You might not believe this.
After-all, you’d think a place where 10,000+ American men had died would always be hallowed ground. Not so in the late 19th Century. There were train tracks across Gettysburg Battlefield, and one of the stops near the end of the line was Round Top Park.
Yes, there was an amusement park at Gettysburg…
Huh? What, Where, Why?
I know, crazy, huh?
It starts with the railroad. (More on that below…) The Round Top Branch of the Gettysburg & Harrisonburg Railroad went from the town of Gettysburg over the battlefield and ended in the vicinity of Round Top, which had been the left flank of the Union during the 1863 battle.
Gettysburg was a touristy destination; it started in the days right after the battle and it just got worse (or better, depending on your perspective) as the decades went by. Curious sightseers came. Battle veterans returned for reunions and/or brought their families to see the battleground. And common business sense dictates that if people will spend money…well, find a way to make a profit.
Since folks were already riding the train to the south end of the battlefield, why not give them an “exciting” destination, known as…
Round Top Park
Local Gettysburg newspapers of the period reveal some of the features of this railroad company-owned amusement center during the 1880’s:
- A small “steam dummy” train to take tourists to the top of the hill
- Picnic pavilion
- Large dining pavilion and cook house
- Target shooting
Yikes! That doesn’t exactly bring to mind a good way to remember “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here…”
Thankfully, in 1886 the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association bought the facility and surrounding land, and, three years later the buildings were torn down.
Railroads: A Great Way To See The Battlefield?
Gettysburg Battlefield is large – so it wasn’t ideal to walk if you wanted to see the sites during post-war era. Also, as time passed, and the Civil War veterans got older, there needed to be a good way for them to get around the battlefield easily for reunions and memorial dedications. So Gettysburg Battlefield got railroads.
The Round Top Branch of the Gettysburg & Harrisonburg Railroad carried visitors from the town across the field of “Pickett’s Charge” then south and east toward the Round Tops. Along with transporting tour groups, the railroad also moved some the large stone and granite monuments which were placed as memorials on the battlefield. The railroad tracks were in place by 1884, and it was operational until 1942; thus the rail-line did play an important role during the Gettysburg reunions for Civil War veterans.
Then there was the Gettysburg Electric Railway with cars transporting 92 passengers to the vicinity of Little Round Top, with seven stops along the way. It was operational between the years 1894 and 1916, but had quite a few accidents during the years. Some of its additional attractions included a baseball diamond (across the Emmitsburg Road from the Cordori Farm).
The Advent of Cars
From the very beginning of the auto industry at the turn of the century, Americans have loved their cars and the freedom to get in and go. By 1916, when the electric rail-line closed, there really wasn’t a need for the battlefield trains anymore. The battlefield would now be toured by families in automobiles.
And the National Park Service would take an active role in preserving, protection, and interpreting Gettysburg Battlefield. More on that next week…
Not At Gettysburg
I’m not opposed to amusement parks. And I love historic battlefields. But don’t ever tell me the two should be combined. (You’ve been warned!)
It’s interesting how Gettysburg battlefield has developed through the years and what people thought was good or okay in the past. However, I’m really glad there aren’t amusement parks at Gettysburg now.
Gettysburg still isn’t free from developmental threats. In 2011, battlefield preservationists (myself included) signed petitions, educated our families, friends, and anyone else who’d listen, and fought to keep a large casino out of the Gettysburg area. If you want to go to amusement parks, fine. If you like to play with your money at casinos, fine (but please think twice). But not at Gettysburg.
Not where thousands of men fought, suffered, and died. Not where families’ future hopes were destroyed. Not where the creeks were red with blood. Not where the ground shook with cannon fire.
NOT AT GETTYSBURG.
P.S. Gettysburg is safe at this time, but other battlefields of the Civil War are threatened by large-scale development. If you are interested in learning more or helping to save historic land, check out the work of Civil War Trust. (They have an awesome website with tons of maps and history articles too!)