By Charity Beth Long
Outsiders may see Gettysburg, Pennsylvania as an eternal place of mourning, filled with museums and an endless sea of fallen soldiers’ graves. Though you will still find some kitschy souvenir shops, historical names donning many a business and ghost tours aplenty, but today’s Gettysburg is less relic and more inspired.
Much of Gettysburg has remained agricultural. Inside town, adapted reuse prevails as restaurants reside in houses and old factory buildings conceal new business opportunities. Outside town, farms are being reinvented into vineyards, cideries, farm markets and even a nonprofit bed and breakfast.
Farm-to-fork destinations filled with scrumptious food and drink, family grown produce and authentic hospitality await visitors today. But visiting Gettysburg is not a light endeavor. A spirit of mindfulness seems to pervade the very land itself and with it the culture that calls these foothills home. In a time when many families are selling their farms to developers, Adams County appears to be resisting that trend, stemming from an ethic for farming as a way of life.
Ellie Hollabaugh Vranich is a third-generation farmer at Hollabaugh Bros., home to orchards, a year-round farm market, bakery, culinary classes and tours of the 500-acre working farm. Vranich and her family work hard to compete in today’s farming industry. Trickle irrigation, crop rotation and high-density vertical planting are just a few of the ways they are maximizing space and profits. She believes they “have a gift in the land.”
Her parents included her in farm operations from a very young age, she said, “so I gained as much of a feeling of ownership as a young child can comprehend from an early stage, and that has always stuck with me.”
Before he was president, Dwight D. Eisenhower chose Gettysburg as his permanent home away from the stresses of military life. In 1950 Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, purchased 189 acres adjoining the battlefields with the hope of settling down. His first assignment was at Camp Colt, so he was familiar with the area. Before they could settle in, Ike was called away to command NATO forces in Europe.
It wasn’t until Ike’s second term as President that the Eisenhowers began to renovate and make the farm home. Eisenhower raised Angus cattle and experimented with soil conservation techniques amidst the busy life of presidential office while Mamie kept a small vegetable garden.
Today the home is a National Park where Rangers and volunteers interpret artifacts that adorn the modest estate. The Eisenhower farm, including the Gettysburg Battlefields, are still cultivated today thanks to a National Park Service program that leases park lands to farmers.
Local entrepreneur Yianna Barakos planted 47 acres of grain on parkland for his Mason-Dixon Distillery before he had even secured a location to distill spirits. But the risk was rewarded when Yianna found an abandoned furniture factory to house his operation. No detail has been overlooked in this restoration.
“I get goose bumps when I tell people I am building my business on a 100-year-old foundation,” says Barakos. Beams have been hand-sanded and windows lovingly restored while reclaimed wood provided the raw materials for interior moldings. After a sample at Mason-Dixon Distillery, I headed back to the battlefield for one last look. As the sun waned, tourists snapped photos while locals ran along the monument-laden roads. Tranquility encompasses the fields while the golden glow of twilight enshrines a time still felt deeply in the soul of this land. It is hard to imagine that such beauty was once a theatre of war, and yet, it is the sacrifices made here that have imbued this countryside with purpose beyond measure. But if it were not for the enduring spirit of the people of Gettysburg this greater understanding might be lost to history. It is they who tend the fields, who invest and reinvest in this hallowed soil.