Playing ‘I Spy” in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a town of less than 10,000 people, is the site of the largest Civil War battle ever fought, lasting three days in early July 1863. Over 51,000 soldiers were captured, wounded, or killed. The Battle is considered the turning point of the American Civil War, as the Union won the battle over Robert E. Lee and the Confederate army.

Each year, over three million people visit Gettysburg to learn about American history; to explore the museums, shops, and restaurants; and to enjoy the outdoors- there are over 31 miles of hiking trails. Many locations around town honor the people who fought in the battle and the civilians who supported them during and after the battle. The town also has strong ties to former Presidents Lincoln and Eisenhower.

Start your planning by checking out DestinationGettysburg.com. The website provides several itineraries categorized by family fun, duration of visit, or Pour Tour. The site also includes suggested activities for each season, with annual events like the Apple Harvest Festival, Bluegrass Festival, Wine & Music Festival. Consider taking a themed tour of the area- check out the options here. Be sure to print out a “Li’l Lincoln” (their version of Flat Stanley) for children here and bring it along for photos (post on social media for a chance to be profiled!)

Play I Spy throughout Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in the following locations:

1. Shriver House Museum tells the story of George Washington Shriver, his wife “Hettie” and young daughters Mollie and Sadie. Shriver was set to open a saloon and ten pin bowling alley when he was called to fight in the Civil War for two years.  While the furnishings in the house are not original to the Shrivers, they are authentic to the time period and accurately reflect what the house would have looked like in June and July of 1863. While on the tour have kids look out for:

  • The melodian (a cross between an accordion and an organ) in the parlor.

  • The period toys and games in the girls bedroom- they had to share a bed. Take note of the bowl under the bed- can you guess what it’s use is?

  • The carved holes in the garret (attic) that Confederate soldiers knocked out to fire guns.

  • The red flag over the front door to used to signify wounded soldiers were being nursed on site

  • The baking ingredients in the kitchen- check out the pile of egg shells

  • The green “hipbath” in the basement, used by the family only on Saturday nights (and the entire family had to use the same bath water!)

  • The saloon in the basement- men only!

  • The six bullet holes in the wall along the exterior of the house

Traveling with Kids: Guided tours are offered every 45 minutes and last just under an hour. The museum is closed in January and February and open only on weekends in March- check here for the schedule. Metered street parking is available and there is a small gift shop located next to the admissions desk. There are no restrooms or dining facilities available. While the the tour is not handicap or stroller accessible, the museum does offer a free narrated tour via iPad on site. I would recommend this tour for children ages 6+; while the guides are engaging and well versed in storytelling, it will be too tempting for toddlers to stand still and not touch the artifacts in each room.

2. The Gettysburg Heritage Center opened in 2014 and is divided into two sections: an exhibit filled with interactive areas to take visitors through daily life during the war and a 20 minute movie detailing the specifics of the Battle of Gettysburg. While touring have kids look out for:

  • 3D images and short films (make sure to grab 3D glasses at the start of the exhibit)

  • A hollowed tree trunk and a tree rings from sycamore trees that were first planted on the battlefield in 1825

  • A replica Pennsylvania monument, the largest monument on the battlefield

  • Cellar Experience (a brief  film describing the dangers of civilians who were forced to hide from the troops in their cellars). Note: this exhibit is dark with startling loud noises and may frighten young children.

  • Opportunities to dress up in replica period uniforms

  • The chance to pretend to photograph soldiers using a camera obscura

Traveling with Kids: Kids might enjoy filling out this scavenger hunt while touring the exhibits. The museum has a large parking lot behind the museum. Restrooms are located behind the large gift shop. The museum is handicap and stroller accessible. Plan to spend 60-90 minutes exploring the exhibits and watching the film.  

