I was looking for attractions in the Harrisburg area for our upcoming trip when I stumbled upon the Fort Hunter Mansion and Park. I was immediately intrigued. A 100 (some sections are more than 200 years old) year old mansion that we could tour? That sounded like something right up my alley as I adore history! Even better, this mansion sits within a park that contains numerous historic buildings. Are you still not convinced? The property borders the Susquehanna River and also touches the remnants of the Pennsylvania Canal. This was going to be a grand place to visit, I could feel it in my bones!
Touring Fort Hunter Mansion
After parking, we made our way up the walkway. I could see a large house sitting before me, splendid with its impressive size. I stopped for a quick picture and then followed the signs to the gift shop. I had read online that tours begin at the top each hour throughout the day. As we were on a relaxing weekend get-a-way, I didn’t want to be tied down to a specific time for a tour, so I had not purchased tickets online, so I was on a mission to purchase tickets for the next tour! The gift shop is situated around the side of the house and I could just make out the beauty of gardens and outbuildings as I rang the bell to gain access to the gift shop. The shop is small, but had a nice selection of books and local trinkets. The cashier was friendly and we quickly had our tickets in hand. We had about 15 minutes before our tour started, so we decided to explore the gardens and grounds by the house. The gardens open up on the right side of the house, with flowers and some vegetables. An Ice house and a Small Dairy building sit amidst the garden confines. The left side of the house is all yard, with an amazing view from high up of the Susquehanna River
At the appropriate time for our tour, we headed to the front porch where we were welcomed into a small parlor. The tour guide welcomed us and invited us to watch a short 5-minute video history of the family and house. The video was informative and the tour guide even more so when he returned to the room. We were given the basic information about when the house was built (the first section in 1786) and more about the families that once resided in this house. The tour guide than said something that blew my mind, in a good way. 99% of the furnishings and artifacts in the house were actually in the house when it was last lived in. This is such a rare find! The family members that inherited the house, in the early to mid-1900’s had worked to preserve the house and its belongings. The attic was full of various artifacts that had been stored away in the attic during the houses occupancy and the museum had carefully catalogued them and worked to display the amazing collection.
The house was decorated exquisitely and had so many extra knickknacks and touches that it was easy to imagine that the owner had just stepped out for a moment. Each room was a plethora of artifacts and history that had my eyes roaming as I soaked in the information from the tour guide. All too soon, the tour was over. It was over so quickly, not because it was short but rather because I was enthralled the whole time. I am absolutely sure that if I went back and did the tour again, my eyes would feast on other items that I totally missed during this first tour.
Fort Hunter Park and Buildings
The grounds surrounding the Fort Hunter Mansion are split by a roadway and contain numerous buildings. As I mentioned above, the house and gardens contain a small dairy and Ice house, but there is so many more things to see. With a map of the park in hand, we headed out to explore. We headed along the Susquehanna River when we left the Mansion tour. A paved path meandered along the way, passing restrooms and an access to the Susquehanna River. We wanted to see it all, so we headed toward the Susquehanna river to check out the river bank before heading to the first building on our exploration.
The first building we decided to check out was the Heckton Church. This church was once a Methodist Church and sits at the end of the parking lot on the same side of the road as the mansion. The church is not in its original location. It was moved within the last 15 years to preserve it from the periodic flooding of the nearby river.
This was the only other building on this side of the road, so we carefully crossed the road and began to explore the other buildings within the park. There is a Large bank barn, a stone stable, a Tavern, smokehouse, and springhouse. We were in the height of summer when we visited so we were able to enjoy the vegetable garden that resided between the bank barn and the stone stable.
Beyond these buildings sits a covered bridge. This is the covered bridge that was built in 1881 to span the little Buffalo Creek. The covered bridge is not in its original location. The founder of this park and museum mansion bought the bridge to save it from its demise when the need for the covered bridge became obsolete. The bridge was dismantled and moved to this property, where it now sits over a small swampy area.
Beyond the covered bridge is the remnants of the Pennsylvania Canal. There are a number of signs to educate the visitor about the canal and the various means of transportation over the years.
