Presidential Home: Visiting Eisenhower’s Farm

In 1950, the Eisenhowers started looking in Gettysburg for a place to call their own and settled on a red-brick farmhouse on 189 acres of land.
Presidential Home: Visiting Eisenhower’s Farm
The back view of the Eisenhower farmhouse overlooking a flagpole with a five-star flag, signifying his military rank, and a putting green. (Lynn Topel)
9/12/2023
Updated:
9/16/2023
0:00

Although Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, will always go down in U.S. history as the site of one the bloodiest battlefields during the Civil War and where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous address, it’s also a place where another U.S. president sought refuge and retreat from the bureaucracy and political climate of the nation’s capital.

In 1950, the Eisenhowers decided to settle in Gettysburg, a town with a lot of history and where they had fond memories from their early marriage years. (Lynn Topel)
In 1950, the Eisenhowers decided to settle in Gettysburg, a town with a lot of history and where they had fond memories from their early marriage years. (Lynn Topel)

Ties to Gettysburg

Before President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s family moved from Denison, Texas, to Abilene, Kansas, his ancestors were actually Pennsylvania Dutch farmers who lived in the Keystone State for five generations.

Much later, Eisenhower, as a West Point cadet, first set foot on the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg and the land of his ancestors in 1915. As part of his class field trip, the young cadet was to study the various military strategies employed during the fighting in Gettysburg and to analyze what could have been done better. The exercise would plant the seeds for the great military strategist he later became.

Later, in 1918, instead of being called out to France to be on the frontlines for World War I, he got called in to Fort Meade in Maryland, where he met future general George Patton Jr., and they both advocated for the use of tanks in warfare. He was given command of Camp Colt in Gettysburg—on the same fields where Pickett’s Charge took place—and was tasked with training soldiers in the use of tanks—a task he accomplished without said machinery. With ingenuity and resourcefulness, he used flatbed trucks and bolted the guns down onto them. The soldiers would also then head up to Big Round Top, the highest topographic point on the Gettysburg battlefields, to practice shooting machine guns.
Before being called in to Fort Meade, Eisenhower had married Mamie Doud in 1916 and spent the early years of their marriage in the Maryland–Pennsylvania area. Mamie Eisenhower lived the life of a military wife, moving more than 30 times during the first 35 years of their marriage. It’s said that she hadn’t even begun to unpack all the boxes when they had to move again.

Life After the Military

After a hectic military life, the Eisenhowers realized that it was time to put down roots. But where?
After much introspection and discussion, they realized that Camp Colt was where their best memories were made. It was a chapter in their life during which they were able to spend time together as a young family, and they still had friends living in the area, creating an instant social circle.

House-Hunting

In 1950, the Eisenhowers started looking in Gettysburg for a place to call their own and settled on a red-brick farmhouse on 189 acres of land, including a bank barn, a herd of 24 dairy cows, and 500 chickens. They bought it for $44,000—double the asking price—after the seller realized who he was selling the property to. However, as they started to fix up their home to meet Mrs. Eisenhower’s standards, they realized that their red-brick farmhouse was really a log cabin from the early mid-1700s with bricks built up around it. A cabin from this era would have sustained plenty of damage caused by water and termites. Only a few things could be salvaged from these, and the Eisenhowers ended up building a new home, keeping the original bricks and saving what they could from the log cabin.
The den is where salvaged materials from the original log cabin were repurposed and reused. On one side is the red phone where he took the call informing him of the U-2 crisis. (Lynn Topel)
The den is where salvaged materials from the original log cabin were repurposed and reused. On one side is the red phone where he took the call informing him of the U-2 crisis. (Lynn Topel)

A Working Farm

Although most of the chickens quickly ended up at the dinner table, Eisenhower did maintain and raise Black Angus cattle, which won him blue ribbons at various showing competitions. Dubbed simply “Eisenhower Farms,” he partnered with adjoining farms to expand his grazing area by 306 more acres. However, the farm served more than just agricultural purposes.

In 1953, he was sworn in as the 34th president of the United States, and his attention turned from raising prize-winning cattle to handling diplomatic relationships with foreign leaders, especially at the peak of the Cold War. Although the sounds and smells of a farm may not be the optimal place to invite dignitaries and public figures, Eisenhower often saw and brought visitors over to his private residence.

His son John is quoted as saying, “When my father was president, he developed the habit of bringing world visitors to the farm. Such informality, he reasoned, would make them feel at home.”

One such visitor was Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who visited the United States in 1959. After a frustrating meeting at Camp David, Eisenhower invited Krushchev to his Gettysburg farm just 18 miles away. As they helicoptered in, he took Krushchev on a tour of the farm, inspecting the cattle and enjoying the rural setting. He had hoped that the more relaxed atmosphere and the absence of diplomats and bureaucrats would ease tensions between the two countries. Although it didn’t result in anything conclusive, Eisenhower did get an invite to do a similar visit in Russia, which never materialized.

