Editor’s note: This is part of a summerlong series of articles, “Traveling Light: No suitcase required,” about places area residents can go for relatively inexpensive day trips. The stories will appear on Saturdays.----
With less than two months until the 150th anniversary of abolitionist John Brown’s ill-fated raid on Harper’s Ferry, there is no better way to commemorate the event that sparked the flames of civil war than a road trip on the newly unveiled Pennsylvania Civil War Trails.
Unveiled April 28 following the placement of 40 “story stops,” detailing local stories from and leading up to the war, the Pennsylvania Civil War Trails takes tourists on a journey across the commonwealth to explore the history of the Civil War on northern soil.Up close and personal
The Pennsylvania Civil War Trails are more than a tour of battlefields. The trails offer a personal look at the impact of the war and tensions between the North and the South on the only northern state in which the war was fought.
“We are stepping off of the battlefield to tell the untold stories of citizens and the communities who were forever changed by the Civil War,” said Mickey Rowley, the Department of Community and Economic Development’s deputy secretary of tourism.
The Civil War Trails program includes two trails that form a loop, the Road to Harrisburg and the Road to Gettysburg.
While traveling the loop from Gettysburg to Harrisburg and vice versa, the trails take tourists through the communities of Pennsylvania, large and small, affected by the war. While passing through they can visit a number of historic locations, museums and the 40 “story stops” along the trail.
“A marker is a 30-second, instant thing,” said Lenwood Sloan, director of culture and heritage tourism for the Pennsylvania Tourism Office. “While the kids play with their Blackberries in the backseat of the car, Mom and Dad read the historical sign.
“We refer to them as story stops, because we want people to pull over, park their car, read the markers and then walk roads, stand on the hallowed ground, talk to the community whose generations, for 150 years, have been preserving and conserving and perpetuating the story of this important place and time.”
Living history also can be found on the trails courtesy of The Pennsylvania Past Players, a troop of historical interpreters portraying real people who lived through the Civil War.
The troop holds events across the state and includes such historical figures as William Goodridge of York. Goodridge was a freed slave who became a prosperous businessman in York and used his wealth to support the Underground Railroad.On the trails
Both the Road to Harrisburg and Road to Gettysburg trails take tourists on a journey beyond Gettysburg, site of the pivotal 1863 battle of the same name, and to previously overlooked historic sites.
The Road to Harrisburg trail includes 15 “story stops” and passes through Franklin County.
Beginning in Gettysburg, the trail travels east through Waynesboro, Greencastle and Mercersburg before turning north to Chambersburg. From there the trail continues through Shippensburg, Carlisle, Mechanicsburg and Camp Hill before reaching Harrisburg.
Along the way, tourists pass “story stops” for such events as the Battle of Monterey, the burning of Chambersburg and shelling of Carlisle and places such as the Allison-Antrim Museum in Greencastle; the Mary Ritner House in Chambersburg, where John Brown lived and planned his raid in the summer of 1859; and Dickinson College in Carlisle, where students from both North and South said their goodbyes only to meet again on the battlefield.
“Because of Dickinson being close to the Mason-Dixon Line and because of Dickinson’s primary support being (at the time) the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Church, a lot of Dickinson students lived in the southwestern side of Virginia,” said Jim Gerenscer, archivist at the Dickinson College Waidner-Spahr Library.
A number of students and fraternity brothers preparing to travel home and join the armies of both sides signed the autograph book of another student, now kept in the college’s archives, before leaving the college.
Two excerpts from the book are viewable at a “story stop” on the college campus. The book itself is also viewable by special request at the college’s archives.
“Though I am a secessionist, yet I am your friend,” wrote Cyrus Gault Jr. of Baltimore in the book. “May prosperity attend you in all you do, except in making war upon the South.”
“If I wear the Phi Kap badge, don’t shoot me Frank,” wrote H. Kennedy Weber in the book.
The Road to Gettysburg trail travels from Harrisburg, target of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s invasion, southeast through Lancaster and then turns west, passing through Columbia, Wrightsville, Marietta, York and Hanover before reaching Gettysburg.
Along the way tourists pass story stops for places and events such as Harrisburg’s review of black troops, the surrender of York and the first battle as a general for the infamous George Armstrong Custer.
Custer was appointed brigadier general June 29, 1863, and led the Michigan brigade, as commander, into Hanover June 30, 1863.
Custer and his troops helped push the Confederate cavalry of Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart out of Hanover and impeded his being able to join confederate forces at the Battle of Gettysburg until July 2.
In addition to the Civil War history, Pennsylvania’s new Civil War Trails provide an opportunity to see the commonwealth, taste a variety of foods from local restaurants and visit other historic sites such as the First Presbyterian Church in Carlisle, founded in 1734.
For more information on the Pennsylvania Civil War Trails or to download the free brochures, visit the Web site:www.pacivilwartrails.com