The Gettysburg Visitor Center and Museum
The new $130 million Gettysburg visitor center and museum opened on April 14, 2008. It’s the centerpiece of Gettysburg National Military Park, offering guidance for understanding the 6,000 acres of battlefields with nearly 1,400 memorials. It displays more artifacts with more interaction than the old museum, now with an entrance fee.
The new building is designed to resemble a 19th century barn, so it will be less intrusive on Gettysburg’s unique historical atmosphere. The new Gettysburg visitor center is located behind some other buildings on route 97 (Baltimore Pike), just south of town on Gettysburg National Park grounds. If you’re traveling south, it’s located on the right.
The old visitors center was demolished as part of battlefield restoration to restore the landscape as it appeared in 1861.
I think battlefield restoration is a neat idea, but they need to add some animals. I would like to see some cows, sheep, and chickens on the farms.
The famous 377 foot cylindrical painting of the “Battle of Gettysburg” that was created in 1884 will have a new home. The Gettysburg cyclorama has been undergoing restoration for the past 5 years and was unveiled in September 2008.
I remember seeing it for the first time on a 7th grade fieldtrip. I thought it was such a cool concept of painting in the round and couldn’t fathom how the artist had been able to plan it. It was like the Sistine Chapel to me!
The new Gettysburg visitor center and museum features a three minute orientation video near the entrance that gives an overview of Gettysburg and offers advice on how to plan your schedule. The entrance fee includes tickets to “A New Birth of Freedom,” a 22 minute film focusing on the battle events.
Word of Caution
If you’re visiting during a weekday, especially in spring, be prepared to run into large groups of students on fieldtrips. This advice goes for all of the historical sites and food courts in Gettysburg.
My trip in April 2008 just after the new center opened:
The lobby of the new Gettysburg Visitor Center has plenty of room for groups, nice bathrooms, and there are nice outdoor group picnic areas. The short video about planning your visit is biased, promoting only park service tours and sites. It’s odd to see camoflaged trashcans but a normal ATM. The “saloon” does not have saloon decor, but you can enjoy deli food next to a big stone fireplace.
The museum gives a nice overview of the entire American Civil War. The layout is a little confusing and disorienting. I really miss the old uniform display that made it easy to compare the various styles on each side. If you want to explore the interactive touchscreen computers, you’ll find less competition in the resource room. I liked the video near the end about the 50 year reunion yet still having black inequality. There were also sections on women, field hospitals, and Lincoln. The section near the end about history of the battlefield park itself was very narrow. It did not say anything about Gettysburg’s signifigance to the world nor mention famous visitors.
Update October 2008:
The operators have changed their plans and now charge an entrance fee that includes the museum, movie, and cyclorama. Admission is $7.50 for adults and $5.50 for children ages 6-18. I think this is a very poor decision. A lot of people are unhappy because the museum was always free and promised to stay free. So much for promises. You ought to visit the free battlefields while you can!
Here’s a nice video from Newsweek about what happened at the Battle Gettysburg and the historical significance of the cyclorama painting.
Have your say about what you just read! Leave me a comment in the box below.