Introduction to Every Leader
Being There:Encountering America's Presidents
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Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
AMERICAN PRESIDENTS

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Introduction
Introduction to The Presidents: Every Leader from Washington to Bush
Being There: Encountering America's Presidents
List of Sites and Descriptions
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Introduction

The National Park Service, in partnership with the White House Historical Association and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, proudly invites you to explore and experience 75 historic places associated with American Presidents. This Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary highlights the wide variety of places listed in the National Register of Historic Places that illustrate and have influenced the lives of43 presidents of the United States. Nearly half of the featured places are units of the National Park System, while the rest are preserved by other stewards. These powerful tangible links to the presidents tell their stories and illuminate their achievements and impact on the office and the nation, bringing several centuries of American history to life.

The American Presidents travel itinerary offers several ways to discover and experience the historic places that shaped and honor the leaders of our nation:

• Descriptions of each featured historic place on the List of Sites focusing on its significance, photographs and other illustrations, and information on how to visit. 

• Two essays by highly respected presidnetial historians add to the rich content of this travel itinerary by emphasizing the dynamic influence of the presidency and the importance of place. Visitors can read an "Introduction to The Presidents: Every Leader from Washington to Bush" by Michael Beschloss and "Being There: Encountering America’s Presidents" by Richard Norton Smith.

Maps to help visitors plan what to see and do and get directions to historic places to visit.

• A Learn More section with links to relevant websites such as tourism websites with information on cultural events and activities, other things to see and do, and dining and lodging possibilities. This section also provides additional resources on the presidents and the places associated with them and a bibliography.

View the itinerary online or print it as a guide if you plan to visit in person.  The American Presidents travel itinerary, the 47th in this ongoing series, is part of the Department of the Interior’s strategy to promote public awareness of history and encourage visits to historic places throughout the nation. The itineraries are created by a partnership of the National Park Service; the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers; and Federal, State, and local governments and private organizations in communities, regions, and heritage areas throughout the United States. The itineraries help people everywhere learn about and plan trips to visit and experience the amazing diversity of this country’s historic places that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The National Park Service and its partners hope you enjoy this itinerary and others in the series.  If you have any comments or questions, please just click on the e-mail address at “comments or questions” on the bottom of each page.

Introduction to The Presidents: Every Leader from Washington to Bush1 by Michael Beschloss

The first president of the United States I ever saw was Richard Nixon, during his 1960 campaign against John Kennedy. At the age of four, I am told, I was held up in the air as the future president's motorcade sped down the Lincoln Highway in Illinois, where I lived. That fall, Nixon was promising Americans that if they made him president, "your children and grandchildren won't grow up under Communism." To drive home his point, the Nixon campaign wanted his parade routes lined by small girls and boys. I was one of those.

My fascination with presidents grew. At the age of six, when I watched on television as John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth, I was struck when one of the commentators said that Glenn was putting his life in danger to advance President Kennedy's dream that Americans get to the moon by the end of the decade. Later that year, I saw Kennedy tell us on television that he would risk nuclear war to get Soviet missiles out of Cuba. Knowing how neighboring towns were sometimes demolished by tornadoes, I wondered whether mine (population forty-six hundred) would be leveled by a nuclear attack.

Three years later, I kept on seeing, or so I thought, the same picture, day after day, week after week, on the flag-emblazoned front page of the Chicago Tribune. The image was of a smiling Lyndon Johnson signing a bill, with members of Congress clustered behind him. Only later did I understand that it only looked like the same picture, and that Johnson was enacting the most substantial body of social legislation in history. That year–1965–LBJ also began his first major escalation of the conflict in Vietnam. My fifth-grade teacher gravely told our class, "You boys and girls may not realize it yet, but your country is at war.”

It would have been difficult for any American who grew up during the 1960s–the Cold War confrontations, the struggle for civil rights, the Great Society, Vietnam, the race to the moon–to escape the notion that a president loomed, almost physically, over the lives of every American. I presumed at the time that this must have been true for most of American history. Only much later, as an historian, did I come to understand how sharp were the ebbs and flows of presidential power–and of the quality of the men who have served in America's highest office.

Stirring displays of presidential leadership continue to affect us today: George Washington inventing key elements of our political system, Andrew Jackson battling the Bank of the United States, Abraham Lincoln binding the Union, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson involving the government more than ever before in our economic affairs and expanding our role among nations, Franklin Roosevelt rescuing our society and the world, Harry Truman improvising the means that would defeat the Soviet empire, Ronald Reagan seeking to end the Cold War.

What makes these achievements all the more spectacular is that our presidents have all operated under a Constitution that did not grant them unilateral power. This was not accidental. On the cusp of independence the founders of the new American republic did not wish to endow the presidency with powers that might lead to some new American version of the British monarchy they had fought so hard to shake off.

The limited powers of the office stand in contrast with the acts of presidential leadership that have driven so much of our history.  Thanks to the American system, our people have managed frequently to choose leaders who have had the character to alter public opinion, the vision to spot public dangers and opportunities, and the skills to get Congress, citizens, and sometimes the world to share their view of the way things should be.