3. The Eisenhower National Historic Site was the final home of Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th president of the United States and his wife, Mamie. Eisenhower studied the Civil War and had spent time in Gettysburg training soldiers at Camp Colt during World War I and had fond memories of the area. Eisenhower and Mamie purchased the (then) 187 acres complex in 1950 and used the home as a weekend White House and for an extended time when Eisenhower recovered from a heart attack in 1955. Almost every artifact in the home is authentic to the Eisenhower family and the home displays exactly the way everyday life was when the Eisenhower lived there. While taking a self guided tour, have kids look out for:

  • Black angus cattle roaming the grounds- Eisenhower’s original cattle won over 300 ribbons in competitions (although he entered them under different names to avoid any favoritism)

  • Helicopter landing space- Eisenhower was the first US President to use a helicopter.

  • Putting green behind the Reception Center- Eisenhower was an avid golfer.

  • Guest book inside the main entrance to the home- Mamie insisted every visitor sign the guestbook every time he or she came to the house. Her grandchildren often tried to sneak into the house before she could make them sign the book.

  • The 1950s television in the “porch” where the family often ate tv dinners and watched tv. Eisenhower preferred Westerns and Mamie was said to have loved soap operas.

  • Mamie’s pink bathroom and pink master bedroom- guess what her favorite color was!

Traveling with Kids:  See our full post on the site here. Timed tickets must be purchased online or at the Visitor Center for the Gettysburg National Military Park. Visitor must take a bus from the visitor Center to and from the home. The bus ride lasts ten minutes and has some automated narration. Plan on a 90-120 minute visit (including travel time). Buses run every half hour. Parking and dining facilities are located in the Visitor Center of the Gettysburg National Military Park. The main floor of the main house is handicap accessible. Avoid bringing the stroller. Younger children will enjoy roaming freely on the grounds and there is plenty of open space. Don’t forget to collect National Parks Passport stamps and have kids complete the Junior Ranger Secret Service booklet to earn a badge.

4. The Gettysburg National Military Park covers over 6,000 acres and most locations require driving (or a long walk!). There are plenty of maps, guides, and auto tours to help explain important history, events, and figures. Be sure to check out some of the almost 1400 monuments. Definitely begin at the Visitor Center, which includes a 20 minute introductory video, cyclorama, and a HUGE museum. While touring the museum, have kids spy:

  • Buckles, buttons, and plates from each state in the war. Check for your home state!

  • The complete uniform of an Union and Confederate soldier

  • Numbers of Union and Confederate soldiers enlisted from each state.

  • Snare drum used in the Mexican War of 1846

  • Various flags

  • Explanation of the organization of the army from regiment to brigade to division to corps to army.

  • Display of officer’s camp (the higher the rank, the more baggage allowed)

  • Display of the Faces of Battle, with 23,000 Union soldiers and 28,000 Confederate soldiers killed in the Battle of Gettysburg

  • The glass window with the display of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Traveling with Kids: See our full post on the Park here. Plenty of parking in front of the main Visitor Center. Restrooms, a cafeteria, and large gift shop are located inside the building, along with the museum, video, and cyclorama. Many ranger led programs begin at the Visitor Center,  as well as National Parks passport stamps. Make sure to pick up a “Today in the Park” booklet with timely information on tours and special programs. Wear sneakers and bring the stroller for little ones. Plan on at least one full day exploring various parts of the park. Plan on a solid 2-3 hours to explore just the museum.

5. Explore & More is a children’s museum geared towards the toddler and young children crowd (ideally under 10). There are five themed rooms. return same day. Kids will especially want to:

  • play dress up in a replica 1860s home

  • paint at one of the easel stations

  • learn about a variety of animals, from frogs to hermit crabs

  • stand INside a large bubble

Traveling with Kids: Check here for seasonal hours. Parking is available on side streets. No need for a stroller, as children will be too busy to sit still. No dining facilities, but a small gift shop on site. Guests are allowed to leave and return same day. Plan on an hour to explore the museum.

Eating with the Locals: We enjoyed some great meals (and adult drinks!) at Lancaster Brewing Co., Appalachian Brewing Co., and The Gettysburger Company. All three spots are very family friendly and centrally located.

Looking for more details on our adventures in Gettysburg? Check out our post on Gettysburg National Military Park here and our post on nearby Hershey & Harrisburg here.