Visit America's Top Presidential Places
Posted by Rich Mancini
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: USA, Travel
In honor of the recent observation of President’s Day, I thought I’d share some pretty cool Presidential places to visit inside, as well as outside, the U.S. They’ll take you into the lives of some of the nation’s Commanders in Chief, and really appeal to the history buff in me (and perhaps in you, too). Now, because it includes some of my own favorite Presidential haunts – some iconic, others off-the-beaten path – this list may seem a bit random, but I hope you’ll find it fun.
The obvious place to start, though, is where you’d expect – the White House in Washington, DC, home to all U.S. presidents and their families since 1800. Yes, tours of the Executive Mansion are available, but must be requested at least 21 days in advance through your Congressional representative if you’re a U.S. citizen (or through your embassy if you’re a foreign visitor); see www.whitehouse.gov for info. It really is an amazing house, and the history you’ll feel there is pretty overwhelming. And although glimpses of its inhabitants are rare, the current residents have been known to make surprise appearances – as when President and Mrs. Obama (and the First Dog, Bo) recently greeted tour visitors in the Blue Room.
Naturally, the nation’s capital is filled with memorials and monuments to America’s chief executives; strolling on or near the National Mall, you’ll find the Washington Monument and the Jefferson, Lincoln and F.D.R. memorials; and in nearby Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting places of both William H. Taft and John F. Kennedy. But there are also three sites involved in the life and tragic death of Abraham Lincoln worth visiting – Ford’s Theatre NHS, where he was fatally shot on the night of April 14, 1865 (and the Ford’s Theatre Museum dedicated to his presidency); the Petersen House across the street, where he died the next morning; and the lesser-known President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home, where the Lincoln family retreated in summer to escape the heat of downtown Washington (as did presidents James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes and Chester A. Arthur).
You can cross from DC into Virginia and pay a visit to the restored estates of four of our first five presidents – Virginia gentlemen all – each offering a unique perspective on the life and times of its respective owner and his contributions to the fledgling American nation – George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and James Monroe’s Ash Lawn-Highland outside Charlottesville, and James Madison’s Montpelier. You’ll certainly feel the presence of each of these “founding fathers” in their homes, but none more so than at Monticello, which Jefferson himself designed and continued tinkering with throughout his lifetime.
Now let’s hop around a little… first up to President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site in Plymouth, Vermont, the family homestead and boyhood home of the 33rd President, where – uniquely in U.S. history – the then-vacationing Vice-President was sworn into office by his father, a local notary public, by the light of a kerosene lamp upon being informed of the death of President Warren Harding… it’s true!
There are 13 Presidential Libraries & Museums scattered across the country from Maine to California, maintained in part by the National Archives. I don’t have the space to mention them all here (you can check them all out at www.archives.gov/presidential-libraries), but I’d like to call out two – Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford Library (in Ann Arbor) & Museum (in Grand Rapids), which will be observing the centennial of the 38th President in 2013 – and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York. America’s first Presidential Library (it was founded and used by Roosevelt while he was still in office), it’s on the same site as Springwood, the home of F.D.R. National Historic Site. Not only did our only four-term president live here during much of his life (when not occupying the White House), he was also born in the mansion and is buried on the grounds – so it offers you the rare opportunity to grasp the entire scope of a significant presidential life all in one location… and it’s a gorgeous one at that, overlooking the Hudson River. Personally, as a history buff and an F.D.R. fan, I love this place!
I also have to mention a couple of other F.D.R.-related sites. One is Roosevelt Campobello International Park in Maine, site of F.D.R.’s summer home on Campobello Island and a symbol of U.S.-Canadian cooperation. The other is halfway around the world… Livadia Palace in the Black Sea resort town of Yalta in the Crimea region of Ukraine.
The last summer home of Czar Nicholas II and his family before the Russian Revolution, the Palace was also the site of the often-controversial 1945 wartime conference attended by Allied leaders Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill and F.D.R. (who died only two months after his return from the grueling trip). Not only do you get an eerie feeling while viewing family pictures and other personal effects of the Czar’s family, all of whom were slain in the Revolution – but I thought it was pretty amazing to stand in the room where the “Big Three” met to decide much of the postwar fate of the world… talk about walking in the footsteps of history…
Now, that’s only scratching the surface – there are lots more – but I hope you get a chance to check out some of these Presidential places yourself. You can find some of them on Tauck trips including Most Hallowed Ground: The Civil War; Williamsburg & Washington, DC; Michigan’s Lakes & Mackinac Island; and The Hudson Valley.
A Happy Belated President's Day!