More than anyone else, George Washington demonstrated how the strictures of the Constitution would be translated into actual power. The old hero recognized  that he was setting one precedent after another–his refusal to be called "His Mightiness" or "His Elective Majesty," his diplomacy, his efforts to fashion a legal structure for the new land, his demonstration, in putting down the Whiskey Rebellion, that the United States was able and willing "to support our government and laws," his refusal to accept a third term.

It was left to John Adams to follow the adored and groundbreaking leader who had stood above partisanship to navigate grave crises with France and with Alexander Hamilton. Adams was the first president to live in the Executive Mansion. He understood the potential of the white stone house as a unifying symbol of the new democracy, writing his famous prayer that heaven "bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it" and that "none but honest and wise men ever rule under its roof."

The quintet of presidents who followed Adams suggested that his prayer had been heard: Thomas Jefferson, who demanded "a government rigorously frugal and simple" and had the foresight to double the size of the new nation with the Louisiana Purchase; James Madison, who took the country through the War of 1812 and helped establish the United States as a world power; James Monroe, who fashioned an enduring foreign policy doctrine; John Quincy Adams, who set out the need for a national system of roads and canals, thoughtful regulation of national resources, and government aid to education; Andrew Jackson, who expanded the powers of the office, waged war against the notion of a national bank, expunged the national debt, and became a people's hero.

For the next quarter-century, with the exception of James Polk, who pursued American expansion and revived the independent treasury, the candlepower of the presidency dimmed. Martin Van Buren struggled against the Panic of 1837. William Henry Harrison died after a month in office. John Tyler, "His Accidency," established the expectation that Presidents-by-succession assumed the office in full and annexed Texas, but was ultimately expelled by his own party. Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, and Franklin Pierce were among the weakest leaders ever to serve as president.

The final president before the Civil War, James Buchanan, embodied the failure that shadowed the reputations of his seven immediate predecessors: Each had tried to paper over the deepening issue of slavery that divided the American people, endangered the Union, and threatened to make a mockery of the American notion of democracy.

Few historians would disagree that Abraham Lincoln was our greatest president. What better demonstration could there be of the American idea that anyone can become president than a boy who sprang from "the short and simple annals of the poor" with a year and a half of sporadic formal education; who mastered Euclid, the Bible, Shakespeare, and Blackstone; made himself the natural leader of almost any community he entered; and then went on to confront the issue of slavery and save the Union with a costly and complicated war?

The end of the Civil War, which had seen Lincoln expand the powers of his job to prevail over the Confederacy, might have opened the way to a new era of strong presidents. It did not. The most severe crisis of the Union was over and as Reconstruction unfolded, the Congress, Supreme Court, and the American people were eager to whittle the presidency back to more human scale.

It was in 1888 that the widely read British scholar and diplomat James Bryce wrote "Why Great Men Are Not Chosen Presidents." Andrew Johnson had been impeached. Ulysses Grant's administration had grown entangled in scandal and economic crisis. Although Rutherford Hayes helped to restore the office after the tremors of Johnson and Grant, he was constrained by his failure to win the popular vote and his pledge to serve merely a single term. James Garfield was murdered after a half-year in office. Chester Arthur and Benjamin Harrison were only too happy to allow Congress to take the driver's seat. Although Grover Cleveland aspired to strengthen the presidency, he was frustrated in many of his public ambitions. You might well ask yourself whether America could have been a greater country during this era had it benefitted from stronger executive leadership or was this a period in which the nation, after the greatest crisis in its history, had to lick its wounds and consolidate?

Then, on the eve of the twentieth century, the wheel turned again. With the Spanish-American War and his dispatch of five thousand Americans to fight the Boxers in China, William McKinley heralded America's new role as a world power. Theodore Roosevelt and, after the William Howard Taft interlude, Woodrow Wilson expanded presidential power over foreign policy and our economic life. The presidencies of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge were largely a rebuke to the powerful presidency, but Herbert Hoover–far more than most people understood at the time–was a forerunner of the dramatic surge in presidential authority that began in 1933.

Franklin Roosevelt launched the longest period of sustained presidential command in our history. The American epoch from the early 1930s until the start of the 1990s was dominated by what the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., has called the "imperial Presidency." When FDR took the oath, the nation was in such desperate economic straits that many members of Congress and influential columnists like Walter Lippmann were almost begging him to seize more power and tinker with ways out of the national mess. Roosevelt would have been stultified to be president in a time that did not allow such potential for leadership. He was only too happy to oblige, sending new domestic programs through Congress that were so far-reaching that the Supreme Court struck some of them down.

Nevertheless, what Congress gave Roosevelt in the domestic arena, it withheld in foreign and military affairs. Despite the president's growing suspicion that the nation might have to wage a war against totalitarians in Germany, Japan, Italy, and their allies, an isolationist Congress mired him in legislation that gave him little leeway. In 1937, backed by three-quarters of Americans (according to one reputable survey), Congress almost passed an amendment requiring that, except in case of invasion, "the authority of Congress to declare war shall not become effective until confirmed by a majority of all votes cast in a Nation-wide referendum."

