Friday, February 13, 2009

The David Wills House

We stopped in here last night for a quick peek; the National Park Service has done a phenomenal job with the restoration; I heard it cost approximately $7 million. Artifacts are beautifully and thoughtfully displayed and are informative and engaging to visitors. Admissions is free through February 16 in honor of the Grand Opening. After this point admission is $6.50 for Adults (13 & up), $5.50 for seniors; $4.00 for youth (12 & under) and children under 5 are free.

Visits include an approximately one-hour self guided tour with two films, two interactive stations, seven galleries of which tow are recreated rooms-Will's law office and the Lincoln bedroom.

The galleries of the second floor follow the events of Lincoln's visit through his address on November 19. Here you will hear the story of how Gettysburg accomodated the vast number of visitors and how David and Catherine accommodated the distinguished guests who spend the night at their home.

A little background: Wills, a prosperous 32-year-old attorney, owned the largest house on the town square. Under his direction, Pennsylvania purchased 17 acres for a cemetery to honor the dead from the summer's battle. He arranged for the cemetery dedication on November 19, 1863, with Edward Everett as the main speaker. Lincoln was invited to offer "a few appropriate remarks."

Lincoln arrived at the Gettysburg railroad station the day before the ceremonies and was escorted to the Wills home. His special train included others from Washington such as Cabinet members and foreign ambassadors. While Lincoln, Everett, and other dignitaries ate supper together, serenaders and crowds gathered outside, calling for the President. Lincoln eventually appeared, but declined to make a speech at the moment.

The next afternoon, on the edge of town, a crowd of more than 10,000 would hear Lincoln's brief masterpiece, now considered the product of an entire lifetime. Contrary to popular belief, the painstaking Lincoln had not dashed off this speech on an envelope while enroute to Gettysburg (for one thing, five original copies of the speech exist -- all are on standard letter paper). However, Lincoln apparently produced the final written version in an upstairs bedroom of the Wills house. The decorative bunting in the photo marks the location. However, the picture was taken before the building was restored, so you now will see a brick exterior without white paint.

Once the cemetery dedication was over, the Marine Band and other members of the military escorted Lincoln back to the center of town. After dinner at the Wills house, Lincoln greeted guests in an informal reception. Standing in the hallway which faces York Street, he met visitors such as John L. Burns, the 70-year-old Gettysburg cobbler who was wounded after he spontaneously joined Union troops in the battle.

The David Wills House is part of Gettysburg National Military Park, and is operated by Main Street Gettysburg, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the historic preservation and economic revitalization of Gettysburg. The house is located at 8 Lincoln Square in downtown Gettysburg. For more info contact Main Street Gettysburg, 866-486-5735.

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