GETTYSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It was the morning of July 1, 1863. Union soldiers of the 8th Illinois Cavalry watching for a possible Confederate advance from the west established a sentry post at the home and blacksmith shop of Ephraim Wisler.

It was an ideal lookout point. Located three miles west of Gettysburg on a rise known as Knoxlyn Ridge, the soldiers had a clear view of any enemy advance along the Chambersburg Pike.

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At around 7:30 a.m., the soldiers spotted Confederates moving their way from Cashtown – a division commanded by Henry Heth. The commander of the Union picket line, Lt. Marcellus E. Jones, borrowed a carbine from Sgt. Levi Shafer. He rested the weapon on a fence post in Wisler’s yard, took aim, and fired. The Battle of Gettysburg had begun, and the Ephraim Wisler home would become known as “The First Shot House”.

The house would remain in private hands until the Gettysburg National Military Park purchased it in January 2002. Over the years the building had seen extensive alterations, including additional windows and an extension in the rear. Work on restoring the structure to its Civil War appearance began in 2020 and is now almost complete.

They’ve also added something not very authentic, but very useful-parking.

Up until now, the only way to stop at the Wisler house, and the First Shot Monument nearby, was either to park on Chambersburg Pike (not safe) or park on the nearest side street, Knoxlyn Road, and walk across the pike (also not safe). The Wisler House now has a gravel parking lot and driveway.

“We are pleased to provide the opportunity for our visitors to drive, and now safely park, at this crucial battlefield location,” says park superintendent Steven D. Sims. “With the nearly completed rehabilitation of the Wisler House it was critically important to provide access for visitors. The newly constructed parking lot provides five spaces and a wide access drive for both arriving and departing vehicles. These improvements provide safe access to our visitors and the opportunity to further enhance and enrich their understanding of this complex three-day battle.” 

While the main rehabilitation work is done, and the public now has access to the Wisler House grounds, there’s still work to be done. Sometime in the next few months, a new interpretive sign is expected to be installed. On the house, now repainted red as it was in 1863, thin lines of white paint will be added to accentuate areas where mortar would have been visible. (This technique, called penciling, can be seen on the David Wills House at the square in Gettysburg.)

Alas, the park is not planning to open the house to the public. According to Jason Martz, Communication Specialist for the park, when they’ve held open house events in other locations they would typically attract dozens of visitors- and their cars. With only five parking spots, the Wisler House site can’t handle that. (You could peek through a window, but Martz says all you’ll see are empty rooms.)