Pearl Harbor removed the shackles on presidential power in foreign and military affairs. After the Japanese attack, the American people and Congress handed Roosevelt authority to fight World War II that far exceeded anything he had amassed in the 1930s. Leading the Allies into battle, forging an industrial "arsenal of democracy" on the home front, FDR was as near to being a king of the world as any president would ever be.

When the war ended in 1945, there was every expectation that presidential power would recede, just as it had after the Civil War and World War I. But, with its air of a clear and immediate danger, the Cold War gave Harry Truman and those leaders who followed him power in foreign affairs that neared that of a president fighting a hot war. Especially during showdowns like the Berlin blockade of 1948 and the Cuban Missile Crisis, many Americans felt that literally one human being was shielding them against a worldwide threat. Congress was often willing to give presidents the benefit of the doubt. The House and Senate let Truman fight in Korea without a congressional war declaration, just as they later let Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon do in Vietnam.

In domestic affairs, Americans seemed willing if not eager to continue the flow of national power to Washington that had begun with the New Deal and continued as Americans on the home front girded to win World War II. The imperial presidents were happy to exploit congressional deference that stemmed from the Cold War danger to get controversial domestic programs passed. Eisenhower justified his highway and education programs by saying they were essential for national defense. When Kennedy wished to shoot for the moon–a program that had little direct military value and in fact took resources away from more important military ventures–he reasoned that Americans needed the added prestige and would have to command outer space in order to win the struggle with the Soviet Union.

The strong presidency of the twentieth century also gained power by acquiring new symbols, mystique, and ways to influence the public that it had never had before. In the absence of kings and queens, Americans had always wanted to hold up presidents of special stature like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as examples for their children. But after World War II, the office was provided with new theatrical props.

When Truman's aides advised him that the presidential aura was a valuable asset in fighting the Cold War, he authorized them to design a new presidential flag and mount a presidential seal on his lectern wherever he spoke. Kennedy had the presidential plane–once blandly labeled MILITARY AIR TRANSPORT SERVICE–repainted by the industrial designer Raymond Loewy (who also designed radios and kitchen blenders) in regal blue and white with the sweeping legend UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The image of Air Force One was so potent that when Gerald Ford's campaign against Jimmy Carter was flagging, Ford's handlers had him deliver a televised campaign speech from aboard the plane, engines screaming as it hurtled through azure skies, because they thought it would make Ford seem more "presidential." Other presidents handed out presidential cufflinks, golf balls, and boxes of M&M's emblazoned with their signatures.

The mass media of mid-twentieth century America made certain that every American knew about their leaders' tastes in dress, cinema, and food. JFK started a craze for two-button suits. His refusal to wear hats (he thought they made his cheeks look too fat) threatened to ruin the hat industry. Besieged by desperate hat moguls, Kennedy was persuaded to at least carry a hat during public ceremonies like airport greetings and military parades. Richard Nixon's well-publicized obsession with Patton helped make the film a winner at the box office. Ronald Reagan, after spurring the national consumption of jelly beans, launched the literary success of an obscure insurance agent named Tom Clancy by praising Clancy's first thriller, The Hunt for Red October.

Presidents of the eighteenth and nineteenth century had had to address the public through newspapers or handbills. But when presidents of the mid-twentieth century had something to say, they needed merely to call the three major television networks (there were only three) and almost every American watching the tube would be confronted with' a presidential speech or press conference. When you saw the presidential seal dissolve into JFK talking about Cuba or Nixon about Cambodia, you knew it was something important and you usually watched.

Another way presidents seized power for themselves during this period was in no way public. These were the illicit abuses of presidential power that constituted a scarlet thread in the underside of the presidential carpet. Members of Ulysses Grant's and Warren Harding's entourages may have exploited the presidency to line their pockets, but twentieth-century agencies like the Bureau of Internal Revenue (later the Internal Revenue Service) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation gave presidents and their aides new opportunities to secretly intimidate or thwart–sometimes under the guise of national security–their political enemies.

When Senator Huey Long threatened Franklin Roosevelt's reelection, federal tax agents were sent to Louisiana to dredge up compromising information that could be used to discredit him. Dwight Eisenhower's chief aide, Sherman Adams, asked the FBI for damaging evidence on Democratic senators that could be used to embarrass them. Under Kennedy, the telephones of presidential critics were tapped and their tax returns, including those of Richard Nixon and his mother, were audited. These misdeeds expanded presidential influence. If you were a Washington columnist whose private life might look tawdry in an FBI file or who had cheated on your income taxes, you might have thought twice before incurring the wrath of a sitting president.

When Nixon came to the White House, he dramatically expanded such practices, abusing the FBI, IRS, and Central Intelligence Agency, devising secret funds for burglary and blackmail. After the Watergate scandal burst open and Nixon's malfeasance was exposed, he complained that he had merely followed his predecessors' custom–and that besides, just as Lincoln had suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War and just as Franklin Roosevelt had cut the corners of American neutrality laws to secretly aid the British, he too was a wartime president, waging a struggle in Vietnam that, he noted, other presidents had started.

