The house is small, a stone’s throw from the railroad tracks and positioned on the south side, one of Abilene’s less affluent neighborhoods. For a family of six boys and two parents, it couldn’t be described as spacious. Five of the brothers shared a single bedroom.
“Baths were taken in a tin tub in the kitchen, with water from the well which had been heated on the stove,” says the narrative accompanying the nomination for placing the building on the National Register of Historic Places.
What makes the house so special, of course, isn’t its design. It’s the fact that one of those boys was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who went on to play a central role in World War II, and then became one of the most popular presidents in America’s history.
Ike would recall what it was like growing up there.
“I found out in later years we were very poor, but the glory of America is we didn’t know it,” he said.
The home today is essentially as it was when he was a child. Hooked rugs made by Ike’s father, David, are on the floor. The piano is the one his mother, Ida, bought with her dowry money and used to give all the brothers music lessons. Ida’s dustcap hangs on the back of the rocker in the bedroom where both David and Ida died, he in 1942, she in 1946.
Soon after her death, the family deeded the property to what today is the Eisenhower Foundation, and has been open to the public for nearly 70 years.
The absence of Christmas decorations isn’t an oversight: the family didn’t participate in the conventional secular celebration of Christmas. This may have some religious basis. They were originally affiliated with the River Brethren, a denomination that did not think highly of worldly amusements. Although David’s parents later affiliated themselves with Jehovah’s Witnesses, the children attended the Abilene Brethren in Christ Church, which at that time was located at 7th and Buckeye.
The home now sits on the Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum’s campus and open daily for tours. Visitors can explore this 22-acre site that consists of five distinct buildings: the Boyhood Home, the museum, the library, the Visitors Center, and the Place of Meditation, where Ike, his wife Mamie, and their infant son Doud are buried.
Here, visitors can learn about the early life of the only five-star general who became President of the United States. Other points of interest include the bronze statue of General Eisenhower and the Pylons that stand at the very east end of the campus.
The library and museum bustle with activity every day of the year; there’s always something going on at the Eisenhower, whether it’s a book talk presentation, film screening, or new exhibits going up in the museum or library. To find out more about the Eisenhower Library, Museum and Boyhood Home, visit their website.
“The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower, homecoming speech June 22, 1945