Old Treasures Find New Homes
By Karen Hendricks
Photography by Casey Martin
“Everything old is new again.”
This phrase is a way of life for more than a dozen antique centers throughout the Gettysburg area. Whether you have an eye for antiques, enjoy vintage finds, like DIY trash-turned-treasure projects, seek collectibles, or simply want to step back in time, we’ve got you covered in this guide to antiquing in Adams County.
“Ruling the Roost” on Antiques
You can hang your hat on two things at Rebel’s Roost Antique Emporium: You’re surrounded by history, and you’re bound to discover an antique treasure that appeals to you.
“We’re located on Confederate lines, so that’s Jeb Stuart’s hat hanging on our logo,” says Sandy Wright, Rebel’s Roost co-owner. That’s right—an artistic rendering of the Confederate general’s cavalry hat is perched atop the logo, bearing its signature feather.
“The Roost,” as it’s known, was a barn back in Jeb Stuart’s day. But today, the 1850-era barn-turned-antique emporium boasts 11,000 square feet of eclectic antiques from 60 to 70 vendors.
“It’s important to have a building with character” when housing antiques, Wright says.
Stroll through “The Roost” on its original wooden floors and you’ll find everything from Civil War relics to old Jack Daniel’s whiskey barrels, crates of colorful old license plates, sparkling glassware in every color of the rainbow, an old wooden sled, and probably a million additional items, all with price tags—and bearing priceless details and history.
“Our dealers have a knack for finding things they know people will like at a good price,” Wright says. They regularly comb estate sales and auctions to fill their shelves and stands.
The Gettysburg and South Central Pennsylvania region is best known for Civil War-era items, utilitarian antiques including barn vents and shutters, folk art/primitives, and regional stoneware pottery—some of which go back to the 1700s, Wright says.
So, how did Wright get into the antique market?
“I’ve been going to auctions since I was a little girl with my mom,” Wright says. Most of her career was spent in sales, even selling cars at a local dealership. But her lifelong love of antiques kept calling, and in 2012 she opened Rebel’s Roost with co-owner and partner in life, Charlie Rhodes.
Her personal taste in antiques includes unique Victorian items such as pickle casters (fancy glass containers used to hold pickles and other delicacies on Victorian-era tables) and stoneware pottery such as early Pfaltzgraff pottery made in York. A love of pottery might be in her genes. Johann Pfaltzgraff, the first potter for York’s Pfaltzgraff Pottery, the oldest pottery company in the nation, was her great-great-great-grandfather.
Turning the Tables on Antiques
Furniture is the focus at Sensenig’s Furniture Barn in Gettysburg. For 18 years, husband and wife Darrell and Laurie Sensenig have built a business around used, antique, and vintage furniture—everything from kitchen tables and chairs to beds, dressers, and even an antique industrial drafting table on display the day we visited.
“A lot of people buy older houses in this market, including retirees, and they’re looking for period furniture,” Laurie says. “We also work with a lot of area bed-and-breakfasts and people setting up Airbnbs.”
Antiques have advantages. First, older furniture is well-made and all wood. And older dressers, chairs, and tables often bear unique details not seen in today’s sleek styles.
Sensenig’s Furniture Barn plus a second building are both filled with furniture, mostly acquired via local auctions.
Then there’s the outdoor area Darrell calls “pickers’ paradise.” Old windows, doors, and shutters are stacked and ready to be rediscovered and repurposed. Jumbled in another area are wrought iron bed frames,
garden gates, and additional
Many customers are looking for a diamond in the rough—a weathered door they can turn into a tabletop, for example. Customers have bought dozens of old chairs for weddings. And people search for big old desks or metal workbenches that can be transformed into unique kitchen islands.
“DIY is big, especially thanks to Pinterest. I had a call just this morning from a lady looking for a chandelier for a project,” Laurie says.
Laurie knows a thing or two about DIY. Several years ago, she noticed that tastes were changing. Customers didn’t want furniture in natural wood tones—instead, they preferred painted furniture. So, she learned how to refinish furniture with milk paint and other treatments.
At the same time, the Sensenigs’ son was a building trades student at Adams County Tech Prep. He began constructing benches from reclaimed barn wood, and Laurie clear-coated them.
She also experimented with new uses for old furniture. When the shop acquired furniture that needed repairs—a new tabletop or dresser top, for example—Darrell replaced the damaged wood, then Laurie updated the pieces with paint—many of which are highlighted on their shop’s Facebook page.
