DENISON, Texas –Seventy-five miles north of Dallas, you’ll find a jewel at the crossing of a great river. Denison, Texas is just a few miles from the Oklahoma border and was founded in 1872, the same year that the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad depot made its debut in town.
In 1888, work on the railroad brought a young man by the name of David Jacob Eisenhower to town and the 25 year-old moved his wife Ida down from Kansas the following year to a beautiful home that happened to be right next to the train tracks.
But the home’s proximity to the former railroad line that used to run past this place isn’t the only significant feature – we’re at the Eisenhower Birthplace State Historic Site. John Akers is the site manager to the house that welcomed Ike to the world.
“I think it was built on a double lot. It was meant to be a very fancy house before the railroad got put through right in front of it, and the guy who built it I think said ‘See ya, that was enough,’ and had a variety of homeowners after that,” said Akers. “The house was built in about 1877, but the family lived here from 1889 to early 1892. If the president wasn’t born in it, we might not have this house today.”
While Dwight didn’t grow up in this house, his connection to it was establish by a neighbor who helped deliver the president when he was a newborn, and thought his name sounded familiar as she watched newsreels of the General during World War 2.
“She was thinking about, what was that family that lived across the street? The Eisenhowers? So she actually starts writing General Eisenhower and eventually connects him to this house, and she also becomes the one who starts the movement to purchase the house for the town, and they successfully opened it as a museum in 1946 and they invited General Eisenhower to visit, and she was the hostess,” Akers said. “So, when he came in the front door we just went in, he met the woman who held him as a baby.”
After the war ended, Eisenhower was able to take trip down memory lane, even though he really didn’t have any memory of this place.
“When he came here on April 20th in 1946 for an event we call ‘Big Texas Breakfast,’ that was his first time seeing the house,” said Akers. “I think he was touched by the effort of Texas to preserve the house he was born in.”
After guiding Allied forces to victory, Eisenhower was hailed a hero of World War 2 and both political parties wanted to see Ike take the next step into the political ring.
“We won the war, so he’s very popular from that, and became a natural for the presidency. People saw him as a person of great character, and you know, a lot of people say they miss him, they miss having someone like him as president today,” Akers said.
In 1952 Dwight was the elected president and during the Republican’s two terms, NASA was founded, the interstate highway system was formed, America got out of the Korean War and the former general even downsized our nation’s military.
“Because he was a general, he had that credibility to make these changes, so I think he really did change the course of our country based upon his background,” said Akers. “No one questioned him when he said, made decisions about the military and about military spending because he had the credibility and people had great faith in him.”
Dwight would return to the home in 1952 and once more in 1965. Even though the former president called Abilene, Kansas home, he always kept a connection to the Lone Star State and the people of Texas kept a connection to him.
“The best part of my job is meeting all of these people and hearing their stories. We get a lot of people now that were, he’s the first president they remembered or they remembered that it was the first experience with television, and he was on television, and they talk about seeing him come through their town – so they’re on dad’s shoulders in some town – so in fact, we still have lots of people that come by and remember him or they have the ‘I like Ike’ buttons, the campaign buttons,” Akers said. “So you get a lot of people that they bring their kids and grandchildren and they want to share these stories with them. They do that here as well.”
So dive into Denison to pay tribute to one of the most influential presidents of the 20th century and heroes of the greatest generation that ever lived.
“Denison has embraced having Dwight Eisenhower from here. You’ll see the Eisenhower name everywhere. There’s a lot of pride in Eisenhower, in the Eisenhower birthplace. So they’ve embraced him, he’s a big part of Denison’s identity,” said Akers.