Richard Waybright, 83, whose family owns Mason Dixon Farms Inc., an enormous dairy operation outside town, is old enough to remember the battle's 75th anniversary in 1938. He heard his grandfather recall how the invading army cleaned out the smokehouse, paying for the hams with Confederate dollars.
At the time of the war, Gettysburg was home to Pennsylvania College, and a small number of its 116 students had stayed behind for summer classes despite the arrival of the rival armies. When the real shooting began, the students were quickly dismissed, and the main building -- which today contains the Gettysburg College administration -- also became a field hospital.
College President Janet Morgan Riggs said its history is becoming a bigger presence on campus. Students can now minor in Civil War-era studies, the college runs a Civil War institute that attracts scholars each summer and, for the past 11 years, freshmen have been brought to the national cemetery to hear President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and other speakers.
"For a period of time, we did not embrace this historical context," Riggs said. "I don't know if there was a fear we'd be seen as a Civil War college, but over the last couple decades we have certainly embraced it."
These days, Gettysburg can feel a bit like an open-air museum, with people walking its streets in period garb. One reason for the lost-in-time feel is the park itself, which surrounds the town and chokes off much of what would certainly be miles of suburban development. A strip of development runs eastward on Route 30, but anyone hoping to build on land that can be seen from the park can run into preservation regulations.
The park offers locals the use of about 30 miles of bucolic roadways and vast open spaces as well as a constant string of cultural events, both on and off park property. About 400 such events are scheduled through July 7.
The stream of visitors can put a crush on police, sanitation, road maintenance and emergency services.
The Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates visitors spent $605 million in 2011, generating $115 million in tax revenue and supporting 7,500 jobs.
"Most of the tourist-related jobs are lower-paying," Phiel said. "They aren't necessarily career-type situations."
Tourism is the region's top industry, rivaled in size only by the fruit orchards established after World War I. Many of its residents commute to nearby towns for work, and retirees have moved in, drawn by its rural nature or a fascination with the Civil War.
As retirees move into the area from Baltimore and Washington, Waybright worries about the younger generation. Many county schools have experienced declining enrollment over the past five years, and half of his 17 grandchildren "headed to the big city" to find careers.
"We're now over 100,000 [population]," Waybright said. "But it's awful what's happening to our schools."