Once upon a time in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, across from the solemn and sacred Soldier’s National Cemetery where there now lies over 3,500 Union soldiers who, as Abraham Lincoln put it, “gave the last full measure of devotion”, there was once an amusement park for children so famous, even President Kennedy’s kids would often visit on summer weekends.

Image: National Park Service/Gettysburg National Military Park. Public Domain

Nearby, there was also a 307-foot tall hyperboloid observation tower that gave a birds-eye view of the Gettysburg National Park where some of the bloodiest fighting of the Civil War took place during the three-day Battle of Gettysburg that made the town famous. 

And, also once upon a time, looking southwest from that observation tower, visitors could see that, across from the Peach Orchard and right smack dab in the middle of where some of the fiercest fighting of second day of that battle took place, there stood a Stuckey’s Pecan Shoppe.

July 2, 1863 – The Peach Orchard

After a somewhat victorious first day of fighting at Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee would take advantage of his success on the second day of the battle by launching a series of attacks against the flanks of Union Major General George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac. One of those attacks would be against a position that was held by Union Major General Dan Sickles’ III Corps in an area that would become known as the “Peach Orchard”.  

Fighting at the Peach Orchard began mid-afternoon on July 2 with a barrage of cannon fire exchanged between both armies. After the Union artillery fired its last volley of canister at the now approaching Confederate infantry, the Union’s Second New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry made its way south into the Peach Orchard to help defend the Union line. Once they arrived, the 2nd New Hampshire began firing at the charging Confederates, eventually pushing them back 150 yards from the edge of the orchard.

“Gettysburg Peach Orchard by Edwin Forbes. Public Domain

Around 6 p.m. that evening, however, two Confederate brigades charged directly into the Peach Orchard from the west. The Union held their position until sunset, but by 6:30, the Confederates would break through the Union line and overrun the Peach Orchard. As a result, the 2nd New Hampshire was forced to retreat. 

The 2nd New Hampshire had come into the fight at Gettysburg with 353 men. In just three hours, 47 of them would be dead, another 136 were wounded, and 36 would be reported as missing. Out of their 24 officers, 21 would be killed or wounded that day.

General Sickles would lose his leg to cannon fire.

The South would still lose the day, however. The next day, after the Union repulse of the Pickett’s infamous charge, the Confederates would lose the battle and return south, never to invade Northern soil again.

August 20, 1955 – Stuckey’s

Advertisement for Stuckey’s Grand Opening in Gettysburg from the August 20, 1955, edition of the Gettysburg Times. Public Domain

On August 20, 1955, two real estate brokers from Alexandria, Virginia, Col. J. Fuller Groom and Alexander P. Marshall, opened up a Stuckey’s Pecan Shoppe just outside Gettysburg. It was located on the Gettysburg battlefield about 150 yards south of the Peach Orchard where the two armies clashed so fiercely on the 2nd day of the battle 92 years before.

It also sat across the street from the Lee-Meade Inn on Emmitsburg Road (US 15). Incidentally, the two gentlemen from Alexandria would also buy the Lee-Meade Inn and convert the roadside inn’s cottages into apartments for Stuckey’s employees.

Col. Groom also claimed that there were a total of 25 billboards spread out in all directions for miles advertising the store.

At the time it opened, the Gettysburg Stuckey’s was the northernmost Stuckey’s in the country.

Why Gettysburg?

Well, according to Groom it was because Gettysburg was a tourist destination all year round. Snowbirds from Western New York and Canada often took US Route 15 down to Florida and other warmer points south in the winter. In the summer, people came to Gettysburg for the battlefield.

First Lady Mamie Eisenhower bought this souvenir plate depicting her and President Eisenhower for $2.99 at the Gettysburg Stuckey’s. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, Eisenhower National Historic Site. Image: Public Domain

And Groom was right. Under the management of Gettysburg’s own Mr. & Mrs. Ralph Arendt, the store was a year-round success. Ask anyone who took family road trips to the famous battlefield back in the late 1950s and into the early 1970s, and many will remember stopping at Stuckey’s in Gettysburg for a cheap souvenir, a giant shake and a Stuckey’s pecan log roll.

And it wasn’t just popular with tourists, but with locals as well. One local in particular who liked to shop at the Gettysburg Stuckey’s was none other than First Lady Mamie Eisenhower.

Back in 1950, three years before Ike would become president, he and Mamie bought a house and farm less than half a mile away from where the Stuckey’s would be built in 1955.  While he was President, the President and First Lady would often come back to Gettysburg for vacations or a weekend getaway from Washington. After his presidency ended in 1961, Ike would retire there as well.

Now, one thing Mamie loved was shopping. She especially loved collecting inexpensive, kitschy little mementos and would of course purchase most of them from the nearby Stuckey’s.

The Second Battle of Gettysburg

In the late 1970s, the public mindset towards national parks, and especially towards Gettysburg, turned from thoughts of commercialization to those of preservation. Many felt that to truly understand the battle, the very battlefield on which they fought on must be preserved to look exactly as it did during the first three days of July in 1963.

To historians and preservationists alike, the hotels, towers, amusement parks, fast food joints and kitschy souvenir shops became “eyesores” that stood on hallowed ground and had to go. It became like a second battle of Gettysburg – the businessmen and women of Gettysburg versus the battlefield preservationists (which would eventually also include the National Park Service).

Postcard of the Gettysburg Stuckey’s. Public Domain

Preservation societies like the Friends of the National Parks at Gettysburg (now the Gettysburg Foundation) and the American Battlefield Trust started buying up these parcels of land and bulldozing the businesses. Afterwards they would donate the land to the Gettysburg National Military Park. Stuckey’s, along with the motels and other business and private residences along the Emmitsburg Road would be some of their first casualties.

Bulldozed in the late 1970s, you would never know that Stuckey’s was even there in Gettysburg. Fantasyland would also meet the same fate in 1980.  The National Tower would be imploded with much fanfare on July 3, 2000.

Still, for those who visited Gettysburg back in the heyday of summer road trips, they remember speaking to Mother Goose at Fantasyland, riding the elevators up and taking the stairs down the National Tower, and they remember taking home a souvenir kepi or popgun from Stuckey’s in Gettysburg.

Stuckey’s – We’re Making Road Trips Fun Again.

www.stuckeys.com