Despite the 400 miles distance between their communities, leaders for Denison and Abilene, Kansas, recently came together through their shared history. Leaders from the small Kansas town visited Denison with plans to collaborate in the future over their shared relationship with Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The visit by Abilene leaders, including Mayor Tim Shafer and City Manager Austin Gilley, followed a visit by Denison leaders to Kansas last fall. Leaders for both cities revealed plans to collaborate with a third city with a tie to Eisenhower in the lead up to the opening of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C. next year.
“Tonight, with us we have some very special guests from Abilene, Kansas — the boyhood home of Dwight D. Eisenhower,” Denison Mayor Janet Gott said. “Denison and Abilene share a love for the history of our 34th president. Denison gets to claim his birth, but Abilene gets to claim the rights to his boyhood. So, together, we can share him with the world.”
Eisenhower was born in 1890 in a small white home to David and Ida Eisenhower just outside downtown Denison. The Eisenhower family lived along the railroad tracks while David Eisenhower worked as an engine wiper briefly for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.
The Eisenhowers moved to Abilene, the town the future president regarded as his boyhood home, in the early 1890s. Dwight D. Eisenhower would later return to the Denison home multiple times, including during his military service and during his presidential campaign in the 1950s.
Beyond the ties to Eisenhower, Gott said the two cities also were connected in other ways. Businessman Joseph McCoy was known to have encouraged Texas cattlemen to drive their cattle to Abilene for transportation to larger markets. He later formed a refrigeration business in Denison aimed at the same cattle market, Gott said.
In response to a proclamation in honor of the visit, the Abilene representatives returned the favor and presented Gott with a similar proclamation from the Kansas city.
“We appreciate the warm welcome and five-star hospitality,” Shafer said. “We look forward to a long and prosperous partnership celebrating Eisenhower and cross promoting our communities.”
The two cities plan to join with Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, next year for the unveiling of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in the nation’s capital. The city is the site of the Eisenhower National Historic Site, where Dwight D. Eisenhower’s former farm and home are located.
Howard Day, ambassador to Texas for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission, said the memorial is expected to have an official ribbon cutting on May 8, 2020 — the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. The memorial commission was first formed under the Clinton administration in 1999 and construction started in 2017.
“We are looking at, start to finish, 21 years,” Day said.
The $120 million project will feature a physical memorial to the former president, as well as a video memorial. Among the first shots on the video will be his birthplace in Denison, Day said.