- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

GETTYSBURG, Pa. — The railroad station used by President Lincoln when he came to this small borough in 1863 to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery and deliver the Gettysburg Address has been completely and beautifully restored.

The Italianate villa-style station will be rededicated at 11 a.m. next Saturday, the 143rd anniversary of Lincoln’s arrival at Gettysburg.

The station was first dedicated on Dec. 16, 1858, before construction was complete. Passenger and freight service commenced the next day. Until completion of the station in May 1859, tickets were purchased at the Washington Hotel across the street from the station.

The station was last used for commercial passenger traffic on Dec. 31, 1942. After that, the Reading Railroad Station took over as the sole passenger-rail station in Gettysburg.

Originally, a large bell in the cupola announced the arrival and departure of trains.

The station sold tickets, supervised cargo transfers and was used as a waiting room with men segregated from women and children. (Everybody knew women and children could never tolerate the smoking, drinking and foul language of men.)

The rails coming into Gettysburg were “inverted U rails,” or “hallow rails,” which weighed 53 pounds to the yard. A section of one rail is displayed in the station today. The rails have a weight limitation lower than that of many other Eastern U.S. railroads of the Civil War era. This caused Lincoln to change trains in Hanover Junction, Pa., on his way to Gettysburg and on the return trip to Washington in 1863.

Eleven other U.S. presidents, arriving by train, used this historic railroad station, owned by the borough.

On the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, Confederate forces captured the rail station. Later during the battle, it was used as a hospital. More than 15,000 wounded soldiers and the remains of many others departed this station after the battle.

Scores of doctors, nurses and other helpers arrived through this station after the battle, and tons of supplies passed through here.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, the U.S. Sanitary Commission set up a tent village across the tracks from the rear platform of the Gettysburg Railroad Station to serve as a way-point for wounded. Volunteer George Woolsey recalled, “Twice a day the trains left … and twice a day we fed all the wounded who arrived for them.”

The design firm Gallagher and Associates is creating the exhibits for the train station, which will serve as a visitors center for the borough and a place to find one of Gettysburg’s wonderful licensed tour guides, such as Bob Alcorn and Jerry LaRussa.

Mr. Alcorn is vice president of Gettysburg’s Licensed Town Guides, and he spent many hours showing this writer the details of the railroad station and recounting Gettysburg’s history.

Mr. Alcorn marveled at the station, known as the Carlisle Street Depot. “What a fantastic venue for talking about mid-19th century social and economic life,” he said.

Jerry LaRussa said, “Everyone who comes into this railroad station can know that they are walking in President Lincoln’s steps. What a feeling.”

In the cupola or bell tower of the Gettysburg Railroad Station, we saw the unfinished inside walls the way the builder must have seen them. The cupola is constructed of layer upon layer of 11/4-inch wooden boards, with about a quarter-inch of masonry between the boards. The inside wall looks like a giant chocolate layer cake. The masonry spills out between the boards, as there was no need for neatness. When this building was constructed in 1858-59, nobody expected a curious writer and tour guide to inspect the work 148 years later.

About 80 percent of the funds for the $2.7 million project came from the federal government and Pennsylvania. The balance came from private donations from people across the nation.

One of the exhibits already on display is a model of the station as it appeared in 1863. William Aldrich of Gettysburg, one of the leading miniature-railroad modelers in the country, has built and donated two important models. One of them, representing the building as it looked in July 1863, is scaled at 1 inch to the foot and took nearly 1,000 hours to build.

Gettysburg spearheaded the restoration effort with the close cooperation of the Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg College, Main Street Gettysburg, the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, the state and local businesses and individuals.

Main Street Gettysburg is affiliated with the statewide coordinating Main Street organization called the Pennsylvania Downtown Center and a network of other Main Street organizations within Pennsylvania.

The board of directors of Main Street Gettysburg includes senior personnel from a variety of institutions, including the National Park Service, Gettysburg College, the Lutheran seminary, the local Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, among others. The biggest partner, however, is Gettysburg.

When you next visit Gettysburg, seek out one of the wonderful licensed guides at the Gettysburg Hotel or at the railroad station. They can show you many of the little-known aspects of Gettysburg, such as the Union artillery shell still in the south wall of the Kuhn House at 221 N. Stratton St. Across the street, at the Crass-Barbehenn House, one can still see a Confederate artillery shell protruding from the north wall.

John E. Carey writes frequently for the Civil War page.


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