Gettysburg’s Fort Defiance Frontier Town today

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Background post: My summer vacation in 1968 to Gettysburg and Fort Defiance.

Fort Defiance Museum and Frontier Town, built in 1962, was located on Taneytown Road south of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. An old Fodor’s Civil War Sites stated in 1979, “Fort Defiance Museum, Rt. 134 just south of the Visitor Center, offers views of 1863 Gettysburg with the battle in progress, in miniature.”

Owned by a man named Clyde G. Culver, it ceased operation in the early 1980s. The fort soon was disassembled and moved to its present location on Emmitsburg Road south of where Boyd’s Bears is located.

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The old fort once hosted thousands of starry-eyed kids, including me in the summer of 1968 during my family’s first and only vacation to Pennsylvania. It was kind of sad this afternoon to see it in such poor condition.

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A water slide was added to the amusement when it reopened. The old concrete flume is still quite evident in this photo from March 22, 2009.

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Slippy Dippin was the name of the reopened fort; it closed in the early 1980s, long before I returned to the battlefield in 1985 after a 17-year absence.

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The outbuildings, including the employee’s shack, are also deteriorating rapidly. No trespassing signs abound, so I chose not to move onto the property for a close look.

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Another view of the old water slide. More than two decades ago, happy children splashed down this curved structure from its origin inside the old Fort Defiance.

Here is the obituary of the owner, Clyde Culver, who retired to the area where I lived, greater metro Cleveland.

Clyde G. Culver, 84, of Cuyahoga Falls, died July 17, 2007 of pneumonia at the Palliative Care Unit of Akron City Hospital.

He was born Oct. 22, 1922 in Warren to the late Marguerite (Goldner) and Clyde A. Culver. He graduated from Warren G. Harding High School and attended Kent State University and the University of Alabama, Birmingham. He was a WW II veteran, having served in the US Army.

While still in his 20s, he began collecting antique firearms, and had a special interest in the Civil War era. His love of early US history shaped his career path as he began to sell and trade antique weapons and period artifacts. He moved to Gettysburg, Pa. in 1960, where he lived for 38 years. In 1962 he built and opened Fort Defiance Museum there, where he also later owned the Blue and Gray Museum and School House Antiques. He was a respected appraiser and dealer who was known in the gun business for his integrity and honesty.

He is survived by former wife of 40 years, Vera Lee Culver of Gettysburg; daughter, Patricia Culver Morton (Jeff) of Kent; sons, Lynn Culver (Kenna) of Bedford, Lee Culver of Miami Springs, Fla. and Ray Culver of Gettysburg; seven grandchildren: John Kostraba, Paul Kostraba, Julie Kostraba Richer, Kyler Culver, Mitchell Culver, Jackson Culver and Wyatt Culver; four great-grandchildren; and sister, Betty Culver Campbell of Kalamazoo, Mich.

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15 thoughts on “Gettysburg’s Fort Defiance Frontier Town today

  1. Matt McKeon

    I remember Fort Defiance! From about 1970. Did it have a recording Charlie Weaver narration? Wax figures maybe? It’s pretty vague in my memory.

  2. I have only dim memories of Fort Defiance except for the HO scale diorama, the souvenir shop, and the Britains 54mm plastic toy soldiers.

    Charlie Weaver / Cliff Arquette had a different museum that we also visited. It was on Cemetery Hill, and had lots of dioramas he hand carved from wood. It is now called the Soldiers National Museum.

  3. Robert Kirchner

    This place could make an awesome Toy Soldier shop with a little work.

  4. Scott.
    I remember in about 1962, my brother and I chewing on soft pretzels and eyeing Fort Defiance at its old location. We barely got out the words “Can we…” when our dad simply said “Tourist trap”. A new term was embraced by my brother and I and that was that.

    Thanks for the pix and I wish you a speedy recovery.

    Mannie

  5. Jake J.

    Thanks a million Scott for this wonderful memory. In 1969, a group of fellow cub scouts travelled from Long Island for a two day stay and we had an absolutely great time at the Fort. The musty smelling diorama room. the tombstone area and fake newsstand and barber shop–later modelled in the Jennie Wade Museum outdoor village–were a joy. I would return often as a young man and became a successful journalist. In 2002 I decided to do a radio piece on the Lost Attractions of Gettysburg for CBS Radio and called the phone number on the 1961 brochure just for fun knowing the museum closed years before. Who answered the phone? Mr. Culver…also chatted with his charming daughter and we all bemoaned the loss of fine attraction. To call it a Tourist Trap (read Rip-off) would be painfully inaccurate. It was a tourist attraction that provided a fun education on the 19th century and was absolutely worth the price. Rest in Peace, Clyde. You made so many childhood memories for kids you would never know. Godspeed!

