The Fahnestock Brothers and Gettysburg's Overlooked Historical Marvel

The Fahnestock Brothers and Gettysburg’s Overlooked Historical Marvel

When one thinks of Gettysburg, the sprawling battlefield often takes center stage, overshadowing the hidden treasures nestled in downtown Gettysburg. Beyond the tales of sharpshooters and barricaded streets lies the Fahnestock Building, an architectural gem that played a pivotal role during and after the Battle of Gettysburg. In this article, we uncover the layers of history within this three-story brick edifice, weaving together the threads of war, resilience, and transformation.

The Fahnestock Building: An Unassuming Witness to History

Built around 1810, the Fahnestock Building initially operated as a tavern before Samuel Fahnestock acquired it in 1833. Samuel transformed it into the “Samuel Fahnestock Store,” a thriving establishment that evolved into the “Fahnestock Brothers Store.” At the outbreak of the Civil War, Samuel Fahnestock, a prominent figure in Gettysburg, passed away, leaving the business in the capable hands of his three sons—James, Henry, and Edward.

A Civil War Oasis: Witnessing the Battle Unfold

As the Battle of Gettysburg erupted on July 1st, 1863, the Fahnestock Building became a silent observer of the unfolding chaos. James and Henry, two of the Fahnestock brothers, were in town during the battle, while Edward served in the Union Army. The building’s rooftop observatory became a vantage point for curious citizens, including 18-year-old Daniel Skelly, a clerk in the Fahnestock store. Skelly recalled the skirmish fire and the pivotal role the building played in providing a panoramic view of the battle.

General Howard and the Fahnestock Building

Major General Oliver Otis Howard, commander of the Union 11th Corps, arrived in Gettysburg as the battle intensified. Unable to access the locked clock tower of the Adams County Courthouse, Howard turned to the Fahnestock Building. Young Daniel Skelly guided Howard and his staff to the rooftop observatory, where the general surveyed the terrain and roads radiating from the town. Here, Howard received the news of General Reynolds’ death and assumed command.

Confederate Occupation and Post-Battle Use

By the evening of July 1st, Confederate forces occupied Gettysburg, with the Fahnestock Building at the heart of their defensive line. In the aftermath, the United States Sanitary Commission repurposed the building as a storehouse for crucial supplies. Mrs. Fahnestock even received a visit from a Confederate soldier, highlighting the building’s unique position amid war.

From Battlefields to Senior Citizen Housing

In the years that followed, the Fahnestock Building witnessed a transformation. By the 1980s, it had fallen into disrepair, only to be revitalized in 1984 as senior citizen housing. While it is private property today, organizations like the American Battlefield Trust have gained access to this historical landmark, ensuring its preservation and continued connection to the events unfolding within its walls.

The Fahnestock Building, often overshadowed by the grandeur of the Gettysburg battlefield, holds within its bricks and beams a tale of resilience, transformation, and the indomitable spirit of a town caught in the throes of war. As visitors explore Gettysburg, let this article be a guide to the hidden gem that is the Fahnestock Building—a living testament to the enduring legacy of a community shaped by history.

There’s so much to learn and see in historic Gettysburg. Book your stay at the historic Tillie Pierce House Inn today!