There are few houses within the borough of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania that have as much history and folklore as the Jennie Wade House. Gettysburg is home to many old residences, but this small brick house is of particular interest. Built in the early-to-mid 1800s and only about twenty years old when the infamous Battle of Gettysburg occurred, the Jennie Wade House was actually known in 1863 as the McClellan and McClain House. On one side lived Catharine McClain and her children, on the other, Georgia and John Louis McClellan. After John went to war, their half of the house was occupied by Georgia and their baby son, who was born just before the battle.
Georgia’s sister Jennie Wade, twenty, died in the house after a fatal bullet found its wayward mark. She was diligently baking for hungry soldiers at the time of the tragedy. Despite this dark history, the house is a fascinating place to visit. It is very easy to find; if you travel up Baltimore Street, one of the town’s main thoroughfares, you will see the huge Holiday Inn Battlefield. Up on a hill next to the sprawling hotel, a small brick house perches. This is the Jennie Wade House. If you’re fortunate enough to be staying at Holiday Inn it is only a short walk over. You can get tickets at the small gift shop adjoining the Baltimore Street home. At least when I took the tour, it was self-guided. Feel free to take your time and explore each room, looking for evidence of the past. If you love old houses as I do, it won’t be any trouble to find something that will capture your imagination.
One thing you will be shown is the place where the actual bullet that took Jennie’s life entered; it can still be seen in the old red door. The McClellan kitchen is one of most striking rooms in the house, with its period furniture and quaint Victorian wallpaper. Each room is decorated to look much as it did in 1863, and this only adds to the sense of history you get as you look around. When you visit the parlor you might wonder why there is a bed situated against the wall. Georgia McClellan had the bed placed downstairs to reduce the chances of anyone getting hit by shells from the battle. Notice the “talking soldier,” one of the main attractions in the house’s lower level. After seeing the downstairs of the McClellan side, you will trek upstairs (you might notice the creaky steps; it certainly adds to the ambiance). Upstairs is a series of bedrooms and small nooks and crannies.
One of the upstairs walls was a casualty of war, as can be seen by a gaping hole. Even the bedrooms are tastefully decorated. You can also visit the McClain side of the double home, including a small but elegant parlor. You are free to visit the cellar, but be warned; this is purported to be a haunted house, and for good reason. Not only was young Jennie killed upstairs, but her body was kept in the cellar for awhile before its initial burial. There are definitely “odd” feelings and happenings in this part of the house. Bursting out into sunlight again, you may want to find some photo angles and check out the rough brick texture that survived the Civil War. You will find evidence of more battle damage in the small holes that dot the masonry.
Outside the home in the front lawn, a statue of Jennie guards busy Baltimore Street. The Jennie Wade House is like a 19th century oasis in the middle of the very modern, 21st century traffic. It is obviously contrasted by the hotel and parking lot that it is sandwiched between. Interestingly enough, you can see one of the Union positions from the parking lot; Cemetery Hill’s monuments are visible from the road. It is easy to see how dangerous it was to live in this location during July 1863. Found elsewhere on Baltimore Street is the huge red brick Evergreen Cemetery gatehouse. Jennie Wade, as well as her soldier sweetheart Jack Skelly, is buried in this cemetery which was begun in the 1850s, just before the battle. Her grave is topped by a likeness of her and an American flag honoring her sacrifice.
By Lacie R. Schaeffer