“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” 

— Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address.

 The David Wills House Museum 

The David Wills House at Gettysburg

The David Wills House at Gettysburg [7]

The History

Built on 1816 The David Wills House is named after its most prominent owner David Wills [1]. He was born on 1831 and by 1854 he had graduated as an attorney from what it is now know as the Gettysburg College [2]. During the Civil War at Gettysburg Wills fulfilled the tasks of many of today’s organizations, such as: FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), CDC (Center for Disease Control) and an American Red cross after the battle [2]. But perhaps the most memorable task that David Wills was faced with during the time of the Civil War was the creation of the Soldiers National Cemetery; he also invited President Abraham Lincoln for the inauguration of the cemetery and asked him to deliver a few words. During this visit President Lincoln gave what would become one of the nation’s most memorable speech: The Gettysburg Address.

On November 18th, 1863, Mrs. Wills had prepared many of the house’s rooms for guest including her own in which President Abraham Lincoln stayed. It was there that he was able to give the final touches to his speech, finalizing it. On the afternoon of Thursday November 19th, 1863 President Abraham Lincoln delivered his address at the Soldiers National Cemetery.

Becoming a Museum

On February 12th , 2009 —for Lincoln’s 200th birthday— the National Park Service (NPS) inaugurated The David Wills House Museum. A museum dedicated to remembering President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the recovery of a town that had been devastated by the Civil War [3].

Lincoln Statue in front of The David Wills House

“Return Visit” Lincoln Statue in front of The David Wills House. [8]

The David Wills House is unique in its nature, as it does not rely on a tour guide to relate the story to the consumers, like many other museums of its kind do [4]. As a self-guided tour the visitor is able to create its own path through the house and therefore through the memories that each gallery depicts, representing the processual aspect of memory. As you walk through the house and remember the events that took place there the person can create an emotional link to the issues that are being presented to them.

The experience begins even before you enter the house. On the northeast entrance of the Museum an Abraham Lincoln statute stands welcoming a young man who is holding the Gettysburg Address. This statue does not only symbolize the connection between the past and the present, bringing both memories together but it also emphasizes the link that exists between memory and space as this specific statues is attached to the memory of both the Gettysburg battle and the address, as well as it is  linked to Abraham Lincoln and his legacy.

David Wills Office

David Wills Office at the David Wills House Museum Photo Credit: T. Browne Smith [9]

Once inside the house the tour starts at the parlor where visitors watch a video that summarizes the battle, and paints the picture of Gettysburg in 1863 for the visitors of the museum [4]. This video although very adequate to situate the visitor in the time era also can serve to counteract the meaning of the museum as this will emphasize the partiality of American memory. At no point in time will history be complete; due to this the history that is trying to be told can be distorted and will result in parts being forgotten. The first restored room of the house is David Wills’s office. The office shows a desk whith a letter inviting president Abraham Lincoln to the dedication of the cemetery and to deliver a few words [4].

On the second floor of the museum lays its main attraction: the room here Lincoln stayed at and where the Gettysburg Address was finished. In this room the original bed in which Lincoln stayed at is the main focus [4]. There’s also a narration that tells the events of Lincoln’s arrival to the house on November 18th, 1863. The other upstairs galleries retail the events at the Wills’s House and analyze “Lincoln as a war time president” [4]. The final room interprets the short and long-term significance of the Gettysburg address [4].

Lincoln's Bedroom at The David Wills House

Lincoln’s Bedroom at The David Wills House. Photo credit: Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau.[10]

Lincoln Memory at The Davis Wills House

Although this site was originally built with the intention of honoring President Abraham Lincoln, this was nots its main purpose. The town as well as the NPS wanted this site to be a material memory of the Gettysburg battle and more importantly of its aftermath . However the memory of Lincoln has overshadowed this intent and The David Wills House has become almost synonymous with Abraham Lincoln. The fact that President Lincoln spent roughly 24 hours at Gettysburg [6] yet his memory is largely engraved to this site is astonishing, this only serves as an example of the power that his memory has in our society.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the visit and certainly the most famous, is the Gettysburg Address. This short two minute speech became embedded in America’s consciousness as a representation not only of Lincoln but also of the principles uphold by the United States of America. The myth says that the President Lincoln wrote the address on the train to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope [5], truth is he had it written or at least partially since before he left Washington, but he did revise and finish editing it that night at The David Wills House room. When you visit the room the original bed on which the President slept is there and the room itself has been reconstructed to look as similar as possible to the original. This helps the visitors recreate the evening in 1863 were Lincoln gave the final touches to what would become a historic moment. Standing in a room like that its like preserving a moment in time and being able to re-live it over and over again.

The National Park Service as well as the Gettysburg foundation have tried to expand on the memory of Lincoln at this place; they also have galleries that analyze the impact of President Lincoln’s speech as well as an examination to him as a president during a time of war. This makes use of the malleability of memory, using Lincoln’s appeal they are able to change wrong perceptions or myths about The Civil War as well as provide individuals with a broader version of the events at Gettysburg.

Ronald C. White Jr told The New York Times “One can never discount the impact, the emotion, that you feel of actually standing in a place like that,”[5] material memory its a very powerful entity and the presence of Lincoln on The David Wills House as well as in Gettysburg exemplifies jus how unpredictable it can be.


The Gettysburg Address [11]


[1] “The History of the Wills House.” The History of the Wills House. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. <>.

[2] “Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address :: The David Wills House Museum :: The David Wills House Story :: Gettysburg, PA.” Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address :: The David Wills House Museum :: The David Wills House Story :: Gettysburg, PA. Web. 11 Apr. 2015. <>.

[3] United States. National Park Service. “The David Wills House.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, 16 Apr. 2015. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.

[4] Murray, J. M. “The Jennie Wade House Museum.” Journal of American History (2012): 846-51. Web. 9 Apr. 2015.

[5] “New Museum Honors Lincoln’s Work on Gettysburg Address.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 Feb. 2009. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.

[6] “President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.” President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Web. 11 Apr. 2015.






1 thought on “The David Wills House

  1. Natalie Papp

    I really like how you tied in processual memory to Wills’ house, it’s an interesting way of showing the history of the house without necessarily telling it to the visitor. I can definitely see how it would stir up emotions from the visitor. I agree that Lincoln’s memory is powerful, and that whatever site he touches is forever branded with his influence on that site. I found the same to be true with my site, the Gettysburg National Cemetery. Even though it is a resting ground for the soldiers who lost their lives in battle, it is also synonymous with Lincoln, and is almost more known for Lincoln and his Gettysburg Address than the battle. Overall, I think this post was extremely well written, and tied in a lot of aspects of memory that we learned from class. My only suggestion is to read back through it because I did see a few grammatical errors here and there, but other than that I really enjoyed it!

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