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.
About an hour and a half away from the craziness of Baltimore and Washington DC is the most bucolic and peaceful vacation destination. I am talking about Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The simple and slow pace of the Amish community that intersperses throughout the county harkens to a day when life was much simpler. It is hard to visit and NOT think longingly of life as an Amish person.
This visit was no different. We arrived and just breathed in the peaceful slow pace of the Amish life even amidst the hustle and bustle of a thriving tourist community.
We arrived on a Sunday. This day is not the ideal day to visit Amish Country. Many of the businesses are closed on Sunday due to the religious practices of the Amish community. However, even if you do find yourself in the area on a Sunday there is plenty of things you can do. We started our afternoon at the Amish Village. This is a small village that is dedicated to educating the public about the Amish way of life.
The price of admission (roughly $10) will take you on a guided tour through a farmhouse that is set in the 1950's. The guide will talk about the history of the Amish and how the Amish live even into the current modern age. At the conclusion of the guided tour you will exit the house into the village. You can visit the barn and the animals that are kept on the property. Make sure you have a few quarters to buy some snacks for the animals!
As you go around the property you will have the opportunity to sit in Amish buggies and look at farming practices. You will even have the chance to go into an Amish style schoolhouse.
Our day was about over by the time we were done with the antique shops and it was ready to call it a day. I knew that I wanted to indulge in a Lancaster County delicacy....I wanted a piece of Shoo Fly pie! The problem? Most of the stores that sell this Amish delicacy are closed on Sundays! No problem! I headed to The Dutch Haven! The Dutch Haven is a landmark that is right on Route 30 You can't miss it due to the large replica dutch style windmill. They have lots of touristy items for sale but the main reason for me to go.....they sell Shoo Fly Pie! Usually when you go in they will offer you a nibble of the pie. This is great because this gives the uninformed a chance to try the pie before you purchase. They sell the pie in different ways. You can definitely buy a whole pie (they do ship also) but you can also buy a single piece! I bought a single piece to enjoy in the hotel room that night! It was definitely delicious!
Monday morning dawned and it was a rainy mess! We relaxed and finally got a start to our day. We started the day at the Kettle Kitchen Village in Intercourse.
This is a village that is set up to sell various items. and is free to visit. What will cost you are your purchases if you can't resist the temptations! There is a jam and canned goods shop that has various homestyle canned goods to buy, a a smoke shop and shops that sell their own individual niche of items...things such as candles, knick knacks, quilts, leather goods. The skies the limit and it seems to change every time I go! You can also grab a ride in a horse drawn buggy at this location. (we did not do that this visit!)
After a rainy time spent shopping we decided it was time to head to Lititz! Why Lititz? Why the Wilbur Chocolate Factory Store of course! But first we stopped at the Sturgis Pretzel factory and bought some pretzels and went on the Historic Tour!
You will get a master Pretzel Maker Certificate when you are done..which is always a fun one for the kids in the group......or for the big kid like myself!The tour guide will take you into the original factory of this pretzel company. This company is one of the oldest continuously operating Pretzel companies in the United States. It has been in operation for over 150 years. The tour guide will show you how to make a pretzel and walk you through steps of making their famous delicacy.
The tour guide will go further and talk about how the company and the making of pretzels has evolved over the years. You can even buy a hot soft pretzel at the end of the tour! For $3.50 this tour is well worth it
After we had our fill of pretzel knowledge we headed over to the Wilbur Chocolate Factory Store. Ohhh the smell of chocolate is heavenly when you walk into the store. There are displays to show you the history of Wilburs. There are windows allowing you to watch workers hand dipping chocolate. And there are tables and displays of chocolate! Delicious chocolate!
This is a great little visit (and they have clean bathrooms!)
If you have the time, walk through the town of Lititz. There are some amazing shops. The Savory Gourmet is awesome. They have amazing cheeses and exotic meats. I but you won't be able to get out of there without a purchase! There are antique shops and other various shops to stroll through while you are in Lititz! Definitely take the time to explore!
A visit to Lancaster is always a favorite get a way of mine. It is fun as a day trip and fun as a short overnight trip! Lancaster, I will be back! (Stay tuned for more travel tips on places in Lancaster!)
A trip to the Washington Monument State Park is a great way to spend a day.
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!