On a recent tour, Lionel Wells, a volunteer guide with the National Park Service, told a dozen tourists to look out for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s love for the color green while touring the 34th president’s 189-acre property in Gettysburg, Pa.
Wells has led tours for thousands of visitors at the Eisenhower National Historic Site, and he is always quick to point out the president’s fascination with green hues. Eisenhower painted his farmhouse’s shutters forest green, as well as part of the living room, the den and his bathroom. His wife, first lady Mamie Eisenhower, opted for a bright pink bathroom, complete with bright pink tiles and an even brighter pink floor mat.
The farm is minutes from the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center, a mere 84 miles from Washington, D.C. Visitors can go back in time and spend a couple of hours in the life of the man whom President Richard Nixon dubbed “the first citizen of the world.”
In 1967, the Eisenhowers donated the house — and all of its contents — to the National Park Service. Shortly after the first lady’s death in 1979, it was officially turned into a museum. The family farm is where the president spent many of the most critical and vulnerable moments of his presidency with his wife, children and grandchildren.
The Eisenhowers had moved almost three dozen times in support of the five-star general’s military career. But Mamie, historians note, insisted on settling down. President Eisenhower had longed for a farm where he could raise cattle, and after the war, friends showed them the Gettysburg area.
The president’s passion for military history drew him to Gettysburg, and the Eisenhowers bought the property for $44,000 in 1950. They remodeled the estate, first by expanding the house to include guest rooms and a home office. The adjacent barn, with peaceful vistas of the surrounding fields, was reinforced to withstand heavy winters.
When it was completed, the farm helped in international diplomacy. While president, Eisenhower would conduct official affairs with world leaders 18 miles away at Camp David. Then he would fly by helicopter to the farm with the officials for a dinner and a reception. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and French President Charles de Gaulle visited the home, as did Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
Inside, one develops a better sense of the type of man Eisenhower was. The living room, which historians say the Eisenhowers considered “too stuffy,” is a posh space decorated with about a hundred sculptures, figurines and trinkets. A Tabriz rug from the shah of Iran sits in front of a marble fireplace, and a painting of Prague hangs above the mantel.
An avid artist, Eisenhower’s oil-on-canvas paintings litter the walls throughout the upper level of the house, showcasing a talent and affinity for serenity. The enthusiasm for color comes through in pieces such as a romantic rendering of a snowy forest, several nostalgic portraits — such as “The Mexican” (Mamie’s favorite) — and a still life of pink flowers in vases. Each one is signed with his initials.
Aside from the president’s paintings, the house includes portraits of the Eisenhowers by Thomas Edgar Stephens. A bookshelf on the second-floor hallway includes dozens of books, such as Fulton Oursler’s “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and Norman R. Ford’s “The Black, the Gray and the Gold.” Wallpaper with the seals of the U.S. states cover the wall leading up to the second floor. At the top of the stairs, around the hallway hangs “The Mexican” — a petite portrait of a man with a rugged face wearing a straw hat.
The president’s home office, adjacent to the rear of the kitchen and a rustic den, includes a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln (sans beard) and an impressive black lamp with a subtle U.S. eagle on it. The desk is a replica of one used by President George Washington. “The room’s simplicity reflects the down-to-earth nature that served Eisenhower so well,” a brochure states.
In that office, Eisenhower attended to the country’s business while he recovered from a heart attack. It was there he received the call about the American U-2 spy plane shot down in Soviet airspace, a moment Eisenhower acknowledged fractured his relationship with Khrushchev and exacerbated the Cold War.
A day trip to the farm also allows visitors to tour the cattle farm where Eisenhower commercially bred award-winning Black Angus cows, even during his presidency. And they can tour the grounds where he practiced putting, raised horses and hunted quail.
Fortunately, the farm sits among other historic attractions that would enhance a day trip to Gettysburg. Other must-see sites include the Gettysburg battlefields, the military museum and the delightful Gettysburg borough.