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Discovering Gettysburg College: A Gem in the Heart of Pennsylvania

I’ve loved history all my life, and when you visit a place like Gettysburg, you can feel its connection to the past. But when we look at history in this place, we often focus on the battle of the same name. Today, I’d like to tell you about an institution that brings together the past and the present — Gettysburg College.

I visited the college recently, close as it is to the battlefield where we source our wood. It gave me a wonderful opportunity to get to know this town as it exists today.

With its rich history, outstanding academic programs, vibrant arts and culture scene, and countless outdoor adventures, Gettysburg College truly offers something for everyone. It’s a great place for learning and a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, education, and culture.

If you are a prospective student, you’ll find a quality learning institution in a beautiful part of the country and no shortage of campus activities. But it is also a great place to visit if you love history like I do.

History and Heritage

Gettysburg Battlefield near Gettysburg College

Nestled within the town of Gettysburg, Gettysburg College has a deep-rooted connection with the storied past of this region. It was established in 1832 as a small Lutheran college by Samuel Simon Schmucker with the approval and encouragement of politician and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens.

Later on, the school played a critical role during the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, serving as a field hospital and refuge for wounded soldiers. Some of its students were even organized into military units. Both the Confederacy and Union held the college at points in the fighting, as it was a great place for conducting surgery and sending out communications.

That alone recommends it as a place with a profound history. Walking these halls, you can imagine what chaos once echoed through here. But even at the time, it was an established institution with some three decades of history under its belt. War disrupted that tradition, but it didn’t end it.

Today, the college's historic campus boasts several impressive landmarks and monuments that pay tribute to its storied past:

  • Pennsylvania Hall: Built in 1837, this iconic building served as a hospital during the Battle of Gettysburg and now houses the college's administration offices. It was at various times controlled by the Union and Confederate side.

  • The Eisenhower Institute: Named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower, this prestigious institute is dedicated to the study of public policy and leadership, and is housed in the former president's retirement home. Eisenhower actually lived in the small town before his rise to prominence, and he returned there after retiring from the army. That close connection between the former President and the city makes his name an important part of the college’s culture.

Of course, you can also visit the actual battlefield right next to the campus. If you want to go a bit further afield, the town is filled with plenty of markers that point to its storied past.

Academics and Student Life

Academic college students studying together

Gettysburg College is more than just a historical site – it's also a thriving academic institution that offers a diverse array of programs and student life opportunities. With over 65 academic departments and programs, students can choose from a wide range of majors and minors, from history and political science to environmental studies and theater arts.

Life on campus is just as rich and varied, with numerous student organizations and extracurricular activities available to foster a well-rounded education and a supportive community. Some highlights of Gettysburg College's vibrant student life include:

  • Over 120 student-run clubs and organizations, covering a wide range of interests from academic to recreational

  • An active Greek life scene, with several fraternities and sororities that promote community service, leadership, and personal development

  • A robust athletics program, with 24 varsity sports teams competing in the NCAA Division III

Like any thriving center of higher learning, visiting Gettysburg College reminds you of those early days as a student. It’s hard not to feel optimistic, and it’s amazing to see young people now living and learning so close to such an important battlefield from the Civil War.

Arts and Culture

Man and woman attending performing arts event and clapping

Gettysburg is a small town, but thanks to the college, it has many arts and culture activities to enjoy. You can attend its many galleries, theaters, and performance spaces that dot the campus, or visit one of the many cultural events and programs the college hosts. You can expect to find:

  • Concerts: The Sunderman Conservatory of Music presents numerous concerts throughout the year, showcasing the talents of its students and faculty.

  • Art exhibitions: The Schmucker Art Gallery features rotating exhibits of both student and professional artwork, as well as an extensive permanent collection.

  • Guest lectures: The college frequently invites distinguished speakers from various fields to engage and inspire the campus community.

With a population of just over 7,000 people, it’s amazing to find these kinds of attractions. It’s part of what makes Gettysburg College such a beloved part of the town.

Outdoor Adventures and Nature

Surrounded by the natural beauty of Pennsylvania, Gettysburg College is an ideal destination for anyone seeking outdoor adventure and a connection with nature. Just a stone's throw away from campus, you'll find several parks, trails, and natural areas to explore, such as:

  • Gettysburg National Military Park: Discover the hallowed grounds of this historic battlefield and learn about the events that took place here during the Civil War.

  • The Appalachian Trail: Hike a portion of this iconic 2,190-mile trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine, experiencing breathtaking views and diverse ecosystems along the way.

  • Michaux State Forest: Covering over 85,000 acres, this expansive forest offers countless opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and camping.

Final Thoughts

Gettysburg College truly is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in history, education, and culture. From its rich history and heritage to its diverse academic programs, vibrant student life, thriving arts scene, and countless outdoor adventures, there's something for everyone at this hidden gem.

What makes Gettysburg College so special is how it breathes life into this area. When we focus so much on the battle that took place there, we make everything about the horrors of war. Terrible though they were, they are not the whole story. The town is a community making its way in the 21st century. The college makes that easy to see.

It shines with a wide range of academic departments and programs that cater to diverse interests, and a bustling student life. And thanks to its strong commitment to arts and culture, it provides a wealth of experiences for both the student body and the community at large. And the outdoor adventures waiting nearby only sweeten the deal.

All the while, the institution sits beside the open battlefield that is preserved so that we can remember the sacrifices made to create the country we live in. In Gettysburg, the future and the past live in a balance.

I encourage you to visit Gettysburg College and discover this remarkable institution for yourself. Whether you're a prospective student, history buff, or simply looking for a unique and enriching experience, Gettysburg College will surely leave a lasting impression.

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