In the wake of Nixon's scandal, Americans, happily, succeeded in yanking most of the scarlet thread from underneath the presidential tapestry. Rules for presidential dealings with agencies like the IRS, CIA, and FBI were implicitly or statutorily tightened. The congressional opposition and a new watchdog press leaped at any public hint of abuse.

In the last decade of the twentieth century, the foundations of the strong presidency cracked. In December 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved and the Cold War ended once and for all, George Bush found that his influence not only in foreign affairs but also domestic policy shrank almost overnight. Americans wanted a stop to the era of Big Government, as Bill Clinton acknowledged in his 1996 State of the Union, and one of the chief casualties was the strong presidency. What better symbol was there of Big Government than imperial presidents such as Franklin Roosevelt and Johnson and Nixon–and Reagan, who expanded the federal budget? In the absence of an overwhelming foreign or domestic crisis that seemed to cry out for executive leadership, Congress stopped acceding so often to presidential will as it had during the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. There was the prospect that the clock might be turned back to the post-Civil War period, when speakers of the House and Senate majority leaders often dictated to presidents and were sometimes better known and more influential than the men in the White House.

By the end of the twentieth century, the belief that presidents were well-intentioned and told the truth, the idealism and trust that endowed presidents such as Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kennedy with so much of their public impact had been drained away. After presidential deceptions over the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam as well as the Watergate, Iran-contra, and Monica Lewinsky scandals, Americans (especially the young) were much more skeptical about what they heard from the White House. And in the age of round-the-clock television news and the Internet, presidents would have to compete for air-time with Madonna and O. J. Simpson.

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, as I write, we are therefore in a period in which it will be very difficult for presidents to exercise strong leadership in the absence of some all-encompassing crisis like the Civil War or the Great Depression–or the election of some leader with such extraordinary stature and political skills that he or she can overcome the ebbing authority of the office.2  America does not always need a strong presidency. As the Civil War historian Bruce Catton wrote in 1968, "If the story of the Presidents proves nothing else, it testifies to the enormous stability of the office itself and of the nation that devised it."3 Sometimes we are better off without presidents who overreach. But at critical moments, the absence of that distinctive presidential voice and of the executive power to push foot-dragging public officials and skeptical citizens to think anew or make vital sacrifices can endanger the country. What if there had been no Washington to unite the new nation, no Lincoln to save the Union, no FDR to lead Americans through the Great Depression and prepare us for World War II?

Few historians today would argue that Washington, Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt belong anywhere but at the top of the presidential ladder. Bur for most of the other presidents, the metaphor should be not ladder but stock exchange. Presidential reputations are constantly fluctuating–some much more than others –as we discover new information about them from letters, diaries, secret memoranda, tape recordings, and other sources, and as we see them in more distant hindsight, the phenomenon that the historian Barbara Tuchman so vividly called the "lantern on the stern."

As a child, I thought that historians ranked presidents on a grand roll call of greatness, whose order never changed. When President Kennedy was assassinated, I was certain that JFK should go straight to the top. On pale-blue-lined grammar school paper, I scrawled a letter to his successor, Lyndon Johnson, saying, "You could get some large carving firm to carve his head in the Mount Rushmore Memorial of South Dakota." I got back a typed letter on White House stationery signed in blue ink by LBJ's devoted secretary Juanita Roberts, saying that her boss had asked her to thank me for sharing my idea "to honor the late President Kennedy." (When I showed the letter to friends at the local hockey rink, they insisted that it was a forgery.)

As an eight-year-old, I could not know that LBJ, had he read this boy's letter, would not have welcomed my advice. Already feeling enveloped by Kennedy's shadow, he privately believed that JFK was a "Joe College man" of minimum accomplishment but that Ivy League historians would stack the deck in Kennedy's favor. As for himself, until Johnson died in 1973, disparaged for his rough-hewn style and his war in Vietnam, he insisted that those same historians would have no wish or ability to understand him. But a quarter-century later, Johnson's reputation is sharply on the upswing.

The LBJ surge is a superb example of what makes the history of the American presidents so mesmerizing. Like a rushing river drawing force and direction from unforeseen new currents and streams, what we think and write about the leaders who have gone before is never final and is always changing.

1. Excerpted from The Presidents: Every Leader from Washington to Bush © 2003, Introduction by Michael Beschloss. Reprinted by permission of American Heritage.

2.  Written at the beginning of the 21st century, this essay does not address the administration of George Walker Bush and thus does not evaluate the impact on the presidency of September 11, 2001; the war on terrorism; and the other momentous events that have occurred in the first decade of this century.

3.  Written by Civil War historian Bruce Catton in his foreword to an earlier edition of this book, in 1968.


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Being There: Encountering America's Presidents by Richard Norton Smith

Writing to his friend John Adams in the spring of 1816, Thomas Jefferson declared, “I prefer the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” In fact, dreams of the future and the history of the past are inseparably linked. Surely, we can all dream of a day when history lives for the average American with a force and relevance that make it an essential part of our culture – even our popular culture.

