Gettysburg Burg Seeks to Lure Battlefield Tourists Downtown

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For many of its 2 million or so visitors each year, what's largely been missing from the Gettysburg experience is, well, Gettysburg. A visit to the Civil War's most hallowed town has typically included a stop at the National Park Service visitor center on Steinwehr Avenue a few miles from the city center, an audio driving tour through 20 square miles of rolling battlefield, and maybe a guided walk around the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top or another of the marquee scenes of bloody devastation out in the countryside.

As for the well-preserved antebellum downtown itself? In spite of its role in the clash of armies, all that many battlefield visitors have seen of Gettysburg proper is a glimpse through the car window on their way to Hershey Park.

But now the town that involuntarily surrendered its name to American history is asserting itself a bit. A new series of guided downtown walks, modeled on the popular licensed battlefield tours, seeks to reveal the "civilian experience" of those three days of horror and carnage in July 1863. The long-neglected downtown rail depot where Abraham Lincoln arrived to deliver his famous address has been restored and will reopen next month as a towncentric interpretive center; a few blocks away, the Wills House, where Lincoln polished his final draft, is also undergoing a renovation. And perhaps most ambitiously, the Majestic, a grand vaudeville-era theater, reopened in November after a $16 million restoration as an 850-seat performing arts center and twin-screen repertory movie house.

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