Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Historic David Wills House

One of the newest historical attractions opening in Gettysburg is the David Wills House. This structure is where Lincoln put the finishing touches on the Gettysburg Address. The building is nearly completed with a multi-year restoration to be completed for the Lincoln Bicentennial. Barb Sanders (my future summer boss) has played a large role in preparing the new museum. The new facility will open in three weeks.

Wills House to Open Feb. 12

Three weeks before its planned opening, there's not much to see at the David Wills House.

Saw dust, ladders, garbage cans and a cardboard sign that reads "Clean dry feet only" are the current occupants of the soon-to-be Gettysburg museum.

But officials say the historic structure - where Abraham Lincoln put the finishing touches on his famous Gettysburg Address - will be ready for its Feb. 12 opening. The date coincides with President Lincoln's 200th birthday.

The walls are painted, but little else looks as it will when visitors get their first look at the museum. In the coming weeks, furniture, display exhibits and artifacts will take the place of construction equipment.

"A museum always looks like this just before it opens." The park owns the Wills House and has been behind the building's restoration, but the museum will be operated by Main Street Gettysburg. On Thursday, officials gave local media a sneak peak of the Wills House.

The museum had originally been scheduled to open Nov. 18, 2008 - 145 years after Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address during the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery. But "major" structural issues delayed the opening. During the $7.2 million restoration project, workers found that the home's basement walls were crumbling and needed to be rebuilt. Concrete piers were also put in place to support the structure, Lawhon said.

The David Wills House, located on Lincoln Square, is more than just a place Lincoln slept. It was essentially the headquarters of Gettysburg's clean-up and recovery process after the Battle of Gettysburg. David Wills, a prominent town citizen, coordinated the efforts from inside the house.

He was both the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said park ranger and education specialist Barb Sanders.

"All those things they didn't have back then fell on David Wills," she said.

That story will be told primarily on the museum's first floor. The first gallery is the parlor room, where artifacts and photographs will describe the battle's aftermath and Wills' role in the recovery efforts.

"I think people will come here wanting to get the Lincoln story," she said. "And I think they'll leave thinking, 'Wow, that Wills story is really something.'" Sanders said. Also on the first floor is the first of two recreated rooms. Visitors will see Wills' law office as it appeared in 1863, when he was busy answering letters from locals, governors and family members of those who died at Gettysburg.

On the second floor, the Lincoln bedroom has also restored to its 1863 appearance. The bed where Lincoln slept and other original furnishings will be on display.

Other exhibits will explain the legacy of the Gettysburg Address and the evolution of the Wills House - which is also a former hardware store, drug store, music store and antiques market.

The museum will open at 10 a.m. on Feb. 12 and will be free the whole day. Admission charges will begin the following day. Fees are $6.50 for adults, $5.50 for senior citizens, $4 for children 6 to 12 and free for children under 5.

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