No people can remain great without extracting from the past what is timeless. Of all the challenges confronting 21st century Americans, none is more daunting than preserving our basic humanity in an increasingly virtual world. How can history help?  Ralph Waldo Emerson suggested that there is no such thing as history, only biography. It’s a radical idea, easily dismissed in this age of academic specialization. And yet the Sage of Concord was on to something – something as human as the desire to find a personal connection with the past.

This is especially true of the American presidency. Beginning with Theodore Roosevelt a century ago, the modern mass media – from tabloid and radio, through television and the Internet – have brought presidents into our homes with a vividness and intimacy that make them feel like virtual family members. To see a president is not, however, the same as to know him. Over the years I have observed that most visitors to presidential libraries come seeking an encounter with someone they might otherwise know only as a face on the tube, or a sound bite on YouTube. In addition, they want to experience the presidency, to live vicariously for an hour or two in the shoes of a commander-in-chief; to attend a state dinner; spend a weekend at Camp David; address a campaign rally; or ride aboard Air Force One.

At its best, history puts a recognizable face on events and people, who might otherwise be reduced to academic shorthand. Sometimes it's the personal detail, not the great deed, that makes the connection. For example, the fact that Gerald Ford, born Leslie L. King, Junior, did not meet his birth father until he was 17 years of age, may strike a more responsive chord among his grandchildren's generation than his role in the Helsinki Accords or SALT II treaty. Equally revealing is the stack of books, most of them histories and biographies, piled high beside Harry Truman's easy chair in the living room of the house at 219 North Delaware Street in Independence, Missouri. The last president not to attend college, whatever Truman lacked in formal degrees he more than made up for in historical perspective.

That's hardly the only evidence of character to be found on North Delaware Street. That his mother-in-law's house should become his lifelong residence was due largely to Truman's failure as a post-World War I haberdasher in nearby Kansas City. Determined to pay off every dollar of debt incurred in the collapse of his men's clothing store, Harry continued to live with his bride under Madge Wallace's roof. Even after returning from the White House in 1953, the former president couldn't afford to buy his own house. Truman refused to cash in on his presidency. His modest, self-denying lifestyle was only slightly less pinched than the financially bleak retirements of 19th century predecessors like Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Jackson. In any event, Truman's home was not just his castle; more important, it was, and is, a mirror reflecting his character.

To varying degrees, this is true of every presidential residence. Visitors to James Garfield's "Lawnfield" in suburban Cleveland may be surprised to find the first "presidential library" - a tribute built with the pennies of schoolchildren following Garfield's 1881 assassination. Lucretia Garfield thought it a fitting memorial to her bibliophile husband, who found in books (Jane Austen being a favorite author) a refuge from the pressures of office and the incessant, ultimately fatal, demands of office seekers.

In West Branch, Iowa stands the austere Quaker Meetinghouse in which young Herbert Hoover waited for the Inner Light to illuminate his soul. As an old man, Hoover remembered long Sabbaths in an unheated sanctuary, his childish feet not even touching the floor. He also acknowledged that he was ten years old before he realized he could do something for the sheer joy of it, without offending the Almighty. Might one not trace the Depression-era president whose emotional reticence largely obscured his compassion for victims of the economic firestorm to the Quaker orphan from West Branch?

Visitors to Greeneville, Tennessee can see the tiny tailor shop in which Andrew Johnson practiced his trade. However one assesses Johnson's later success at sewing the tattered fabric of Reconstruction-era America back together, no president identified more thoroughly with his fellow laborers. At Gettysburg is the weekend White House cum retirement home of Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower. Here Ike indulged his passion for painting on the glassed-in sun porch. At other times, he escorted world leaders like Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle through his Black Angus cattle barns or over the adjacent Civil War battlefield. No one can walk out of the white brick residence, generously embellished in Mamie Pink, without taking away a vivid sense of its former occupants, their humanity as well as their historic contributions.

All of which leads to the inescapable conclusion: there is no substitute for being there. No video or website, however interactive, can match the authenticity, or emotional engagement, of the real thing. In Kinderhook, New York, one can enter the ambitions, as well as the home of Martin Van Buren, who envisioned his Lindenwald estate as a latter day Mount Vernon or Monticello. It was a vision few others shared. Van Buren's two failed campaigns to regain the White House only confirmed his enemies' cynical adage, "Van is a Used Up Man."

More evocative still is the simple house in the Texas Hill Country where Lyndon Baines Johnson passed his childhood and frequently returned to as an ex-president, anxious to learn how many postcards or copies of his memoirs had been sold that week. In Plains, Georgia, visitors to the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site are introduced, not only to a life, but to a way of life. Through a restored high school, rail depot, and rural farm, the stories of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter are interwoven with the narrative of a rural South long since consigned to memory, and to books like Carter's own classic tale, An Hour Before Sunrise.

