A tiny grounds staff maintains our 34th President’s Gettysburg property and his cherished putting green
Eisenhower and the Eisenhower Historic Site
Location: Gettysburg, Pa.
Home: President Dwight D. and Mamie Eisenhower
Donated to National Park Service: 1967
Head gardener and landscaper: Bob Staley
Size of property: 24.22 acres
More info on the site: www.gettysburgfoundation.org/25/eisenhower-national-historic
Dwight D. Eisenhower is one of America’s most-popular 20th century leaders. A respected five-star general during WWII, he ascended to the presidency (our 34th) in 1953 and served until 1961. His presidency coincided with one of the most prosperous periods in the country’s history. As president, he set the wheels in motion for the eventual passage of civil rights laws, guided legislation that created our freeway system, and guided the Free World as the Cold War efforts by the Soviet Union attempted to spread communism across the planet.
But, President Eisenhower (born Oct. 14, 1890, Abilene, Kan.; died March 28, 1969) had another side to him than just being a general and then president. He was a golfer and continued chipping and putting at his home in Gettysburg, Pa., during and after leaving public life.
This home in Gettysburg, Pa., was the only home that President Dwight Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower owned during their 53 years of marriage.
PHOTO BY BILL DOWLING, COURTESY OF THE EISENHOWER NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE.
“Since Eisenhower was known to play golf, the PGA installed a putting green at the White House,” says Carol Hegeman, supervisory historian at Eisenhower National Historic Site, in Gettysburg, Pa. “They also installed one here at the farm [in Gettysburg]. Eisenhower was often in the backyard in the early evening practicing on the green.”
That putting green still exists today and looks like it did in 1967 when Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower donated their Pennsylvania farm to the National Park Service (NPS). Hegeman says the home and farm in Gettysburg was the only property that the couple owned during their 53 years of marriage.
Bob Staley, long-term caretaker of the Eisenhower Historic Site, is the only staff member to have actually met President Eisenhower.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF EISENHOWER NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE.
Ike’s putting green
The estate’s putting green was a gift from the PGA, and the Pennsylvania Golf Course Superintendents Association installed it. It looks just like it did in 1967, and long-time gardener Bob Staley maintains it. Staley is the only staff member at the site who actually met President Eisenhower.
He maintains the putting green similarly to what a superintendent at any high-end golf course would maintain a green – even though it is never used.
To lessen disease pressure, he applies fungicide every 120 days and mows it regularly. “The green is treated with a fungicide and overseeded using sterilized sand. With only two people on staff in the spring, keeping up with the day-to-day mowing operations leaves not much time for anything else,” says Randy Hill, supervisor of Gettysburg National Military Park’s Landscape Preservation Branch.
“The putting green is aerated only once every other year because compaction is not an issue. The green is not played on or walked on by anyone except when it is mowed,” he adds.
Recently, it was refurbished, and that project proved to be a challenge due to the NPS’ limited financial resources.
Golf association helps
“The project would not have been possible with the site’s limited financial resources. Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Golf Course Superintendents Association volunteered to oversee the re-installation, providing the sod, labor and even installing an automatic sprinkler system to assist the NPS with maintaining the green,” says Hegeman. But the single green is just part of the much larger Eisenhower Farm landscape.
The Eisenhower Farm is located next to the Gettysburg National Military Park and is only accessible by shuttle bus. Eisenhower didn’t leave any specific instructions for the farm’s maintenance after his death, but the house renovations and landscape features reflect the couple’s tastes.
“When President Eisenhower donated the farm to the NPS, he understood the mission of the NPS was to preserve the site and educate visitors about his life and events of importance that occurred there. It was designated the Eisenhower National Historic Site in 1967,” Hegeman explains.
Lean equipment shop
The Eisenhower site has 24.22 acres of turf that need regular mowing and care. Mowing equipment at the farm includes a Hustler Super 7, a Jacobsen reel mower and a Locke walk-behind unit. The grounds crew also uses a small John Deere tractor with a bucket loader and a 7-foot mowing attachment.
The park service doesn’t fertilize the turfgrass because the property lies in the fragile Chesapeake watershed that flows into the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. In fact, it’s very careful to use only what is absolutely necessary to maintain the putting green – and that’s all. “We have reduced our chemical usage and use integrated pest management to reduce our waste runoff to the Chesapeake Bay,” stresses Hill. He says the estate is mostly farm and not a maintained landscape, so visitors are relatively unconcerned about the presence of some weeds. Beyond that, weed control on the large site, even using chemicals, would be costly.
Tiny, busy staff
Hill says the landscape preservation staff, aided by volunteers, works at both the Gettysburg National Military Park and at the Eisenhower National Historic Site. Staley works year-round for the Eisenhower estate. During peak season, he takes on a temporary worker.
The seasons govern the grounds maintenance duties on the Eisenhower farm. In the spring, the work is nonstop as the two-man grounds crew mulches, mows, trims and edges. It uses Stihl trimmers, blowers and chain saws. Mowing and trimming continue throughout the summer. As the hot, dry, dog days of summer settle over southeastern Pennsylvania, Staley oversees the mowing of the farm’s fields and prepares for upcoming special events planned at the Eisenhower estate.
“Fall entails cleanup of the leaves, one last mow, tree pruning and the final fungicide treatment for the green. The seasonal employee is finished by the end of the summer,” Hill says.
In the winter, Staley uses his time to remove snow, replace fences, and do anything else that could not be accomplished during peak visitor times.
The putting green still gets mowed, aerated and fertilized even though no one walks or plays on it anymore.
Mamie’s beloved roses
Time marches on and there comes a time when bushes, flowers, trees and other plant media need to be replaced at the Eisenhower home.
“We need to find the closest possible alternatives to remain true to the mission of preserving the Eisenhower Farm as it was when the former president resided there,” says Hill.
First, Mamie Eisenhower loved roses. Many of her rose gardens are still in existence at the Eisenhower site. The Landscape Preservation Branch oversees the restoration of the rose gardens like it does for the rest of the property.
“While most of the roses have been replaced over time, the site does maintain the General Eisenhower rose, a red hybrid tea rose presented to him by Chancellor Konrad Adenauer of West Germany,” says Hegeman. Only a few of the original 50 General Eisenhower roses planted in the north rose garden survive, she adds.
“In the 1990s, Jackson and Perkins grafted cuttings of the Eisenhower rose to new root stock, but even many of those regenerated Eisenhower roses are now gone,” Hegeman says.
About 70,000 people visit the Eisenhower farm each year. That means the Eisenhower Farm’s turf and landscaping areas need to be maintained, neat and safe at all times, but especially during the peak summer tourist season.
The estate is mostly farm and not an intensely maintained landscape. Visitors don’t expect to see 24 acres of manicured fine turf. Staley and his tiny staff keep the grass on the estate under control with several mowers, including this 7-footwide unit behind a John Deere tractor.
“All visits to the Eisenhower National Historic Site begin at the Gettysburg National Military Museum and Visitor Center at 1195 Baltimore Pike (in) Gettysburg,” says Hegeman.
A member of the Garden Writers Association, Komancheck writes about the green industry from her home near Ephrata, Pa. Contact her at [email protected].