1955: Fort William Henry Bricks for “Ike” and “Winnie”
In February 1955, a news story appeared in regional newspapers that must have given Lake George residents a sense of pride. The Schenectady Gazette version of the article entitled–“Winnie and Ike Get Bricks from Fort Wm. Henry”–was about President Dwight D. Eisenhower, known as “Ike,” and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, called “Winnie” by Britons.
Principals of the replica Fort William Henry sent historic bricks to the two leaders, relics excavated from the original fort in the early 1950s. Fort William Henry museum, a replica of the 1755-1757 British fortification, opened its doors to tourism in 1954. In the years just before that, archaeologist Stanley Gifford’s team excavated the French & Indian War (1755-1763) military structure. Amongst the artifacts unearthed at the military site were 18th century bricks.
According to the news story, the bricks were acquired from England by General William Johnson and were used in the construction of a feature in the wood-and-earthen British fort completed in the autumn 1755.
The bricks sent to Eisenhower, president from 1953-1961, were for his new home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower purchased the house in 1950. Shortly after becoming Chief Executive in 1953, Eisenhower had the farmhouse renovated, which was completed in 1955. They made the 189-acre farm their residence after the 34th president retired in 1961. It later became a National Historic Site and in 1980 was opened to the public by the National Park Service.
Winston Churchill, Britain’s World War 2 and post-war leader, was an amateur mason and a union bricklayer. This was one of the reasons why the owners of Fort William Henry Corporation sent him some historic bricks dug up from the colonial garrison. In a 1928 news article in the Lewiston (Maine) Daily Sun, Churchill reportedly received membership into the Amalgamated Union of Building Trades Workers, a labor organization of bricklayers. Churchill had earlier been laying bricks at Chartwell House, his Westerham, Kent, England residence. He kept up this hobby for much of his life. The cigar-chomping Churchill also was an accomplished artist.
Churchill purchased Chartwell in 1922 and lived there until his death in 1965. His wife, Clementine, who survived him, turned the historic estate over to the National Trust.
Edwin J. McEnaney, President-Fort William Henry Corporation, received a letter from President Eisenhower dated April 11, 1955. “Ike” thanked him and informed McEnaney that since the Gettysburg house had already been completed, the bricks were sent to “the Eisenhower Museum” in Kansas, “where they more rightfully belong.”
Furthermore, President Eisenhower wrote, “There they will be objects of historical interest to visitors from all parts of the country.”
Eisenhower also commented on the attractive container with a plaque that held the three historic bricks, noting it was a “handsome maple box, made from a tree on the Fort grounds…”
Eisenhower was a West Point graduate and General. Churchill graduated from Royal Military College, Sandhurst and became a Lt. Colonel in the British Army. Both army veterans were well versed in their respective country’s military history. Thus, both knew the story of the August 1757 siege of Fort William Henry. Therefore, “Ike” and “Winnie” would surely have been impressed with the museum’s historic gifts.