While the Founding Fathers were working to build a nation in Philadelphia in 1776, in south-central Pennsylvania (Adams County, Pa. wasn’t created until 1800), Rev. Alexander Dobbin and his parishioners were building a house that, just like the United States, is still standing more than two years later.
Though now surrounded by houses, businesses, hotels and monuments in Gettysburg, when the house was built, it was a 300-acre farm.
The Dobbin Family
Alexander Dobbin was born in Ireland in 1742. After studying the classics in Ireland, Dobbin and his wife, Isabella Gamble, left Ireland to settle in America. In America, Dobbin became pastor of the Rock Creek Presbyterian Church, located one mile north of what is now Gettysburg.
In 1774, the Dobbin purchased 300 acres of land in and around what is now the town of Gettysburg. At one point, he was the second-largest landholder in the area behind Gettysburg founder James Getty.
The original stone structure was home to Dobbin’s wife, 10 children and 9 step children. Isabella died at a young age and Dobbin married Mary Agnew who had 9 children.
The house also served as a Classical School, which was a combined seminary and liberal arts college. “Dobbin’s school was the first of its kind in America west of the Susquehanna River, an academy which enjoyed an excellent reputation for educating many professional men of renown,” according to the Dobbin House brochure.
Dobbin also worked to establish Adams County as separate from York County. Once it happened, he was appointed one of the two commissioners who helped chose Gettysburg as the county seat of the new county.
The house passed out of the Dobbin family in 1834 and began being passed through a series of owners. Conrad Snyder owned the house during the Civil War.
Dobbin House on the Underground Railroad
During the Battle of Gettysburg, Beamer said, “There was substantial fighting nearby. It was amazing that it didn’t take a cannonball hit.”
The house was also used as an Underground Railroad stop. Slaves were hidden in a crawl space between the first and second floors behind a false wall. The space can still be seen today when touring the house.
The Many Uses of the Dobbin House
The house served as a private residence or apartments until the 1950’s. From the 1950’s until 1975, the building was a museum, gift shop and housed a diorama on the second floor.
The current owners purchased the house in 1975 and opened the Springhouse Tavern in May 1978. That evolved over the years growing into a complex that includes the tavern, a fine-dining restaurant in the actual Dobbin House, a banquet room, gift shop and bed and breakfast that serve more than 200,000 guests each year.
“We strive to serve quality food and offer gracious service,” Beamer said.
It’s all done in the setting of an authentic colonial tavern that offers recipes that have been featured in “Bon Appetit” and “Cuisine” magazines.
The Dobbin House is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
For more information, visit the Dobbin House web site.