Matt Callery is producer and host of Addressing Gettysburg. He once saved his friend's younger brother from fall down a cliff as if in a movie. There are witnesses.
The number one rule when visiting Gettysburg is: DON'T PANIC.
Ok, you followed the directions and parked in Lot #1 but you can't, for the life of you, find the visitor center even though all indications beforehand lead you to this spot. The last thing you should do at this moment is leave in search of signs of life. Life is just around the corner. Believe me. Breathe deep and repeat the number one rule.
Now that we've calmed you down, let's turn on our ability to think and problem solve and get you into that Visitor Center! Huzzah!
What can we do to start? How about look around us for signs of a building in the middle of the woods that is massive, looks like a round barn and is painted red. You probably don't see it directly. DON'T PANIC.
What do you see? Do you see other people? I'll bet you do. Which way are they walking? Are they walking towards the road that you just pulled off of (remeber that road curves around lot 1, so they can be walking in different directions but still be walking towards the road)? Are they walking towards the tree that are opposite the road? Yes?!? Great! Let's follow them. Don't worry. They won't bite. Gather your things (no backpacks) and forward, march!
Alright, we're making our way towards the sidewalks.
Ah! A Clue! Why, they wouldn't put sidewalks somewhere we don't need to walk. I must be heading in the right direction, you think to yourself.
Very good. You're learning. Keep walking and look for two tall flag poles. See them? Guess what they're placed at the confluence of? Two separate paths that lead to--where?-- that's right, the Visitor Center.
By now you should be confident that you're, quite literally, "on the right path".
Now, as we've acknowledged in a previous blogpost, this isn't entirely your fault. The design of the complex is a bit confusing and the dense forestation makes it so that getting a visual on such a massive building is difficult. So don't beat yourself up over this, for the love of all things Holy. But just in case you're still not getting it (come on, who is that dense?), here are some things to look for once you've passed the two flagpoles. When you spot these things you SHOULD be able to spot the visitor center somewhere directly behind them.
Your obedient servant,
A Visitor's Guide To Gettysburg, Tip #1: How to find the visitor center
By Matt Callery
Matt Callery is host and producer of Addresing Gettysburg Podcast among other things. To be notified about the progress of production and the release of the podcast, join our mailing list here.
This may come off as a bit snarky. Believe me, it is not intended to be. It's intended to be helpful to many people who seem to have an issue finding the visitor center...while at the visitor center. I am still not being snarky.
The visitor center is an enormous building, but it's hidden. This, I do believe, is by design. Not to hide it from you, the visitor, but so that it blends in with the landscape and doesn't distract from the views on the battlefield. But I've encountered a surprising number of visitors who are so close, yet so far (as far as they know), to the visitor center they seek to find.
So let me walk you through this and, just one last time, I'm not being snarky here. I'm genuinely trying to help.
Let's assume that you have punched the address, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysurg, Pa, into your GPS. Now let's assume that it has taken you to the Baltimore Pike entrance (there are two entrances as the VC is sandwiched between two roads, but this blogpost only deals with the Baltimore Pike entrance. Below is map of the location to aid you in visualizing what I am talking about as we move forward. Below that is a photo of the Baltimore Pike entrance, facing roughly South.)
Once you've made the turn the first thing you should see is a digital sign. Normally it shows the direction that cars should go to park vs. where buses and RVs should go to park.
Today, this sign said cars should go to Lot 3. Cars are always welcomed in Lot 3 (which is immediately off of the Taneytown Road entrance, which we're not covering in this article) without being told to by the digital sign. But it was busy today and Lot 1 was full. So this is the way to let you know to not even bother with Lot 1.
Soon after seeing this sign, you will come to a four-way intersection (pictured below). If you are not a bus dropping off a large group of people at the visitor center, don't even acknowledge that it's possible to make a right turn. That's not for you.
If you're in an RV or a bus that wants to park and not drop people off, you must make a left. There, you will find the bus and RV lot as indicated in the sign two pictures above. There are even bathrooms there. Past the bathrooms is a little path that goes into the woods. That will take you and yours on a short walk up to the visitor center. The building in the RV/bus lot is not, in fact, the visitor center.
Let's take a second to read the sign at the intersection:
Note how cars and vans (SUVs too) go straight, while buses, RVs and Trailers park to the left. Hey, Tesla owners, if you go left you can even charge up. To the right, handicap and bus drop-off are allowed. By the way, that white sign in the background is pointing to our sponsor, GettysBike Tours' location which is in the Bus and RV lot.
Ok, great, let's get beyond the intersection.
Notice how the weeds, wildflowers and underbrush are growing wild. I also believe this is by design and has some environmental reasoning. Whatever the reasoning is, I kinda like it. It makes one feel detached from the chaos of modern life and makes it a little easier to transport ourselves back to 1863.
But that's not why I bring it up. I bring it up because, while it is nice on the one hand, I think it's the main reason why people have such a hard time finding the actual visitor center. Poor visibility, an unintended consequence of the design. Plus the font size on the signage is too small to be seen and processed while driving.
As you come around the bend, you will probably blow past a sign. This sign...
Let's take a moment and analyze this sign here in this blogpost so you don't need to stop in the middle of the lane of traffic to read it.
Should you miss Lot 1 all together, there will be a very small window of opportunity for you to actually see the visitor center itself as you drive around the bend just outside of Lot 1. The picture below shows you what it might look like
Can ya see it? Here is a zoomed in shot of it.
Again, though this is done with some humor, I don't mean to come off as smarmy, nor do I intend to embarrass anyone, be it the visitor or the Visitor Center powers-that-be and staff. I love Gettysburg and love that people come to visit it still. I want to get more people visiting here. I just know from firsthand experience that may visitors have difficulty navigating their way to the Visitor Center itself while being right in front of it and I want to help our followers who haven't visited before, come armed with an idea of what to expect. Plus, I want them to be able to actually get to the Visitor Center so they can see the great exhibits and presentations it has to offer.
Also, the Foundation does a fantastic job at breathing new life into how we see our history through the Visitor Center, which is great because, as we believe here at Addressing Gettysburg, "History is how you see it." Have fun on your visit. Read a book or two!
Oh, one more thing. You may be asking yourself, "why hasn't he mentioned Lot 2?" Good question. The short answer is: because it's not for you. And that's the long answer too. Just move on with your life. :-)