After visiting the Gettysburg battlefield the previous day, we headed back to the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center where we purchased tickets to tour the Eisenhower National Historic Site. This site adjoins the battlefield but can only be visited on a scheduled tour. While waiting for the bus, I enjoyed the brilliant display of fall color in the parking area.
Arriving at the 189 acre Eisenhower farm we were greeted with even more fall color. This was the home that President Dwight D. Eisenhower escaped to during his two terms in office and to which he retired afterwards. The five-star general was drawn to Gettysburg by his love of the military history of the place and by his own history. He was stationed here at the U.S. Army Tank Corps Training Center, Camp Colt, in World War II. This was the only home the Eisenhowers ever owned.
Mamie Eisenhower favored the formal parlor, here with its curtains drawn to protect the original furnishings from the sunlight.
Ike Eisenhower preferred the more casual sun room. Its large windows provided lots of natural light for one of his hobbies, painting. The piece he was working on when he died still sits on the easel here.
Here is one of the eight bedrooms in the Eisenhower home. The old farmhouse that stood on the 189 acre farm when they bought it was rather rundown. Much of it was torn down and rebuilt but the Eisenhower’s made sure that the new structure kept the same farmhouse charm.
This small kitchen was used to prepare meals for the many dignitaries that visited the farm. I was tickled to see the Sunbeam mixer in the foreground as my mother has one that looks just like it.
The building at the left houses some farm equipment while the one on the right is an old garage that was converted to a guest apartment. The Eisenhower’s grandson, David, lived in the latter when he worked as a farmhand one summer.
Another of Ike’s passions was raising and showing Black Angus cattle. Ike broke the ice with dignitaries such as Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, French President Charles de Gaulle, and former Prime Minister of Great Britain Winston Churchill by giving them a tour of his cattle barns while shooting the bull, figuratively speaking of course.
I wonder if he showed them around in this Jeep?
I could see why the Eisenhowers so enjoyed their time on this farm.
The farm tour starts with a short talk in the parlor then leaves you plenty of time to wander through the rest of the home and property on your own. You’ll want to pick a day with good weather if you can so as to enjoy a stroll through the outbuildings.
Hmmm, think I could pull the truck through here for a fill-up?
Leaving the cattle bars, we arrived back at the house and wandered around the yard.
Looks like Ike picked up a souvenir from the White House.
I wonder who ruled the house?
Ike and Mamie’s many years of service to the nation certainly earned them the hours they spent enjoying this view from the sunroom.
Leaving the house, we walked over to the barn seen to the right.
Anybody need a good used Massey Ferguson tractor?
The security detail for the Eisenhowers was housed in one tiny room, a former milk house adjoining the barn.
After spending half a day at the Eisenhower farm, we got back on the road. We headed north through Harrisburg PA then northwest on Hwy 22/322 along the Susquehanna River.
We continued traveling northwest along Hwy 22/322, cutting through a series of low mountain ridges.
In between the ridges was some lovely farmland. Just the right setting for a peaceful finish to an interesting day.
Our goal the previous night was the home of an aunt in DuBois PA that I hadn’t seen in way too many years. We camped the night in her driveway. The next day, after a few hours of catching up and reminiscing, it was time for us to turn towards home. We had a little spare time on the way home so I looked to see if there was anything interesting along the way and spotted something in Johnstown PA. So we started south in that direction.
The DH had recently bought a GPS navigation device that we were using on this trip. It had directed him to head south down Hwy 119. However, after studying the map I decided that Hwy 219 would be a better road and would have more options for camping. I directed the DH onto a route that would cut across to Hwy 219 but we missed a turn and ended up in a small town with a long name. Hey! This is where Punxsatawney Phil lives!
After finally making it over to Hwy 219, we calculated the amount of daylight left and opted to head for Prince Gallitzin State Park for the night. After settling into our site, we took a short stroll.
The late evening sun cast an orange glow over a little lake in the park. After spending a few minutes enjoying the scenery, it was time to get back to the camper and grill a nice steak for dinner.
I arose before daylight the next morning and headed over to the lake to catch the sunrise. The sky was overcast with clouds but there was a thin gap along the eastern horizon that allowed the early morning sunlight to stream through for just a few minutes. This resulted in an even more brilliant orange light than we’d seen the evening before. What a way to start a day!
On the road again, I could tell that we were headed in the right direction – south! These geese must have heard the forecast that called for snow in this part of Pennsylvania within the next few days.
Hey, look what we came across! Now I know where that Seldom Seen Smith fellow got his money to buy that nice Outfitter rig. I spotted this sign in the little town of Patton PA. I later found that the Seldom Seen Mine is a small family coal mine in the Seldom Seen Valley that is no longer operational but is instead open to public tours. Apparently we had passed the mine on Highway 36 headed south towards Patton the night before so we didn’t get to check it out.
Continuing on, we came to the Johnstown Flood National Memorial Recall that we’d started our journey by visiting an intentionally dry dam so I’d figured we may as well finish our trip with an unintentionally dry dam.