“People like the idea that old furniture has a story to tell,” says Laurie. “A lot of it is one-of-a-kind, and they like the fact that no one else will have a piece like theirs.”
Blazing a New Trail in the Town’s Old Shoe Factory
It used to be one of the town’s biggest employers, but today the former Emmitsburg, Md. shoe factory has found secure footing as one of the region’s largest antique malls: Emmitsburg Antique Mall.
More than 80 dealers have stocked the facility’s 34,000 square feet with nearly every antique item imaginable for more than 25 years.
“When customers bring items up to the register, we are constantly saying, ‘Oh my gosh, where did you find that?’ because there are so many treasures here, it’s like a huge treasure hunt,” says manager Erica Bolin.
Those treasures include toys and collectibles (remember Care Bears and Howdy Doody?), old clocks, military items, record albums, unique furniture, and old jewelry. There’s plenty of glassware and vintage kitchen items; Bolin says many customers purchase serving pieces for their holiday tables or wedding receptions.
“There’s something for everyone—all ages. There’s even a tool booth that’s every man’s dream,” she says.
We spied a Western Electric wooden phone box for $88, a vintage mail slot cabinet from West Virginia priced at $150, an old GE fan going for $165, and if your address happens to be 3431, there’s a large stained-glass sign priced at $135 that once marked a Baltimore home.
Customers can also enjoy a taste of nostalgia. The Emmitsburg Antique Mall stocks vintage-brand candies and sodas still manufactured today including bottles of Big Red, Squirt, Nehi Orange, and Brownie Caramel Cream Root Beer.
“There are so many antiques that sometimes people ask if we charge admission,” Bolin says with a laugh. “And people are often overwhelmed at the number of antiques, so they go eat at one of our local restaurants, then come back and make a day of it.”
Antique vs. Vintage: What’s the Difference?
Antiques are defined as items that are at least 100 years old, says Sandy Wright of Rebel’s Roost. These items would hail from 1920 or earlier. Civil War-era items certainly fall into this category, as do primitives, Americana, and Victorian treasures. Examples of antiques include 1800s pottery, a quilt stitched in 1900, or a tintype photo taken in the 1860s.
Items labeled as vintage are at least 30 years old, Wright adds. So, they are older items that haven’t yet reached antique status. They might be items that once belonged to your parents or grandparents’ generation. Examples of vintage treasures include 1950s and ’60s Christmas decorations, old license plates, and 1970s lunchboxes.
Most Outrageous Antiques Ever
What are some of the most expensive or unusual antiques our experts have ever sold? Here’s what they told us:
-“A ram’s head that was stuffed and mounted. Why, I don’t know.”
-“Texas longhorns—the woman who bought them had a hard time getting them into her car.”
-Visitors from around the world, including Paris, have purchased Gettysburg’s antiques and taken them back home. –Sandy Wright, Rebel’s Roost
“Someone bought a house in Littlestown, and there was a big Steinway piano from the late 1800s just sitting in there in mint condition. It was made of Brazilian rosewood which became illegal—you can’t bring it in [to the country]. We had it here almost a year before it sold to a buyer from Altoona.”
–Laurie Sensenig, Sensenig’s Furniture Barn
An 18-foot-long countertop from an Adams County country store (located on Centennial Road) was sold to a customer from the Pittsburgh area. –Darrell Sensenig, Sensenig’s Furniture Barn
A Stitch in Time
This area is a hotbed (pardon the pun) for antique quilts, which range in price from a couple hundred dollars to $10,000.
“Some of the finest quilts in the nation were made in Baltimore, known for its fabric, needlework, and quilting, thanks to the ladies societies that quilted there,” says Jim Fisher. He has operated a stand at the Emmitsburg Antique Mall for the past 10 years, specializing in quilts and decorative arts. His first antique show was at the age of 15–and he’s still going strong at 55.
What is it about quilts that captured his attention?
“They’re a labor of love,” he says. “Quilts contain a history of early fabrics, with such beautiful workmanship and piecing. So much work is involved, then there’s the artistic element too.”
Rebel’s Roost Antique Emporium
2885 York Road (Route 30 East), Gettysburg
Sensenig’s Furniture Barn
2255 York Road (Route 30 East), Gettysburg
Emmitsburg Antique Mall
1 Chesapeake Ave., Emmitsburg, Md.