We opted to drive to the last historical building within the confines of the park. That is the Fort Hunter Station built in 1929. . This was a gas station that was privately owned and operated as a gas station, restaurant, tourist cabins, miniature golf course and came complete with a beer garden. Everything a tired traveler would need. The building looks to be in the process of being remodeled inside, but the stone building is still standing well to the changes of time.
This park and mansion was a great place to spend a few hours. We were able to immerse ourselves in history that dated from the 1700’s to the 1900’s. It is truly a remarkable collection that should be visited by all. We can only thank Margaret Wister Meigs who was the family member that was instrumental in saving this amazing property and contents in the early 1900’s. Her foresight is a blessing to those of us that can visit in today’s day and age.
What? A Civil war museum in Harrisburg? There was no major battle fought in Harrisburg, what kind of museum would be located in Harrisburg? Those and many more questions filtered through my head as I was looking for places to visit while we spent an overnight trip in Harrisburg, PA. The museum had very good reviews so I put it on the list of possible places to visit while we were in the area. When it came time to choose our destinations, the National Civil War Museum was actually at the top of the list of places to visit, simply because we like history and the Civil war is always a fascinating subject. Admittedly, I was still a bit skeptical about how good this museum was actually going to be but it blew me out of the water! This place was incredible. From the grounds to the building to the displays, the National Civil War Museum is incredible!
The Park at the National Civil War Museum
The museum is located within the Reservoir Park in Harrisburg, PA. In fact, while the museum of course has an actual street address, the website actually advises that if you are using GPS that you type in Reservoir Park. That is exactly what we did and we had no problem! We entered the park through the gates and began to wind up a hill. The roads are well marked at each intersection and there was absolutely no confusion as to how to get to the Museum. This is in an active park with signs for various recreation facilities. We did not explore, we were single mindedly heading to the museum. Around and up we went. We could see the museum building looming above us. It was an impressive building sitting high on the hill. The parking lots are on a lower terrace from the museum proper, with only a short flight of steps to take you to the proper level. There was plenty of parking on the day that we arrived. It was quite hot outside, so we quickly made our way to the museum.
The building is quite impressive. The grounds are well maintained and there is an air of authority as you walk to the entrance way. We pushed open the doors and entered the building and the authority faded away to a feeling of grandeur. The atrium was quite impressive. A grand staircase curled gracefully in the center of the large open space.
To the right we could see a gift shop visible through a windowed wall. We made our way into the gift shop and awaited our turn. The clerk was helpful and in no time at all we had purchased our tickets and been given all the important information about the museum.
The National Civil War Museum Tour
The museum tours are self guided and begin on the second floor and will wind you around the upper level before bringing you to a set of stairs (there is elevator access) to allow you to traverse and explore the lower level of the museum. After a quick stop at the immaculately clean bathrooms, we headed up the stairs to officially begin our visit. The second floor of the building is divided into two parts. The right side of the building appeared to be offices, conference rooms and areas for administration needs. The left side of the building was the actual museum. We quickly pushed through the doors and into the museum rooms. Immediately we step back into time, a time immediately preceding the war and as we walk through the museum we traverse through the many months and years of the war and through to its culmination.
The museum is full of a variety of different things on display. You will encounter many showcases of artifacts from the time period. I was especially intrigued with the hat box that housed Abe Lincoln’s famous top hat. But there were artifacts that I had never seen the likes of before in this museum. There are television monitors scattered around the museum that filmed filmed segments with actors giving us a glimpse into the times before, during and after the war. There are life sized scenes showing aspects of the war. You will move from thing to another with amazement and awe.
My Perception of the National Civil War Museum
As I toured this museum I was particularly intrigued with the content of their artifacts and displays. The museum clearly outlines the war and the quest for freedom through battles. But it did not dwell on the large battles that we all know so well. It talked about some of the smaller battles for sure, but it also focused on the social aspect of the Civil War. By this, it was giving us a glimpse of life during that terrible time in the United States. The level of detail into these various aspects of the social history was amazing. One full room was dedicated to the clothing and accouterments of the soldiers, both North and South. You will see items such as playing cards and intricate bone carvings that are the remnants of the activities that helped the soldiers occupy their time in camp. There are displays that highlight every aspect of camp life for a Civil War Soldier, medicine, food, music, it’s all there for you to peruse.
