By: Steve Uhland (Former President, ATO Alumni Board of Directors)
Edited By: David Raymond (ATO Alumni President 2004-Present)
The gathering point for over 1,000 Gettysburg ATO’s for more than 100 years has been the chapter house. It is there where all memories are focused as undergraduate and as alumni. Our current jewel rises from a history of dedication and hard work: Trailblazing new architectural designs and standing in testimony to an era long gone in college-fraternity harmony. But it was always so.
When Charles W. Baker (remember what the “W.” stands for?) began our chapter in 1882 our first “official” chapter room was on the third floor of Pennsylvania Hall. (Only the second ATO chapter north of the Mason-Dixon line).
When Phi Kappa Psi built Miller Hall on campus in 1882, which became the first fraternity building in Pennsylvania, ATO took immediate possession of their old hall and purchased the furnishings. ATO’s first meeting hall was on the third floor of the building on the east side of Baltimore Street where the current drug store is located. It only took 5 months from the chapter’s inception to move into its new headquarters, sporting a total of 10 members.
At this point, a little perspective would help. In 1882, Gettysburg had slightly of 100 men enrolled. The average fraternity size was 14, ATO being the fifth fraternity on campus (the first 4 were Phi Kappa Psi, Phi Gamma Delta, Sigma Chi and Phi Delta Theta). Within 5 months, ATO represented 10% of the entire college enrollment.
Various other rooms were rented during the next 22 years until ground was broken opposite the college’s south gate on North Washington Street near Tiber. In 1904, the first ATO chapter house at Gettysburg was completed. Almost the entire front upper 2 stories consisted of glass with a Gothic type veranda on the first floor. Total cost of construction was $8,000, of which one half was secured through subscriptions. It was clearly the best house on campus. The house was used for meetings and social functions, as students were not allowed to live in fraternity houses. The brothers ate in town like everyone else.
The brief history of the first ATO house in Gettysburg ended tragically on February 22, 1914 when the chapter house was completely destroyed by fire. Everything was destroyed – all records, pictures, and all contents. The only relics left are copies of the first minutes (1882-1886). The building was only insured for $4,000: the chapter was left penniless paying off the mortgage.
That very date of the fire, the alumni and active brotherhood sprang into action. Funds were immediately pledged to construct a new house over the smoldering ruins of the old. Within 15 months, a new house was constructed and opened on April 10, 1915 at a cost of only $8,000, in part due to the arm-twisting of a local contractor by area alumni.
The second house of ATO still stands today as you all remember
it on Washington Street. It is the 2 story brick building
with 4 white pillars and a colonial style balcony on the
second floor. The first floor contained a ballroom with a
reception area. The second floor consisted of a meeting room,
recreation room, two bedrooms, and a library. It was here
that Captain and Mrs. Dwight D. Eisenhower lived for a short
time during the First World War. Eventually a kitchen and
dining room were added in the basement, and the meeting room
was converted to a dormitory with sleeping quarters for 14
men. It was here that the fraternity celebrated its 50
th anniversary in 1932, the same year as Pennsylvania
College became Gettysburg College..
This house is now the Gettysburg offices for the Eisenhower Institute, headquartered in Washington, DC. Prior to 1956 when the ATO Chapter moved into our current Chapter House on campus, the "Eisenhower House" was the ATO Chapter House. ATO moved out during World War I at the request of the US Army, and Ike and Mamie Eisenhower lived in the house while he was the tank commander training troops at the local Army base. For more information about the Eisenhower Institute, please check out www.eisenhowerinstitute.org.
As ATO entered the 50’s, the college and the fraternity were rapidly expanding. In 1950, the mortgage was paid off. At this time talk began about constructing a new and more functional chapter house. Words soon became deeds as the efforts of Luther Ritter, Dr. C.L.S. Raby (remember his first 3 names?), and Dr. Robert Fortenbaugh began construction of ATO’s 3 rd and current chapter house in 1955.
But constructing this architectural wonder was no easy task. Ritter, Raby, and Fortenbaugh and Col. Barten negotiated with the college to acquire property on the south side of the campus abutting the Tiber which soon became the scene of many “dunkings” when a brother was pinned, engaged, or just a plain pain in the neck. The House Association issued $72,000 worth of $100 bonds at 3% interest to finance the project. Other sources were tapped, and the new ATO house was erected at a cost of slightly over $100,000 (in 1950’s money).
The current ATO house is architecturally Jeffersonian in nature with the 4 floors. As you enter the main door, which faces Pennsylvania Hall, you are in the foyer. To your right is the dining room with fireplace and a seating capacity for 100. To your left is the living room, warmed by a fully functioning fireplace. At the rear of the building adjacent to the foyer is the former House Mother’s room, complete with a full bathroom. Since the demise of House Mothers, this room has alternately served as a library, study room, alumni guest room, and now an additional bedroom for active members. Upstairs are six 2 room suites with a full bathroom or each suite, bringing the total sleeping quarters for the house to 26. In the basement are recreational areas, a bar, and another fireplace for cold winter warmth.
As it has been for the past century, the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity at Gettysburg remains here for all alumni to come to refresh and reflect. You are always home at ATO. Come see the marvel that Charles Witmer Baker began in 1882 – You won’t believe the feeling!
P.S. C.L.S. Raby’s full name is Clarence Lance Stumpfig Raby