  6. Sue

    Thanks for memories. I used to live up the road from The Fort Defiance and Fantasyland. I was looking for old photos for my collection and thanks to you I found them. It brought back great memories of my childhood.

  7. Lynn

    How did Fort Defiance get its name? I have found at least 6 Fort Defiances in the US but no explanation of the name.

  8. Bob Courtney

    Wow! I was there on a family trip in 1973. Was a overcast rainy day when we went to the museum. I remember the tombstones from “Boot Hill”, and the seemingly massive diorama on the 2nd floor I think. Yup,I was hooked on Gettysburg then as well. I live in lower NY near West Point,and TRY to get back there at least once every year. I was even married in Gettysburg at the Farnsworth House in 1995.

  9. Chuck Witt

    Thank you for the information and photos on Fort Defiance. In the 1960′s/70′s my family visited G-brg every summer (my grandparents own motels there) and remember those Fort Defiance billboards approaching town. I remember doing the Slippy Dippin’ slide but had forgotten about the Fort Defiance connection. I’ve been meaning to take photos of the slide before it is gone but you have done the leg work for me! I always got my toy soldiers at the amazing Gilbert’s Hobby Shop near the Civil War Wax museum.

  10. Chuck Witt

    Jake J. – is that ‘Lost Attractions of Gettysburg’ (CBS radio) available anywhere to listen to?

  11. Ray Culver

    It is amazing to find that people remember and are still seeking information on Fort Defiance Museum after all these years.

    Fort Defiance museum was built in 1961-62 by Clyde Culver and his wife Vera lee. The Gettysburg location was chosen because it provided a centralized location him to base his main business as an antique gun dealer. From here he was within a few hours drive of most of the larger cities in the North East to which he traveled to maintain his business.

    To answer the question above about its name, it was chosen at random to the best of my knowledge, however I do know that its design was based on the Fort Bedford museum in Bedford County PA.

    Fort Defiance had three floors. The basement had the diorama of Gettysburg with push buttons that would light up the identified spot on the map as well as Civil war exhibits.

    The second floor contained Civil War exhibits and a large exhibit of stuffed animals including an golden eagle and an alligator and a cannon. The third floor was and exhibit of Western history along with more stuffed animal heads including moose, elk and caribou.

    Outside there was a “Frontier town” that included a barber shop, saloon, jail, post office (whose antique mail counter was later sold to and displayed at the now demolished Ottenstein observation Tower), a Wells Fargo office and a funeral parlor with casket. It also had a Boot Hill cemetery complete with grave markers with witty poems on them, an Amish buggy, a lookout tower with a guard and a birch bark canoe. Of course there was gift shop as well.

    At some point in the seventies Clyde and Vera opened the Blue and Gray Museum (now the Irish Brigade) on Baltimore Street in Gettysburg. That was sold to the owner of the then Holiday Inn (now The1863 Inn ).

    The Park service purchased the property in 1984 and both the house and fort were relocated south of town, however the museum never reopened.

    Having lost both my parents now it is a pleasure to see that there are at least some who remember their creation with fond memories. As a child growing up I can remember hearing both satisfied as well as some unsatisfied customers comments while leaving after viewing the museum, so to read the above comments has been a fond and pleasant reminder of the past.

    Ray Culver

  12. Anonymous

    Thank you for the additional and interesting information Ray. Unfortunately It seems that no pictures exists of the many features of the Fort/museum.

  13. Anonymous

    Thank you for the interesting information Ray. Unfortunately no, or so it seems, photograph exist of the exhibits that were at the Fort/museum.

  14. Mike

    We have a brochure from there. On the bottom is a student “free pass” and on the back are three
    Pictures and a listing of all attractions.

  15. Bob Hartshorn

    My first visit to Gettysburg was a much anticipated trip with my family back in 1970 when I was 14. My kid brother and I loved it, especially Fort Defiance. In fact, we made our parents drop us off for a second visit to the Fort before we left, and my brother and I spent the afternoon there reading and examining every inch of the displays. Before we reluctantly departed, my brother purchased a SA War canteen and I a haversack. We got to meet Mr. (Clyde) Culver and told him that, as far as we were concerned, his museum/store was better than Disney Land in our humble opinions. That experience started me on a life long passion for American History, the Frontier and the Civil War, and played no small part in me becoming what I am today, a middle school history teacher. Thanks so much for posting; brought back a flood of good memories.

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