President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s association with the town and battlefield of Gettysburg began in the spring of 1915 when, as a cadet at the US Military Academy at West Point, he visited with his class to study the battle. Three years later during the First World War, Capt. Eisenhower found himself back in Gettysburg with his wife Mamie and their first son. Despite his hope for duty overseas, he had been appointed commander of Camp Colt, the US Army Tank Corps Training Center located on the fields of Pickett’s Charge. Eisenhower’s orders were, “To take in volunteers, equip, organize, and instruct them and have them ready for overseas shipment when called upon.”
At war’s end Eisenhower left Gettysburg for a new assignment, one of many in a 31 year career in which he rose to the rank of five star general. After World War II, while president of Columbia University, the General and his wife returned to Gettysburg to search for a retirement home. In 1950, fondly recalling Camp Colt days, they bought a 189 acre farm adjoining the Gettysburg Battlefield from Allen Redding who, according to son Raphael Redding, "was always very proud of the fact... that he sold to General Eisenhower." The Eisenhowers' retirement was delayed, however, when the General left for Europe to assume command of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Eisenhower returned home to run for the Presidency in 1952. To kick off his Pennsylvania campaign, he welcomed state Republican leaders to a picnic at the farm.
During his first term as President, he and Mamie renovated their Gettysburg home. Much of the original house was not sound and had to be torn down. The construction was complete by March of 1955 and the Eisenhowers began to visit on weekends and holidays.
On weekends, the Eisenhowers entertained family and friends at the farm. The President enjoyed playing golf at the Gettysburg Country Club, shooting skeet at his skeet range, and inspecting his herd of Angus show cattle.
Though Eisenhower used his weekends at Gettysburg to escape the pressures of the Presidency, work was never far away. He began each morning with a briefing on world events. Meetings with staff were common especially during his heart attack recuperation in 1955 when the Gettysburg Farm became the “Temporary White House.”
Back in Washington, the President received a steady stream of dignitaries, many of whom he invited to Camp David for meetings, then on to his farm. After a tour of his Angus herd and cattle barns, Eisenhower brought these world leaders back to the house to sit on the porch. Eisenhower said the informal atmosphere of the porch allowed him, “to get the other man’s equation.”
In 1961, after 45 years service to their country, General and Mrs. Eisenhower retired to their Gettysburg Farm. For the next eight years the Eisenhowers led an active life. The General worked weekdays at his Gettysburg College office, meeting political and business associates and writing his memoirs. He continued to serve as elder statesman advising Presidents and meeting world leaders. But the Eisenhowers’ greatest joy was to simply spend time on their farm with family and friends.
General and Mrs. Eisenhower donated their home and farm to the National Park Service in 1967. Two years later, General Eisenhower died at the age of 78. Mrs. Eisenhower rejected the idea of moving to Washington to be closer to family and friends and continued to live on the farm until her death in 1979. The National Park Service opened the site in 1980.