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The Shriver House Museum

309 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, Pa.

Opportunities abound to explore every aspect of the fighting in Gettysburg, but chances to learn what the borough’s 2,400 residents experienced are much rarer. Since 1996, the Shriver House Museum has provided an authentic setting for the story of one Gettysburg family, painstakingly restored as a private venture by Nancie and Del Gudmestad, who moved to Gettysburg in 1984. While preservation purists might not agree with everything done to return the house to its 1863 configuration, the Gudmestads’ missteps were few—likely the result of financial constraints rather than misinformation. The result is a convincing portrait of a prosperous middle-class family home in the 1860s. George Shriver and his wife Henrietta, or Hettie, both grew up nearby and wed in 1855, when they were 18. Six years later they built their brick home on Baltimore Street, with plenty of room for two young daughters, Sadie and Mollie, and a basement saloon that, when coupled with a 10-pin (bowling) alley in a separate building in the backyard, promised to become a 19th-century equivalent to today’s sports bar. But George never poured a single drink. In August 1861, he joined a Union cavalry unit, and as far as records show, he was home on leave only once, for just four days, during the course of the war.

When Robert E. Lee’s army came to Gettysburg, Hettie and her girls, with the teenage daughter of neighbor James Pierce, fed to her family’s  farm south of town to wait out the battle in presumed safety. Instead she found herself in the midst of some of the fiercest fighting, for the  Weikert farmhouse sat between Big Round Top and Little Round Top. After ministering to hundreds of wounded, she returned to Baltimore Street on July 7 to discover her home had been stripped of furnishings. Food, clothing and linens, tools and more were gone. Sharpshooters had occupied her attic, sniping at Union troops on Cemetery Ridge through two 10-inch gun ports knocked through the south wall. Neither Hettie nor her children left behind any written record of that summer, but Tillie Pierce, their teenage neighbor, kept a diary of their travails.

A costumed interpreter leads visitors through the museum’s front door into a central hallway, to the right of which is the formal parlor. To the left is the dining and family room, with a rare indoor kitchen behind it. Since all the furnishings are based on an 1865 inventory, it’s little wonder that the home has frequently served as the setting for historical documentaries and dramatizations.

A visit to the Shriver House is an exercise in skillful storytelling, unburdened with recitations about furniture and fixtures that so often  deaden house tours. You cannot help but empathize with Hettie Shriver’s predicament: a mother left alone with two young daughters in the midst of one of the war’s pivotal struggles.


Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.