If any building were to be called the center of the Battle of Gettysburg, it would be the Fahnestock Brothers’ store. Located at the corner of Baltimore and West Middle Streets next to the rotary or diamond at the center of the business district, the store was the largest of its kind in Gettysburg. Well before the battle it was already a prominent landmark both physically and psychologically within the town. Its announcements of new goods ran weekly in the local newspapers (the screenshot on the left has announcements from a variety of stores with the Fahnestocks’ multiple announcements leading out). Their goods ranged from dry goods for the kitchen to farming instruments to women’s outerwear to tools.
While virtually every citizen in town likely patronized the Fahnestock store, their overall economic ties ran far deeper. Prominent carriage maker Charles W. Hoffman ran up hundreds of dollars in debt by purchasing from the Fahnestocks on credit. Daniel Skelly, brother of Jack and Ed Skelly, worked as a clerk for the Fahnestocks. Hoffman, of course, employed his three sons, William and Wesley Culp, and Ed Skelly before he headed South (possibly trying to dodge repayment of his loans). Jennie Wade and her mother repaired clothing and garments sold from the store and also worked on cloth coverings for the Hoffmans, among others.
As new businesses and stores opened, they often announced their locations with a reference to the Fahnestock store, as shown in the screenshot on the right. The Sunbeam Gallery was just one of several businesses that noted the Fahnestock landmark to orient readers on where to find their new establishments. Further, when the Confederate army neared the city in late June, the Bushman family (which lived on Baltimore street a couple of blocks south) hid a variety of goods in their house to minimize “requisitions” from Jubal Early‘s men.
When the cannons first boomed on July 1, clerk Daniel Skelly scrambled out of his nearby home. He noted the following:
“We could then hear distinctly the skirmish fire in the vicinity of Marsh Creek, about three miles from our position. Shot and shell began to fly over our heads. Being anxious to see more of the battle, I concluded I would go up on the observatory on the store building of the Fahnestock Brothers, situated on the northwest corner of Baltimore and West Middle Streets, and just across the street from the court house.”
Skelly was one of several Gettysburg residents who had climbed to the 8 x 8 observatory. Soon after, Union general Oliver Otis Howard came up from the south toward the center of town. He and his entourage stopped first at the Adams County Courthouse, which would have been an excellent observation point if its belfry had not been locked. Young Skelly saw the general and his staff and told them that the Fahnestock observatory could be used instead. Howard took the young man up on the offer and ascended the building to the observatory. There he used a field glass to see the expanding battle both north and west of the city. Like General John Reynolds, Howard quickly observed the strategic importance of Cemetery Hill.
Around 10:30 am, Captain Daniel Hall rode up and bellowed from the street below, “General Reynolds is dead, and you are the senior officer on the field.” Howard would ultimately establish Cemetery Hill as the fallback point for the Union when their defense collapsed near the end of day 1.
At the end of day 1, the town and the building were in the hands of Confederates, and throughout the next day, sharpshooters operated up and down Baltimore Street while taking aim at Cemetery Hill. When the Confederate army pulled out, tens of thousands of wounded were left behind, and the building saw dozens of wounded men sheltered there for a time. On July 8, the US Sanitation Commission made it their base of operations, and the store was filled from floor to ceiling with supplies for the army and the medical personnel.
Just over two weeks later, the building was returned to the Fahnestock Brothers, and they began to put their business back together. In the years following the war, the brothers would ultimately sell the building, and each would leave for a different city. The building passed through various hands until it fell into disrepair. In the 1980s, it was rehabilitated for the housing of senior citizens and remains in private hands today.