It's a long way from Plains to Plymouth Notch. In the autumn of 1962, all of nine years old, I badgered my parents into driving three hours north, to the aforesaid Vermont hamlet. There, beneath the looming mass of Salt Ash Mountain, we discovered a tiny village of six homes, a number unchanged since the Fourth of July, 1872, when Calvin Coolidge began life in a four-room cottage at the back of his father's country store. Across the street stands the Coolidge homestead where, early on the morning of August 3, 1923, the most prosaic of American presidents staged the most dramatic of inaugurations. In the front parlor of a house without electricity or indoor plumbing, Vice President Coolidge's father, a Vermont public notary, swore him into the nation's highest office after the death of Warren G. Harding. The event captured the imagination of a people eager to be modern, yet still in thrall to the idea of country virtue.

If character is fate, then surely one's environment is inseparable from the process of character formation. Consider Thomas Jefferson, that self-proclaimed friend to humanity, who nevertheless chose to live in splendid isolation atop a Virginia mountain. "Architecture is my delight," said Jefferson, "and putting up, and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements." Monticello is a monument to its builder's patience, optimism, ingenuity - and contradictions. Today half a million visitors annually marvel at Jefferson's cannonball clock and swivel chair. They also contrast his Enlightenment faith in immutable progress with his reliance on slave labor to construct his home and harvest his fields.

Like the nation Jefferson both defined and expanded, his Monticello was nothing if not a work in progress. No one understood this better than America's first president. During the Revolution, George Washington undertook to double the size of the modest farmhouse he inherited from his half-brother Lawrence. The two additions he planned neatly reflected his dual nature. To the south, a private wing, with a bedroom suite for himself and Martha, atop a study affording the most famous man in the world a rare measure of seclusion; while to the north, Washington added an elegant dining room, whose true purpose, as a public stage, found expression in its lack of a permanent table.

Washington welcomed as many as 600 visitors each year to Mount Vernon, most of them strangers whose only calling card was their desire to lay eyes on the self-denying war hero and president. A few months after leaving the presidency, the old soldier informed a friend that "unless someone pops in unexpectedly, Mrs. Washington and myself will do what I believe has not been within the last twenty years-that is, to sit down to dinner by ourselves." Hospitality aside, Washington busied himself coaxing a living from 8,000 acres of unproductive soil. His innovations extended far beyond the plow he invented to break Mount Vernon's red crumbly soil, or the rotation of crops fertilized by mud scooped from the Potomac River bottom.

In his politics as in his plantings, Washington didn't hesitate to blaze trails. In the autumn of 1798, he retreated to his study and scratched out a 28 page will, containing unmistakable evidence of his personal and political evolution. Like other thoughtful men, Washington had long struggled to reconcile his ownership of human beings with his country's professed love of liberty. He hoped that the Virginia legislature would take the decision out of his hands by providing for gradual emancipation of the slaves on which the state's plantation economy depended. But with Richmond lawmakers openly defying Federal supremacy - which, needless to say, guaranteed that the state would never defer to northern abolitionists, Washington decided unilaterally to free his slaves on Martha's death. The former president took an even more radical step in challenging Virginia's legal ban on educating Negroes. "And I do hereby expressly forbid the sale or transportation out of the said Commonwealth of any slave I may die possessed of, under any pretense whatever." As if this wasn't explicit enough, Washington added a clause ordering his executors to carry out his wishes "religiously.without evasion, neglect or delay."

Far to the north Washington's successor nursed feelings of rejection, the result of losing the election of 1800 to his erstwhile friend, Thomas Jefferson. John Adams returned to Peacefield, the seaside farm transformed by his redoubtable wife, Abigail, from its original four rooms into a comfortable retirement home. At the time, it was very much a house of sorrow. Within days of conceding defeat at the polls, Adams learned of the death of his alcoholic son, Charles. "My little bark has been overset in a squall of thunder and lightening and hail attended with the strong smell of sulphur," wrote the grieving father.

The future appeared bleak, so Adams turned to the past. Concerned that posterity might overlook his contributions to the Revolution and the founding of the nation, the former president retreated to his second floor library and unlimbered his pen. He wrote an autobiography, and re-argued the past in a torrent of letters and historical articles. In time, he renewed his friendship with Jefferson, giving rise to the most poignant correspondence in American history.

At the end of June 1826, a small delegation of his neighbors called upon the ancient statesman at Peacefield. Ninety years old, frail, and toothless, Adams did not rise from his favorite armchair to greet his callers, yet he more than rose to the occasion when asked for a statement to be read at the town's upcoming celebration of the 50th anniversary of American independence. Today's visitor to Peacefield can gaze on the corner chair from which the old man offered his two-word valedictory: "Independence forever!"

Here, a few days later, Adams dozed away his last hours, precisely half a century after he and Jefferson had declared the self-evident truths justifying American nationhood. Out back is the Stone Library housing 14,000 volumes belonging to Adams' son, John Quincy, an intellectual prodigy who spoke seven languages but never mastered the jargon of political maneuver. Among those present on the floor of the House of Representatives in July 1848 when John Quincy Adams, dubbed Old Man Eloquent by his admirers, was at last silenced by a stroke was a young, gawky congressman midway through a single disappointing term representing the people of central Illinois.

