Gettysburg’s Fort Defiance – where I bought my first Britains 54mm toy soldiers

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The old Fort Defiance tourist trap at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is shown in this 1972 photograph provided by Mike Waricher.  In the summer of 1968, my parents took my sister and me to Gettysburg for our first overnight trip to Pennsylvania (little did I know then I would be living in the Keystone State as an adult and writing books on Gettysburg!). I remember that trip with fondness! My sister Peggy and I enjoyed riding through the tunnels, and we stayed in a TraveLodge in Chambersburg. The following morning, we drove eastward on Route 30 to Gettysburg, and I will never forget the mystical experience of seeing the first monuments peering through the morning fog! I think that was the moment that I knew I was hooked.

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After touring the fort, my parents bought me a boxed set of Wm. Britains “Eyes Right” Swoppets 54mm Civil War figures (the Union set), with IIRC eight or so plastic figures with moveable arms, heads and waists. The body parts could readily be swapped between figures, adding variety for those hundreds of mock battles I later played in the sandbox in my Dad’s orchard.

Unfortunately, after my Dad passed away and we were sorting through old family photographs, we never found any from this first ever Gettysburg trip. Apparently we either did not bring along a camera, or the photos did not turn out. I seem to recall vaguely that Mom did take pictures, but the camera was left in the car’s window and the summer heat took care of exposing the film.

I still have the soldiers from that long ago vacation, and they bring back memories of happy times. Many of the old warriors are now missing arms, heads, rifles, and backpacks, a tribute to the hours of play from when I was a child, and then when my two sons were little.

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Do you remember visiting old Fort Defiance?  It was disassembled in the 1980s IIRC and moved to Emmitsburg Road, where it was briefly reopened as part of the  Slippy Dippin’ attraction (which did not last long at all; it had a waterslide and not much more according to locals). Now, the old Fort Defiance is in sad disarray and is badly deteriorated.

For photos of what Fort Defiance looks like as of March 2009, please visit here.

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Categories: Civil War toys, Preservation efforts | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Gettysburg’s Fort Defiance – where I bought my first Britains 54mm toy soldiers

  1. This story knocks me out. Our first family vacation was to Gettysburg in October of ’68. I already had a good collection of Civil War Swoppets which is why my dad opted to give me a taste of the real thing. I got a musket, shrunken head and a rubber tomahawk at Fort Defiance! I picked up a few new troops at The Charley Weaver Museum! We stayed at the Holiday Inn right in town. About 15 years ago I stoped in to a tour guide center in town and enquired about Fort Defiance telling the woman who was around seventy that I had been there as a kid. Her reply was “yea well have you looked in the mirror lately? Fort Defiance is gone and your’e no kid”. I felt like Jackie Gleason “Ok Weisenheimer!” :) I do WW-2 reinactment today on my 1938 R-12 BMW with Panzer Gren. Div. Grossdeutschland Mot. Great story! Arthur

  2. Bob Matis

    Hi Scott I was reading your story about your trip to Gettysburg, and I think it was great. I had a similar experience with my Dad as well about 20yrs ago, which I guess is when I got hooked into collecting Civil War items. What I wanted to share with you was about 8 yrs ago when my son was about 10, we went to the Mt. dora antique show which is just north of Orlando in Fl. As we just walked in, my son spotted the a sign which said Ft. Defiance Civil War museum in Gettysburg. It looked interesting, but since we just got there and having only a certain amount of money to spend, I thought it would be better to hold in buying it until later. Well little did I know that my son thought it would better to purchase it now since it may not be there later. Going on his idea, I did and of course extremely glad that I did, since later in the day I had gone back there to pick-uo the sign and the fella said that he could’nt believe the interest in the sign and thast he could have sold it many times over. To this day I always thank my son for telling me “Dad this is cool, I think you should get it for your collection” , I’m sure glad that I did. Well, I still have my sign and those cool memories, and thanks for yours as well. Thanks very nuch Bob Matis

  3. That is so very cool, Bob. It’s terrific the sign ended up with someone who could appreciate it. Excellent!

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