ECW Weekender: Closing Devil’s Den and Little Round Top

Devil’s Den from Little Round Top. Photo by Kristopher D. White.

Time is running out for you to visit two of the most awe-inspiring sites at Gettysburg-Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. The National Park Service (NPS) plans to close Devil’s Den on Monday, March 21, 2022, for approximately six months. During this time, the NPS intends to “address significant erosion and safety issues in this highly visited area of the battlefield.” Little Round Top will close later this spring for at least 18 months. “The rehabilitation of Little Round Top will address overwhelmed parking areas, poor accessibility and related safety hazards, significant erosion, and degraded vegetation.” A heavy visitor presence is a problem at many historic sites worldwide. Areas such as Devil’s Den and Little Round Top host tens of thousands of visitors each year. The visitors traverse the ground and create their own pathways. Many stand in large groups, and in one spot, for extended periods, or park their cars in undesignated parking areas. These types of visitor use lead to erosion and soil compaction while also wearing down the existing pathways, which become worn and treacherous. Ironically, our love of these sites leads to inadvertent damage of the cultural resource.

Perhaps many visitors’ fascination with Devil’s Den and Little Round Top is rooted in early battlefield photography. Alexander Gardner and his team of photographers arrived on the south end of the Gettysburg battlefield on July 5, 1863. Over the next few days, they captured some of the most iconic images from the American Civil War—the Slaughter Pen, the dead sharpshooter, and the precipice we know as Little Round Top. By July 15, Mathew Brady and his team made their way around the battlefield, also capturing iconic scenes that included views of, and from Little Round Top. These photographs dot numerous interpretive markers across the field and are displayed prominently in many books and magazine articles associated with the battle.

Still, it is not just early photographers and modern tourists who’ve impacted the cultural resource. Early battlefield visitors flocked to the most famous sites in the days, weeks, and months following the battle. Days before the Gettysburg Address, soldiers posed and played dead for photographers in Devil’s Den. An 1873 guidebook titled Gettysburg: What to See, and How to See It described the battle, the battlefield, and even suggested where to stay—the Springs Hotel—located on the July 1 battlefield. While at the hotel, the author also suggested a stop at “The Wonderful Healing Phenomenon,” known as the Katalysine Springs—endorsed by both Mag. Gen. George G. Meade and Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin. Commercialism aside, Bachelder claimed that “During a recent visit to Gettysburg, the writer became impressed with the necessity for a book from which visitors could gain reliable information regarding the battle, and directions for visiting the field, independently of the fanciful takes of local guides, who, with the best intentions, are liable to be imposed upon by vainglorious heroes, whose vivid descriptions they have no means to disapprove.”

Bachelder encouraged visitors to visit a group of boulders situated at the south end of “a stony, precipitous undulation called Houck’s Ridge,” known as Devil’s Den. “Huge syenitic boulders are crowded into this narrow ravine, through which struggles the waters of Plumb Run; while yawning chasms suggest to the visitor the haunts of the lurking sharp-shooters, who occupied them during the battle.”

Map of Round Top Park by the Gettysburg National Military Park Commission. Map courtesy of Gettysburg Daily.

He, too, impressed the importance of a nearby hill on his readers that was “nameless prior to the battle, but has since become known as Little Round Top.” Bachelder dubbed Little Round Top “Weed’s Hill,” a name that did not take. But another portion of the hill that he labeled as “Vincent’s Spur,” is well known in the Civil War community.

Bachelder was not the only person seeking to expand upon and take advantage of the tourist industry in Gettysburg. The Gettysburg & Harrisburg Railroad Company produced a more than 40-page pamphlet to promote their “line of the Round Top Branch,” and visitation to Gettysburg in general. In June 1884, the railroad started carrying passengers across the battlefield and to their “Round Top Park.” Round Top Park was situated just to the northeast of the hill that gave the park its name. “Historically interesting, and most conveniently arranged ground for Picnics and Excursions in the State,” boasted one advertisement. Visitors could take advantage of the large dancing pavilion, swings, public kitchen, and their “good” restaurant. The park hosted shooting matches and even a merry-go-round. Later, photographer William Tipton established a tintype studio at Round Top Park. The nearby Rosensteel family purchased two acres of land adjacent to Round Top Park and opened a pavilion of their own. A small business community replete with a schoolhouse came to life in the late 1800s.