As the first president to travel by helicopter, it became very convenient for Eisenhower to make that commute from Washington, D.C., or Camp David to his farm retreat in Gettysburg, especially with this much space for a makeshift landing pad. (Lynn Topel)
As the first president to travel by helicopter, it became very convenient for Eisenhower to make that commute from Washington, D.C., or Camp David to his farm retreat in Gettysburg, especially with this much space for a makeshift landing pad. (Lynn Topel)

In May 1960, the U-2 spy plane incident happened, in which the Soviets took credit for shooting down a reconnaissance plane carrying CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers. He took the call regarding this crisis on a red phone installed in one of the rooms of his farmhouse—probably feeling the frustration of a failed diplomatic mission.

Not all visits ended in a stalemate, however, and Eisenhower did entertain other prominent figures at his “unofficial” presidential retreat. Such luminaries included British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and French President Charles de Gaulle, who were personally taken on a private tour of the grounds by Eisenhower himself on his Crosley runabout.

A Peek Inside Their Private Lives

The porch was the Eisenhowers' favorite room as this was where they watched television and hosted friends. Taking advantage of the natural light, Eisenhower pursued his love for oil painting here. (Lynn Topel)
The porch was the Eisenhowers' favorite room as this was where they watched television and hosted friends. Taking advantage of the natural light, Eisenhower pursued his love for oil painting here. (Lynn Topel)

The farm may have been Eisenhower’s domain, but Mrs. Eisenhower got the last say over the interiors of the house. A house tour will allow you to step back in time to the ‘50s and ‘60s, when the “red-brick” farmhouse saw the glory of the Eisenhower years.

Nearly 98 percent of the inside is original to the house; hence, drawn drapes over the windows shield the furnishings from the harsh brightness of the sun, and glassed-off rooms prevent visitors from leaning too far in.

As you enter the main hallway, you’re greeted by the original wallpaper specially ordered by Mrs. Eisenhower to show 48 state seals, the seal of the territory of Hawaii, and the U.S. seal.

Eisenhower’s entry hall greets visitors with this eye-catching specially made wallpaper<br/>showcasing state seals, as well as the nation’s seal. (Lynn Topel)
Eisenhower’s entry hall greets visitors with this eye-catching specially made wallpaper
showcasing state seals, as well as the nation’s seal. (Lynn Topel)

Moving toward the living room, visitors may see gifts bequeathed to the Eisenhowers, which include a beautiful mother-of-pearl inlaid black lacquer table, a matching room divider from the South Korean first lady to Mrs. Eisenhower, and a silk rug from the shah of Iran.

At one end of the living room is a marble fireplace, removed from the White House in 1873 by President Ulysses Grant, and given to the Eisenhowers as an anniversary gift by the White House staff. (Lynn Topel)
At one end of the living room is a marble fireplace, removed from the White House in 1873 by President Ulysses Grant, and given to the Eisenhowers as an anniversary gift by the White House staff. (Lynn Topel)

Four-poster beds, pink bathroom tiles, linoleum kitchen floors, and rotary phones alongside trinkets, fine china, and Eisenhower’s own paintings make this cozy farmhouse an ideal retreat for the tight-knit Eisenhower clan.

Eisenhower converted his dressing room into a bedroom following a 1955 heart attack so he could take naps and rest quietly. Above the bed hangs his original painting of his two oldest grandchildren. (Lynn Topel)
Eisenhower converted his dressing room into a bedroom following a 1955 heart attack so he could take naps and rest quietly. Above the bed hangs his original painting of his two oldest grandchildren. (Lynn Topel)

Visiting Eisenhower’s Farm

The only home that the Eisenhowers ever purchased is now under the National Park Service. Visitors can drive directly to its on-site parking, recently completed in April, and take advantage of the hourly house tours being offered by the park rangers. On the property, you may also visit the Secret Service Office adjacent to the barn, as well as the garage, which houses Eisenhower’s presidential limousine, golf carts, and station wagon.
Be sure to check out the presidential limousine, golf cart, and station wagon used by the Eisenhowers when they entertained guests at the farm. (Lynn Topel)
Be sure to check out the presidential limousine, golf cart, and station wagon used by the Eisenhowers when they entertained guests at the farm. (Lynn Topel)
Behind the barn, they converted a room to be used by the Secret Service. (Lynn Topel)
Behind the barn, they converted a room to be used by the Secret Service. (Lynn Topel)

With its close proximity to the battlefields in Gettysburg, the Eisenhower National Historic Site may be easily overshadowed because of the associated history that draws visitors every year. But it’s this same battlefield that brought a young Eisenhower to the rolling fields of Pennsylvania; it was where he commanded thousands of men during his stint at Camp Colt; and years later, it’s the place that he would call home.

For more information, visit the National Park Service website for hours of operation and special events information.
Lynn Topel is a freelance writer and editor based in Maryland. When not busy homeschooling her sons, she enjoys reading, traveling, and trying out new places to eat.