This museum far exceeded my expectations in every way. The information is presented in a way that is pleasing and easy to understand. The displays are spread out and the area is well managed so that we were never made to feel overcrowded. The website for this museum indicates that a visitor usually spends between two and four hours at the museum. Their estimate was exactly correct as we spent about three to three and a half hours. The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg is top notch and if the opportunity presents itself, I wouldn’t be adverse to visiting again.
In February of this year we decided to get away for the weekend. We wanted to do something that was lighthearted but fun. We wanted to get away. We wanted to explore. It was cold and we felt our options were limited, so we decided to go into Virginia and visit two small towns. We went to Front Royal Virginia and Manassas, Virginia and explored and visited their quaint downtown areas.
Our first stop was actually in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. We were heading down the road and decided to take a stroll through the shops in that unique town. Visiting the fun shops and stores in Harpers Ferry really set the tone for our whole small town weekend!
A stroll through Front Royal, Virginia
Front Royal sits just north of the Shenandoah National Park and the famed Skyline Drive. The town sits nestled in the shadow of the Appalachian mountains. The town received a lot of visitors who are seeking to embark upon the skyline trail, hike in the mountains surrounding the town or canoe in the plentiful rivers and streams.
We arrived in Front Royal, Virginia with enough time to stroll through the town and explore the shops. This little town was alive with activity as we strolled up and down the street. We were tickled to see an antique shop and a trail outfitter store. There was no question that we were going to go into those stores. But we also enjoyed looking at the architectural salvage in one storefront and we had a blast visiting all the stores on the street.
A trip to Front Royal is not complete without a stop in at the General Store. Whenever we are in town we always like to stop in this shop. This store has a bit of everything. We looked at the cast iron pans, shoes, coats, knives, candy and so many more things. We always take our time to amble and stroll through this jam packed store and almost always have to try on a cowboy hat! On this trip, I even bought a new nightgown!
We had a great time exploring this small town. It has a charm that just draws us in. The people are welcoming and the stores are unique and fun! But the evening went way too fast. We enjoyed a good nights sleep at a locally owned hotel and a nice hearty breakfast at a local diner and we were ready for our next day of exploring!
Our next stop was Manassas, Virginia
For our next adventure, we decided to head east about an hour and explore the town of Manassas, Virginia. Manassas is probably best known for it's role in the Civil War, where not one but two instrumental battles were fought. But many people visiting the area never take the time to explore the actual town.
We had been there before and knew that it had a neat historic downtown area that would interest us. OK let me be honest, we also knew that there was a candle shop in that downtown that just might hold some interest for us! So we headed off!
Manassas, Virginia lived up to our expectations that day! We enjoyed our leisurely stroll through the historic downtown. We popped in and out of the stores and explored the side streets. We did find that candle shop and we did purchase a lot of candles! The stores were so fun and many of them were in old buildings that still held many of the vintage aspects of the architecture. My favorite store was the Used book shop. Sadly, the pandemic hit just a short month after our visit and the bookstore closed it's doors for good.
We ambled down a side street to the site of the Manassas Museum. This museum offers free admission and has a small gift shop in the lobby. The museum is dedicated to the history of the area. It won't take long to visit but it is absolutely fascinating to see how the area surrounding Manassas was developed and how it has changed over the years!
We were impressed with the town of Manassas. We Spent time watching the ice skaters on the outdoor rink under the pavilion in the center park. Upon reading up on the area, I discovered that in the summers when the ice rink is closed the town of Manassas will utilize the are for farmers markets and community events and festivals. I loved to see the community spending time building a place of recreation and activity for their residents!
We had an absolutely fantastic time exploring both of these small towns in Virginia. Both Front Royal and Manassas made us feel welcome and afforded us the opportunity to experience life in a small town. The shops and products in these locally owned shops were top notch and sorely tempted us to spend money! (Which we did). Visiting small town America is definitely a great day of exploration!
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!