Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gettysburg

Last week I spent some time with the better half at Gettysburg. It was my first trip to the famous battlefield since 1996, when I went with my gaming buddy Matt. Overall, this was my fourth visit to Gettysburg, and there were definitely some highlights as well as some low tides to my visit.

We tried to book three nights at the Doubleday Inn, which is situated on the first day battlefield along Doubleday Avenue. Alas, they did not have all three nights available that we would be in town, so we stayed along Baltimore Pike at the historic Brickhouse Inn. The Inn is really two buildings, one that was present during the battle, and one built during the Victorian period. The Brickhouse offers comfortable, clean rooms, excellent breakfasts, and wonderful hospitality. Conveniently located near the National Cemetery, Cemetery Hill, and Culp's Hill, there is also an excellent bookstore immediately across the street. The bookstore had a slew of regimental histories along with very good Gettysburg and Civil War sections, better than the gift shop at the national park visitor center. While staying at the Brickhouse one is also just four blocks from the downtown square, making restaurants and pubs within short walking distance.

The downside of the location of the Brickhouse was the noise from Baltimore Pike. Far too many loud motorcycles and semi-trucks use Baltimore. The noise can be offset by spending time in the nice garden area in the rear of the inn. But, if you can handle the occasional noise and want to go with a bed and breakfast, the Brickhouse Inn is a great choice.

Alas, the three days we were at Gettysburg the weather was extremely hot, with temps in the mid to high 90s and the heat index well over 100. Therefore we did a lot of driving around the battlefield as opposed to the walking I had hoped for. But, as this was the better half's first trip to Gettysburg, it worked out rather well. We could go for runs through the battlefield (an early morning run along Cemetery Ridge is worth the effort), and duck into shops during the heat of the day. By doing this we could tolerate the heat much better.

We have already discussed going back to Gettysburg next year for another three day visit as part of an extended vacation. I get to do a bit of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail and then spend three days walking about the battlefield. That's a pretty good vacation for me (history and hiking), and we will be certain to choose a cooler time of the year to go. We want to give the Doubleday Inn a try, simply because the location should be much quieter, but we were rather spoiled and impressed with the Brickhouse Inn. Should be a tough decision!

Food for thought for Perryville...first, there is no doubt that one of the draws of Gettysburg is the vast amount of monuments, memorials, and artillery pieces that visitors can view. I highly doubt in this day and age that Perryville would allow such creations on the battlefield, especially in light of the fact that Perryville is looking more like a Civil War battlefield than nearly any other location. So, forget monuments, but perhaps more markers, interpretive signage, and artillery would help not only interpret the battle, but give visitors something more to look at. I think this could be something the Friends of Perryville Battlefield could make as a long term project.

Second, the town of Gettysburg offers a wide variety of sites to see and shops to visit. I certainly would not wish for a wax museum anywhere near the Perryville battlefield, and one does not need to see a half dozen paranormal tour shops, but Merchant's Row needs to have more vibrant and interesting shops. Seemingly on every trip to Perryville there are only a few shops that are open (mostly antique), and a few buildings that have no shops in them at all. In order to bring more folks to the battlefield, other places of interest must be locally accessible. While Danville and Harrodsburg are short drives from Perryville, having more offerings in Perryville proper would bring more families to town. A couple of good cafes/restaurants, perhaps a brew pub, a bookstore that caters to Civil War and local history, and a few shops selling their wares could make Merchant's Row a destination as opposed to an afterthought. Dress up the street with brick or cobblestone walks, gaslights, shade trees, and more interpretive signage and make it an area that visitors just have to see would ensure the success of the businesses located there.

Next, the town needs a bed and breakfast. I realize that Elmwood Inn used to serve as a B&B, but I believe the Elmwood did not use the battle as a reason to draw inn goers. A bed and breakfast that welcomed battlefield visitors, perhaps offering tours of Perryville and the battlefield as part of the experience, should be able to survive. Of course, unless there are the other places to visit in town (see above) the bed and breakfast might struggle to fill its rooms.

Another idea, regularly scheduled programs at the battlefield itself would increase the amount of visitors. Gettysburg has evening programs at their battlefield amphitheater, ranger talks and walks on the battlefield and in town, and a plethora of licensed battlefield guides to lead visitors on tours. While Perryville does not have the resources to pull off a massive schedule of programs, the Friends group could assist by having a monthly talk/tour (or a Perryville specific Civil War Roundtable), and perhaps the park and the Friends group could work together to "license" official guides. If visitors see a regular posting of programs, they will be more inclined to come to Perryville knowing that there is "something going on" during their visit.

Of course, I realize that all of the above have associated costs, whether financial or volunteer. And I certainly do not want to see commercialism become rampant at Perryville. But starting some of these programs could make Perryville a destination, and bringing more tourism dollars into the area would be a benefit to all parties.

How can you help? First, become a member of the Friends group (HERE is the link, please go join now). The more revenue they have to work with the more they can do to assist the battlefield. Second, take a trip to the battlefield, spend a few bucks in the gift shop, and enjoy the battlefield. Third, support the local businesses with a few purchases. And lastly, let the folks in Perryville know how much you appreciate their efforts and share with them ideas for continued growth.

Side note...if I ever win the lottery I WILL start a bookstore or a bed and breakfast (or both) at Perryville, as long as the rest of you can convince the better half it is a good idea!

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