Pitzer’s School: Schoolhouse to Residence (10/14)

BY STAN WOLF / OCTOBER 2014

On July 1, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower purchased a small property at the northwest corner of his farm known at Pitzer’s School. Pitzer’s school was originally erected by Samuel Pitzer on his farm on the east side of Willoughby’s Run. In 1857, he deeded the school, and the land, to the newly organized Public School System. The old building survived the Civil War “with barely a scratch” and continued as a school until 1902, when it was destroyed by fire. There is some discussion about the possibility that the schoolhouse was used by General Longstreet while engaged here in Gettysburg, but, Civil War scholars are not in agreement on the issue.

After the fire, the school was replaced with a two-room brick building on the opposite side of the Millerstown Road, adjoining the Allen Redding Farm. The school district bought the 1.5 acre plot from Allen Redding. The “new” brick school was closed in June, 1955, abandoned where it was on the northwest corner of the original Eisenhower farm. The children who had attended this school were transferred to a consolidated elementary school in Gettysburg.

When Arthur Nevins, as President Eisenhower’s agent, approached the Cumberland Township School Board about buying the abandoned school, they set a price of $4,200, which was satisfactory with the president, and he sent a check for that amount. Six months later, President Eisenhower heard that some people thought that was not enough, so he sent the school board $800 more. The sale of the school building included the bell, cupboards, stove and articles fastened to or in it. The bell from the school was moved to the Eisenhower farm and currently sits atop the guest house (which was renovated from a cement block garage on the original Redding farm).

In 1957, when the Pitzer’s school property was deeded over to President Eisenhower’s son, John, he added 3 more acres to make a total of 4.5 acres. The schoolhouse was renovated extensively for John’s family. John Eisenhower, wife Barbara, and children David, Anne, Susan and Mary Jean, lived in the renovated schoolhouse from 1959-1963. The property was eventually sold to a retired Secret Service agent, who later sold it to the current owner, who still resides there.

I attended Pitzer’s School from 1935-1943. My brothers and I frequently rode our bicycles to school from our farm on Willoughby Run Road. Occasionally, if there was snow, we would get a ride to school from John, our work horse. Upon arrival at the schoolhouse, we would dismount and tell John to go home and off he would go. John was smart enough to find his way home but not smart enough to come pick us up after school and we would have to walk the mile and a quarter back home.

Stan Wolf is a well-known local historian and, with his daughter, Audrey Wolf Weiland, wrote the book “Ike – Gettysburg’s Gentleman Farmer.” Stan and Audrey are both members of the Cumberland Township Historical Society.