Ike at GettysburgSeptember 22, 2022
The name Gettysburg has long been enshrined in history as the site of one of the greatest battles ever fought on American soil. But long after the events of the Civil War, this historic town continues to elicit praise and attention for being representative of qualities near and dear to the collective heart of the American republic.
There is no greater example of this than the lifelong investment and love shown to Gettysburg by one of America’s greatest war and peacetime leaders, President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
What Did Eisenhower have to do with Gettysburg?
World War I
The association of President Dwight D. Eisenhower with the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, first began in early 1915. At that time Eisenhower was a young military academy cadet at West Point, and his class traveled from upstate New York to Gettysburg to study the battlefield up close and firsthand. Three years passed, during which time Eisenhower graduated from West Point, met and married his wife Mamie, and began a wide-ranging military career as America entered the First World War. After rising in the ranks and serving at several other posts, young Captain Eisenhower eventually found himself back in Gettysburg. He had sought a posting overseas but was instead assigned to command a tank training unit at Gettysburg’s Camp Colt, where he and Mamie gained an appreciation for Gettysburg life they would carry with them through many years to follow.
When World War I ended, the Eisenhowers left Gettysburg as Ike embarked on a famous military career that would span three decades, carry him through the fight and fire of a Second World War, and ultimately result in his attaining the highest American military rank, that of five-star general. When World War II ended Eisenhower was named the president of Columbia University in New York, but anticipating their eventual retirement and remembering their Camp Colt days, Eisenhower looked to Gettysburg as a place to settle and call home. In 1950 the Eisenhowers purchased a 189-acre farm adjoining the Gettysburg Battlefield and planned to move there as soon as possible. An appointment to Europe to serve as the first commander of NATO derailed those plans for a time, but when Ike returned stateside to campaign for the Presidency in 1952, he returned to Gettysburg to welcome state Republican leaders to a celebratory picnic at the new farm.
Ike was elected the 34th President of the United States in 1952 and he and Mamie took up formal residence in the White House in Washington, D.C. Between 1952 and 1955 the Eisenhowers extensively renovated their Gettysburg property, rebuilding most of the original house in the process. In the spring of 1955, the construction was finally done and the Eisenhowers started regularly visiting their Gettysburg home on weekends and holidays.
Located alongside the historic Gettysburg battlefield, the completely rebuilt and refurbished farm became invaluable to President Eisenhower as a secluded retreat where he could relax away from the stresses of Washington while still hosting world leaders. Calm and serene, surrounded by scenic views of the preserved battlefield and environs, it offered a lovely glimpse of peaceful farm life as it has long existed in pastoral America. Yet the ever-present battlefield next door served as a pointed reminder of the struggle to preserve American unity, and the dreaded shadow of the cost of war: a lesson that could hardly go unnoticed by the Cold War diplomats and leaders who visited there.
The Eisenhowers often escaped the capitol to visit their Gettysburg weekend retreat where they regularly hosted friends and family. Ike was an enormous fan of golf, and he took great delight teeing off at the nearby Gettysburg Country Club, shooting skeet at his private skeet range, and tending to his superb herd of Angus show cattle.
VIDEO: The Eisenhowers at their Gettysburg Farm – Watch on Youtube
When he was visiting Gettysburg on the weekends, Ike never let his attention stray too far from his presidential duties, starting out every day with a thorough briefing by aides on current events and his itinerary as Chief Executive. He would regularly hold staff meetings at the Gettysburg farmhouse. When he suffered a heart attack in 1955, much of his recuperation occurred at the Gettysburg Farm, which essentially served as a temporary alternate White House.
When he was in Washington, Eisenhower received a steady stream of state visitors and foreign dignitaries, some of whom he hosted at Camp David for meetings before adjourning to the Gettysburg Farm. He would often grant his famous visitors an informal tour of the property, including his famous Angus herd, the barns, and outbuildings. Afterward, Ike returned with his guests to sit with them on the large porch and commiserate on state business and the events of the day. Eisenhower enjoyed maintaining an informal atmosphere during his porch meetings, often professing that it helped him gauge the timbre and mettle of those he hosted.
In 1961, Eisenhower left the presidency and formally retired from public service, permanently settling on the Gettysburg Farm. For eight more years Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower dwelled in Gettysburg as official residents, staying active in their retirement. Ike maintained regular hours a week at his office at Gettysburg College, conducting meetings with his many associates and local colleagues while he worked on composing and editing his formal memoirs. He remained a trusted and eagerly sought-after elder statesman, whose advice to world leaders and policymakers was valued and appreciated.
General and Mrs. Eisenhower officially donated the home and farm to the National Park Service in 1967. Two years later, Dwight David Eisenhower died at the age of 78. Mamie refused to move back to Washington after her husband’s death, remaining at the Gettysburg farm until she passed away 12 years later, in 1979. The National Park Service opened the site in 1980.
The Eisenhower National Historic Site preserves the farm of General and 34th President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It is open to the public for tours.
Visiting Gettysburg? Tour the Historic Attractions of Gettysburg by Bus!
Autumn is here! Our bus tours of the Gettysburg Battlefield and other notable historic local attractions are busily running to help visitors celebrate the fall in beautiful Gettysburg PA. Reservations can be made by calling our toll-free number at 877-680-8687. You can also purchase bus tour tickets online. Tours depart from the Gettysburg Tour Center located at 778 Baltimore Street across from the National Cemetery.