The Devil’s Den Sharpshooter by Timothy O’Sullivan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Across the Valley of Death, visitors were also flocking to Devil’s Den. Levi Mumper (whose ad you can also find in the G&H R.R. pamphlet along with an advertisement for William Tipton) opened a seasonal photography studio/restaurant/souvenir stand on a five-acre tract “southeast of Devil’s Den.” Mumper expanded his initial venture by providing a restroom and dance floor. Later, William Tipton acquired the souvenir stand/studio and created a park of his own — “Tipton’s Park.” Dubbed “Boss Tipton” by some folks, he was integral in installing the controversial and destructive Gettysburg Electric Railway, a trolley system that began operations on July 13, 1893. The construction of the trolley line entailed grading of key parts of the battlefield and the removal of large boulders. Blasts of dynamite often aided the removal. One such blast during the construction of the Gettysburg & Harrisburg Railroad cost David Weikert his eyesight. The trolley brought visitors from town, across the battlefield, and down to Tipton’s Park and to Wheatfield Park. Like Round Top and Tipton Parks, Wheatfield Park boasted eating establishments, picnic areas, water pumps, and even a dance pavilion. Tourists and townspeople flocked to these parks during the summer to enjoy the company of friends and family, purchase souvenirs, or have their pictures taken. Eventually, flagging attendance at Round Top Park, the establishment of Gettysburg National Military Park, and court rulings forced these commercial establishments off the hallowed battlefield grounds.

During the 20th-century, the installations of modern restrooms, park roads, parking areas, walking trails, and other visitor services impacted the cultural landscape of Gettysburg—especially Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. These places are well-loved by Civil War buffs across the globe. Many a Civil War buff climbed the rocks of Devil’s Den as a kid or pretended to attack or defend Little Round Top. While it’s unfortunate we will not have access to these places for a time, it’s what is best for the resource and what is best for future generations. If you have the chance, head out to Gettysburg this weekend, be a kid for a few minutes, climb up on Devil’s Den’s rocks, and take in the vista from Little Round Top.

Bibliography:

Adelman, Garry E. and Timothy H. Smith. Devil’s Den: A History and Guide. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1997.

Bachelder, John B. Gettysburg: What to See, and How to See It. Boston, MA: John B. Bachelder, Publisher, 1873.

Frassanito, William A. Early Photography at Gettysburg. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 1995.

Gettysburg & Harrisburg Railroad Company. The Battlefield of Gettysburg. No Publisher, 1886.

Long, James T. Gettysburg: How the Battle Was Fought. Harrisburg, PA: Meyers Printing House, 1891.

Mackowski, Chris, Kristopher D. White, and Daniel T. Davis. Don’t Give an Inch: The Second Day at Gettysburg. El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2016.

About Kristopher D. White

Civil War author and historian. Deputy Director of Education Manager for the American Battlefield Trust and chief historian of Emerging Civil War.
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4 Responses to ECW Weekender: Closing Devil’s Den and Little Round Top

  1. Glen Robertson says:

    Is there an estimated date for closure of Little Round Top beyond “later this spring?”

    • Kristopher D. White says:

      No, the NPS has not released the final date for the LRT closure. It has been pushed back a few different times.

  2. Roberrt Denney says:

    Amazing article Mr. White! I, like many I suspect, had no idea about the entire commercialization history of Gettysburg.

    It brings to mind what has happened to the magnificent carving and park at Stone Mountain, GA. What was conceived as a “Memorial to the Confederacy” is now derisively referred to by local civil war buffs as Six Flags East!

    • Kristopher D. White says:

      Thank you. This is the tip of the iceberg. There was a casino, brothels, and so much more at Round Top and Tipton Parks. They are a fascinating chapter of the Gettysburg story.

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