/28/2014

Presidents Day Weekend an ideal time to explore connections to U.S. leaders

Presidents Day is a time to remember our nation’s presidents both past and present, as well as honor the places and people who influenced them. Gettysburg – despite being a small, rural community – has become, over the years, a place of influence, retreat and commemoration for many of our presidential leaders, specifically Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.

As the site of one of the most pivotal battles of the American Civil War, Gettysburg has garnered the attention of presidents since the battle took place in 1863. With Presidents Day Weekend fast approaching on Feb. 14-17, 2014, it is only fitting to remember the roots of the country and the great leaders that changed the face of the nation during their time in office.

Abraham Lincoln
President Lincoln was invited to Gettysburg in the fall of 1863 by David Wills, a local attorney. Wills had orchestrated the development of a cemetery to bury the Union dead following the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, and by November, the land was ready to be dedicated.

Lincoln arrived on Nov. 18, 1863 at the Gettysburg Train Station and was escorted by Wills to his home that still stands on Lincoln Square. It was here that Lincoln completed his Gettysburg Address. The next day, Nov. 19, the president was paraded down Baltimore Street to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery where he delivered his remarks that would go down in history - the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln left Gettysburg a mere 25 hours after his arrival. However, it didn’t take long for him to leave his mark on the small town.

Visitors can now replicate Lincoln’s visit to Gettysburg by visiting the Historic Gettysburg Train Station at 35 Carlisle St. The station is now the official welcome center for the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, and displays several exhibits about the history of the building. Visitors can then walk to Lincoln Square, where the David Wills House Museum is open to the public. Guests can view the office where David Wills likely wrote his letter inviting Lincoln to Gettysburg and also see the bedroom (with the original bed) that Lincoln used during his stay.

The Soldiers’ National Cemetery, located at 97 Taneytown Road, offers visitors a glimpse at where history was made by Lincoln when he delivered the Gettysburg Address. Gettysburg Presbyterian Church, located at 208 Baltimore St., also has the original pew that Lincoln sat in when he came to visit. For more experiences on Lincoln in Gettysburg, the Lincoln Train Museum and the American Civil War Wax Museum offer programs that highlight Lincoln’s time as president.

Dwight D. Eisenhower
Although Dwight D. Eisenhower would later call Gettysburg “home,” his interest in the area started while he was at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The students paid a visit to the battlefield to learn about the tactics used there. Eisenhower later returned to Gettysburg as commander of Camp Colt, where the U.S. Army Tank Corps Training Center was located, on the battlefield.

Many years later, after World War II, Gen. Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, came to Gettysburg in search of a place to retire. They purchased a 189-acre farm in 1950 before Eisenhower was called overseas to command NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

After being elected to the presidency in 1952, the Eisenhowers renovated their Gettysburg home, much of which was complete by March 1955. President Eisenhower often hosted world leaders at the home and, after a heart attack in 1955, the president re-cooperated at the farm, which became the “temporary White House.”

Visitors to the Eisenhower National Historic Site in Gettysburg can step back through time to when the Eisenhower family lived on the farm. Guests can tour the house, which has many of the rooms decorated with period furniture. Visitors can also see the working farm that is located just off the battlefield.

Guests to Gettysburg can also visit Gettysburg Presbyterian Church, located on Baltimore Street. Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower were members of this church and the pew that they occupied in the church has a plaque on it noting such today. There is also an Eisenhower Lounge that contains Eisenhower memorabilia.

John F. Kennedy
President John F. Kennedy came to Gettysburg for a battlefield tour in March 1963. Kennedy had a lifelong interest in history, as well as personal ties to Gettysburg as his ancestor had fought there in the Irish Brigade.

The tour stopped at several locations, such as Little Round Top, Devil’s Den and The Wheatfield where Kennedy’s ancestor had fought. They ended their tour at the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, where his wife, Jackie, noted that the lighted flame atop the monument would make a wonderful memorial for someone, to which the president agreed.

Later that year, Kennedy was invited to Gettysburg to speak at the 100th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, on Nov. 19, 1963. The president declined however, noting that he needed to go to Dallas to mend some political “fences.” Kennedy was later assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963 while on his trip to Dallas.

Just after his assassination, Jackie told Jack Valenti, head of the new President Johnson’s publicity, that she wanted a peace light for her husband’s memorial. Valenti went to Gettysburg and had sketches made of the Eternal Peace Light, which were later used to design President John F. Kennedy’s memorial in Arlington Cemetery.

Other places in Gettysburg that honor the presidents include the Hall of Presidents and First Ladies, located at 789 Baltimore St. in Gettysburg, which depicts the presidents in life-size wax figures. The Gettysburg Museum of History, located at 219 Baltimore St. in Gettysburg, also contains memorabilia from several presidents, including Lincoln, Eisenhower and Kennedy.

Presidential Promotions & Packages
Lincoln in Gettysburg Package: Guests can relive Lincoln’s historic visit to Gettysburg with a Saturday walking tour led by Lincoln historian Roy Frampton. The tour includes walking the paths of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. On Saturday evening, enjoy a fine dining experience at the historic Dobbin House with President Lincoln portrayed by James Getty, nationally-renowned Lincoln impersonator. The package is $55 per guest in addition to room rate. Contact the Battlefield Bed and Breakfast at (717) 334-8804 for reservations.

Memories of Lincoln Package: Visitors can celebrate past presidential visits to Gettysburg while staying the Historic Gettysburg Hotel, est. 1797. Guests will tour the David Wills House, where Lincoln finished crafting his famous Gettysburg Address. Enjoy dinner for two in the hotel’s restaurant, One Lincoln, as well as a plentiful breakfast buffet the following morning. Also, read up on Lincoln’s history with a richly illustrated coffee table book and a Lincoln keepsake from the American Civil War Wax Museum. The package starts at $300 per room. For more information, visit www.hotelgettysburg.com.

Lincoln at Gettysburg Package: Visitors can recall Lincoln’s trip to Gettysburg while staying at the Federal Pointe Inn in the Lincoln Suite. Guests will then tour the town of Gettysburg and the battlefield with a private guide who will focus the tour on Lincoln. To receive a signed copy of “Lincoln: A War President” by Gabor Boritt, guests must recite the first line of the Gettysburg Address upon arrival back at the inn. The package starts at $224 plus tax. For more information, visit www.federalpointeinn.com.

The Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, the official tourism promotion agency, markets Gettysburg – Adams County as a premier travel destination, producing a positive economic impact.

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