For a town so steeped in the American Civil War, few realize that some of Gettysburg’s most cherished history actually ties back to a more modern era and a president whose name is known throughout Western Europe.
During World War I, in 1915, a young cadet named Dwight D. Eisenhower arrived in Gettysburg to begin training at Camp Colt, uniquely positioned along the hallowed grounds of the Gettysburg battlefield, that 50 years earlier saw the worst bloodshed in American history.
Eisenhower’s time in Gettysburg was short, but memorable. Years later, after leading the Allied forces throughout World War II, Eisenhower sought a quiet place to retire and found a cattle farm on the western edge of the Civil War battlegrounds.
While his new Gettysburg home became the quiet respite he longed for after decades in the military, his retirement was put on hold after Eisenhower became the president of NATO, and later, the 34th President of the United States.
His retirement home and farm became more of a weekend retreat, and a break from the politics of Washington, D.C. – just 75 miles south of Gettysburg.
Today, the Eisenhower farm is a national historic site open to the public as a reminder of a president’s humble past and a bygone era of the 1950s and 60s.
There, travelers step foot in the formal living room, where gifts bestowed to the first family are displayed; and the enclosed patio where Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, would eat their TV dinners and watch episodes of “I Love Lucy,” much like American families did in their own homes.
Eisenhower’s office, where the 34th President led the United States while recovering from a heart attack in the 1950s, is a small, but significant part of the home and evidence of the power that once resided at the farm. But the homey den, across the hall, reminds us that the president and his family were no different than most of the citizens the commander in chief led for eight years.
Eisenhower’s name is known by many British as the leader of the Allied forces, alongside Winston Churchill, just one of the men that “Ike” – as he was affectionately known – hosted at his Gettysburg farm years later.
Gettysburg’s history didn’t begin, or end, at the American Civil War. And while it is the 16th President – Abraham Lincoln – that most associate with the small town, it’s Eisenhower that is the most beloved and celebrated.
He was one of Gettysburg’s own, driving into town to see performances at the Majestic Theater, or taking Mamie out for chicken and waffles at the nearby Altland House. His Gettysburg farm was where he loved to entertain not only world leaders like Churchill, Charles de Gualle and Nakita Krushchev, but his own grandchildren who enjoyed the 189-acre estate and herd of Angus cattle.
Tours of the Eisenhower home are given year-round, including a special holiday display throughout December that bring travelers back to an old-fashioned Christmas celebration just as the Eisenhower family would have gathered around the fire to sing carols.
Children can take part in the Junior Secret Service program that puts the job of securing the president in their hands while touring the farm. Using clues and codes, they’ll earn their certificate by learning about the job of Eisenhower’s Secret Service agents in Gettysburg.
The Eisenhower National Historic Site is home to many annual events including a D-Day commemoration in June and World War II Weekend every September.
Destination Gettysburg, the official destination marketing organization, markets Gettysburg – Adams County as a premier travel destination, producing a positive economic impact.
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