Gems in the shadows: the Dobbin House Tavern


Photo by Joshua Freedman

The Dobbin House Tavern is the oldest standing residence in Gettysburg, PA, and offers free tours every week.

We are lucky to live in a region rich with history, artifacts, monuments and stories that helped shaped our area and our nation. However, many of these gems are hidden in the shadows of larger, more popular attractions, waiting to be explored. One such place is the Dobbin House Tavern, located in the shadows of the popular battlefields and monuments in Gettysburg, PA.

Located just 0.3 miles away from where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address sits the Dobbin House Tavern, waiting with rich history, amazing food, extraordinary stories and great service.

Jacqueline White, the current owner of the tavern, likes to say that “four score and seven years before President Lincoln’s famous address, Reverend Alexander Dobbin built what became commonly known as The Dobbin House Tavern in 1776.” 

Reverend Dobbin was an early immigrant to this country, and helped lay the foundation not only of the town of Gettysburg, but also the county, state and government of Pennsylvania, White explained. The residence is the oldest standing building in Gettysburg, and contains stories from before the Civil War. 

Come for a free tour led by White every Sunday, and it is immediately evident that she has spent years working to make each piece inside the original structure as authentic as possible. From taking an original inventory list from Reverend Dobbin and visiting local antique shops to replicate small items purchased centuries ago, to having staff dress in clothing that modeled how figures of the time would have dressed, the moment guests step inside the Dobbin House Tavern they are immediately immersed in a different yet wondrous era. 

Taking a step inside the establishment is taking a step back into history. Throughout the original home, visitors can physically experience original railings the Dobbins touched, parts of walls that were left unrenovated and peer into other rooms with closed doors simply by looking through bullet-holes created during the Civil War. 

White takes great pride and care of the structure, as she receives a daily influx of eager visitors. The best part about owning the house is meeting the “visitors who come from all across the country and all around the world,” White said.

The elegant home is composed of diabase stone with wooden beams, a popular look during the 1770s, and models a symmetrical Georgian style. Even before entering the residence, history can be found just outside the three-by-four windows that line the upper and first floor. 

Large shutters surround the windows on the first floor, but not the second. Visitors will learn that this was no design “fluke,” but rather a strategic defense system that was used to prevent arrow attacks from nearby Native Americans that would only impact the ground floor.

Over the course of its existence, the Dobbin House Tavern has served many purposes, such as a school, a stop on The Underground Railroad, a makeshift Civil War hospital and is even considered the first library in the area due to the fact that Reverend Dobbin had over 300 books that he would let townsmen borrow. Today, it preserves the rich stories of the past, and the tavern-style restaurant located in the basement provides guests with an unforgettable experience.

The original basement of the home was only a crawlspace, used by the Dobbins to store root vegetables during the wintertime and doubling as a storage place for unwanted items. In 1976, the same year White purchased the home, White found that the house was built on a spring that was rotting the woods that were the foundation of the building. That led to the decision of excavating the basement, lowering it, and converting it into a colonial tavern. The tavern has “good food, good service, and a good atmosphere,” White said. 

Even if an individual is not interested in the history of the Dobbin House Tavern, why not grab a unique Dobbin-House specially brewed beverage in the five-star tavern underneath the home while listening to the story of how the term “bar” came to be? The tavern serves delectable lunches and dinner, from spit-roasted chicken and Maryland Colony crabcakes to burgers, ribs and warm colonial gingerbread. 

Guests can choose to eat on the side of the room that has the Continental Colors flag to represent those in the 18th Century who were faithful to America, or on the other side of the tavern with a print of King George III to represent the loyalists at the time. This demonstrates the attention to detail White has implemented.

Amongst the different floors are unique artifacts from the 18th Century, and tools such as a hollowed-out log for storing cooking items, or a trunk, and a wooden mousetrap true to its time. 

The guided tour takes about an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and 30 minutes to complete. Afterwars, White is more than willing to answer any questions as she ensures that everyone has nothing but the best possible experience. 

The residence can be explored by visitors individually as well, which would take less time but not include the historical context. The house is perfect for families of all ages, and whether it be a large or simply just the stories of how wounded soldiers were nursed back to health in the Dobbin’s bedroom, there is something for everyone to enjoy. 

After you have completed your journey through the house, there is a gift shop on the first floor with souvenirs to commemorate your time at the Dobbin House Tavern and Gettysburg. For younger visitors, there is a multitude of flavored candy sticks and caramels. 

Once finished with the Dobbin House Tavern, visitors can walk to various battlefields, and take pictures with monuments and statues. There are also plenty of fudge, relic, and art shops within walking distance, and simply strolling down the streets of Gettysburg is remarkable. If you are looking to make a whole day, or just a few hours out of the Dobbin House Tavern, this historical gem is a remarkable way to learn about history while also having an amazing time. 

The Dobbin House Tavern is located at 89 Steinwehr Avenue, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 17325.