More than a hundred years ago a lake had been built on the Conemaugh River to supply water for a canal between Johnstown and Pittsburgh. The lake was a little over two miles long, as much as a mile wide, and 60 feet deep at the dam. It was taken over by the prestigious South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club in 1879. The Club made several changes to the dam that impounded the lake, compromising its safe operation. Heavy rains in late May 1889 caused the dam to fail resulting in a catastrophic flood. The raging waters coursed through the town of Johnstown 14 miles downstream in less than an hour. The dam was never rebuilt.
We stopped in at the visitor center where there was a good collection of photos and artifacts that gives one a glimpse of the devastation that was wrought by the flood.
The club superintendent’s house remains in place overlooking what remains of the dam seen between the house and the highway bridge in this photo.
Overlooks constructed at the ends of what remains of the dam accentuate the missing middle portion, washed away that fateful night.
The remnants of the dam are accessed via a parking area and trail located below the visitor center. This open meadow area would have been underwater when the dam was in place. The two overlook structures at the end of the meadow mark the width of the breach through which a railroad now runs along the Conemaugh River.
Alongside the path I spotted some prickly vegetation. I later determined that they were teasels, so named as they were once used to tease out the long fibers of wool.
One of the changes that the club had made to the dam was to place screens across the overflow spillway to prevent fish from escaping when water flowed through it. This reduced the capacity of the spillway.
The overflow spillway was cut into natural ground to reduce the chance of erosion. It was designed such that water would flow through it rather than over the top of the dam during heavy rains.
The club had also cut a slice off the top of the dam to make its top wide enough for two carriages to pass. This essentially further reduced the capacity of the overflow spillway as water would start to flow over the top of the dam sooner rather than later.
One can see that flow through the overflow spillway (spanned by the bridge at center) would only rise to a few feet of depth before water would begin flowing over the top of the dam. The large visitor center and smaller superintendent’s house are seen on the hill above.
The Conemaugh River now flows freely through the breach in the dam. The river was raging with runoff from heavy spring rains on that gloomy day when it overwhelmed the compromised overflow spillway and began flowing over the top of the dam. It rapidly eroded a wide breach, releasing the lake’s waters on the town downstream. A total of 2209 persons in Johnstown and the nearby area perished, including 99 entire families. Roads, bridges, churches, businesses, and 1600 homes were destroyed. The Johnstown Area Heritage Association (www.jaha.org) provides some interesting details on the flood including personal stories of survivors and information on historic sites to visit in the area.
It’s easy to see why a hunting and fishing club would be established in this beautiful area, a relaxing retreat from nearby Pittsburgh, then a grimy steel town. The club’s 22 members included prominent businessmen such as Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, and Philander Knox. Many law suits were filed against the club following the flood but the courts deemed the disaster to be an act of God such that no one was held liable.
Continuing south from Johnstown we saw a little of the coal mining that helped make this a steel-making area. We also passed a sign indicating that the Flight 93 memorial was only twenty minutes or so off to the east. It was tempting to divert the short distance but the DH was already in “going home” mode so I made a mental note, adding this to my “next time in the area” list.
Leaving the back roads behind, we quickly crossed the line into West Virginia.
Hillsides of late fall color provided a little relief to the interstate monotony.
I’ll end my trip report here. It was an enjoyable and thought provoking vacation. I don’t know that I’d go very far out of my way to visit Johnstown but the other sites visited are well worth a few days of driving. You may want to skip Aunt L’s though or she’ll put you to work raking the copious fall leaves covering her yard
Boy are we on a run of great trip reports or what?! This is super, thanks for posting. Are you a member of the Procrastinators Club? I haven't seen you at our meetings before. But glad to see this now.
I have studied a lot about Eisenhower, so I loved seeing his farm and nearby areas. I have to get out there and see it for myself, someday. Thank you for the tease and of course all the scenery and great "Johnstown Flood" infor too. You two need to get out more often and get me more information! Thanks,
Looks like I had links to an old version of some of the later photos. Got that fixed now.
whazoo - I'd be a card carrying member of the Procrastinators Club if I'd ever get that application form filled out and in the mail And, yes, lots of good trip reports from all over lately.
murphy38 - If you wait just a couple weeks it'll be fall colors there again
bka0721 - One of the funny stories the Park Service folks told about Eisenhower was how at first at Camp Colt they were doing tank training without any tanks. I'm not much on summer camping but fall is nearly here so we'll get out some soon.
Thank you for sharing more of your excellent trip... I enjoyed every bit of it.
We would have probably found our way to Ike's (I wore an "I like Ike" button when I was in school... and later he was my Commander in Chief)
I really enjoyed the photo/history leason about the Johnstown flood (it was before my time.. but we learned about it in school in WV... but with few details. The area is on my must do list now.
I could tell that it was important to you too! Yor report was very thorough.
Did you continue following US-219 south through WV? You would have passed the Fairfax Stone (marking a corner Lord Fairfax's land grant from the king... ), Black Water Falls State Park, and dozens of other great places as you follow 219. When you return to the area consider this nice highway corridor.
When we are next on 219 we'll be heading further north... thanks to you and DH