For Abraham Lincoln, what began in an overcrowded Kentucky cabin ended in an overcrowded Washington boarding house. The National Park Service maintains both sites today. In a larger sense, of course, Lincoln's story has no ending. Two centuries after his birth, his greatness is universally recognized, yet the man himself is fast receding in popular memory. Even as much of our world gropes toward the "new birth of freedom" he proclaimed at Gettysburg, Lincoln is in danger of becoming an icon, revered and remote, like Washington on his marble steed, summoned out of the historical mists each February to sell us used cars and appliances.

To know Lincoln the man, even a little, one must visit the Quaker brown residence at the corner of Eighth and Jackson Streets in Springfield that may well be considered the original House Divided. That Abraham and Mary Lincoln truly loved one another is beyond doubt. That Mary on more than one occasion drove her husband to take refuge on an extra long sofa in the nearby law offices of Lincoln and Herndon is equally certain. This, too, had its educational uses. For if a long-suffering Lincoln refused to be rattled by conflict in the White House, perhaps it was because he had learned to accept conflict in his own house. "Quarrel not at all," he advised others. "No man resolved to make the most of himself can spare time for personal contention." Lincoln would take his own advice, and in doing so, forge a presidency whose civility was all the more remarkable given the hatred directed his way.

The Lincoln's neighborhood, restored for modern visitors, had its part to play in what has been called the Great American Story. Around Springfield, it was whispered that the Lincolns spoiled their children. Certainly, their father was more playmate than disciplinarian. A neighbor looking out the window one morning glimpsed a tall, rawboned man carrying the squirming figures of Willie and Tad Lincoln. The boys were shouting at each other and punching the air.

"What's wrong?" said the neighbor.

"Just what's the matter with the whole world," replied their father. "I've got three walnuts and each wants two."

Such humanizing fragments of place and personality remind us why history has been likened to a conversation between the dead, the living, and the unborn. A knowledge of our past affords more than perspective; at critical moments it can supply solace grounded in the example of earlier Americans who confronted challenges barely imaginable to us. Case in point, on September 11, 2001 I was preparing to lead a tour of presidential sites throughout New York, the Hudson Valley, and New England. The trip went ahead as scheduled, an act of solidarity (or bravado) at a moment when no one really knew whether Manhattan would have the heart to welcome outside visitors.

As it turned out, there was no better time or place in which to assess the American Character. One day we visited Teddy Roosevelt's Sagamore Hill, itself a house of sorrow as well as joy. For on a mind-numbing day in February 1886, TR lost his wife in childbirth and his mother to a wasting disease. Fleeing New York for a North Dakota ranch, he nursed his soul back to health, squandered a fortune in the cattle business, and discovered within himself a streak of iron, much as his distant cousin Franklin would find untapped reserves of will and perseverance after a devastating polio attack.

Before the great shingled barn of a house, I reminded my fellow travelers that precisely 100 years ago another terrorist act, the assassination of President William McKinley, catapulted TR into the White House and launched the American Century. It was from Sagamore Hill that the first President Roosevelt won the 1905 Nobel Peace Prize for midwifing an end to the Russo-Japanese War.

The next day we visited Hyde Park, made famous as the home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. One can hardly hope to understand modern America without understanding FDR, which means understanding the transformation of Sarah Delano Roosevelt's cosseted only child on his semi-feudal Hudson Valley estate, into the Depression-era champion of America's dispossessed, its landless and marginalized. A good place to begin is on Sarah's front porch, from which it is possible to visualize a polio-stricken father of five measuring off his paces while slowly navigating, on crutches, the long driveway that terminates in the Albany Post Road. Four times torchlight celebrants traversed this same route to congratulate Sarah's boy on his election as president of the United States.

Members of our travel group old enough to have experienced the Great Depression and World War II recalled the magic of FDR's Fireside Chats, and the transcendent unity stamped on Americans in the days following Pearl Harbor. Their memories helped somehow to salve the wounds of 9/11, and the uncertain world into which we were being ushered. They demonstrate the essential truth of historical tourism. You don't have to live in the past to learn from it, unless you count the hours spent at these and dozens of other presidential sites where we become immersed in a country that has never become but, like Jefferson's Monticello, is always in the act of becoming.

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List of Sites (Click on the name of any site in the list to go directly to a specific text-only version found below)

George Washington (1789-1797)
George Washington Birthplace National Monument Colonial Beach, Virginia
Mount Vernon Fairfax County, Virginia
George Washington Memorial Parkway Virginia, Maryland, Washington, DC
Washington Monument National Memorial Washington, DC

John Adams (1797-1801)
Adams National Historical Park Quincy, Massachusetts

Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
Monticello Charlottesville, Virginia
Poplar Forest Forest, Virginia
Thomas Jefferson Memorial National Memorial Washington, DC

James Madison (1809-1817)
Montpelier Montpelier Station, Virginia

James Monroe (1817-1825)
Oak Hill Leesburg, Virginia
James Monroe Museum & Memorial Library (James Monroe Law Office) Fredericksburg, Virginia
Highland (Ash Lawn-Highland) Charlottesville, Virginia; see Journey Through Hallowed Ground Travel Itinerary
James Monroe Tomb Richmond, Virginia; see Richmond, Virginia Travel Itinerary

John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
Adams National Historical Park Quincy, Massachusetts

Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)
The Hermitage Nashville, Tennessee

Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
Martin Van Buren National Historic Site (Lindenwald) Kinderhook, New York

William Henry Harrison (March -April 1841)
William Henry Harrison Home (Grouseland) Vincennes, Indiana
Berkeley Charles City, Virginia; see James River Plantations Travel Itinerary

John Tyler (1841-1845)
John Tyler Home (Sherwood Forest) Charles City, Virginia

James K. Polk (1845-1849)
James K. Polk Home Columbia, Tennessee

Zachary Taylor (1849- July 1850)
Zachary Taylor Home (Springfield) Louisville, Kentucky

Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)
Millard Fillmore House East Aurora, New York

Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)
Franklin Pierce Homestead Hillsborough, New Hampshire

James Buchanan (1857-1861)
Wheatland Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Abraham Lincoln (1861- April 1865)
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site Hodgenville, Kentucky
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Gentryville, Indiana
Lincoln Home National Historic Site Springfield, Illinois
President Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldiers' Home (U.S. Military Asylum; The Old Soldiers' Home) Washington, DC
Ford's Theatre National Historic Site Washington, DC
Lincoln Memorial National Memorial Washington, DC

Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site Greeneville, Tennessee

Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (White Haven) St. Louis, Missouri
General Grant National Memorial New York, New York

Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
Spiegel Grove (Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center) Fremont, Ohio

James A. Garfield (1881- September 1881)
James A. Garfield National Historic Site (Lawnfield) Mentor, Ohio

Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885)
Chester A. Arthur House New York, New York

Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 & 1893-1897)
Grover Cleveland Birthplace Caldwell, New Jersey
Grover Cleveland Home (Westland) Princeton, New Jersey

Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)
Benjamin Harrison Home Indianapolis, Indiana

William McKinley (1897-1901)
William McKinley Tomb Canton, Ohio

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site New York, New York
Theodore Roosevelt National Park Medora, North Dakota
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site Oyster Bay, New York
Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site Buffalo, New York
Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial Washington, DC

William Howard Taft (1909-1913)
William Howard Taft National Historic Site Cincinnati, Ohio

Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
Woodrow Wilson House Washington, DC
Woodrow Wilson Birthplace Staunton, Virginia; see Virginia Main Street Communities Travel Itinerary
Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home Augusta, Georgia; see Augusta, Georgia Travel Itinerary

Warren G. Harding (1921- August 1923)
Warren G. Harding Home Marion, Ohio

Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
Calvin Coolidge Homestead District (President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site) Plymouth, Vermont

Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site West Branch, Iowa
President Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover's Rapidan Camp Shenandoah National Park, Luray, Virginia

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933- April 1945)
Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site Hyde Park, New York
Roosevelt Campobello International Park New Brunswick, Canada
Warm Springs Historic District (Roosevelt's Little White House State Historic Site and Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation) Warm    Springs, Georgia
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial National Memorial Washington, DC

Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)
Harry S Truman National Historic Site Grandview, Missouri
Little White House (Harry S Truman Little White House) Key West, Florida

Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953- 1961)
Eisenhower National Historic Site Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

John F. Kennedy (1961-November 1963)
John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site Brookline, Massachusetts

Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park Johnson City, Texas
Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac Washington, DC

Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)
The Richard M. Nixon Birthplace Yorba Linda, California

Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)
Gerald R. Ford, Jr. House Alexandria, Virginia

Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
Jimmy Carter National Historic Site Plains, Georgia

Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home Dixon, Illinois

George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
George W. Bush Childhood Home Midland, Texas

William Jefferson Clinton (1993-2001)
Bill Clinton Birthplace (President Bill Clinton's 1st Home Museum) Hope, Arkansas

George W. Bush (2001-2009)
George W. Bush Childhood Home Midland, Texas

Other Presidential Places
The White House & President's Park Washington, DC
Independence National Historical Park Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Federal Hall National Memorial New York, New York
Mount Rushmore National Memorial Keystone, South Dakota
U.S. Car No. 1 Miami, Florida
First Ladies National Historic Site Canton, Ohio
Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site Hyde Park, New York

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George Washington (1789-1797)

George Washington Birthplace National Monument, Virginia

By the time of George Washington’s birth in 1732 on the marshy shores of Popes Creek, his family had been on the land between Mattox and Popes Creek for three quarters of a century.  The George Washington Birthplace National Monument preserves much of the character of the 18th century tobacco plantation where Washington lived until he was about four.  The birthplace house no longer stands, but its foundations have been discovered and preserved.  His half-brother, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather lie in the family burial ground nearby.  The memorial shaft erected on the property in 1896 and the Memorial House constructed in 1932, at about the time of the bicentennial of Washington’s birth, are vivid testimonies to the reverence attached to America’s first president and greatest hero.

In 1657, an English merchant ship sailed up the Potomac River, anchored in Mattox Creek, and took on a cargo of tobacco. With her new load, the ship ran aground on a shoal and sank. During the delay, a young officer, John Washington, grandfather of the future president, befriended the family of Colonel Nathaniel Pope, especially his daughter Anne.  When the ship was ready to set sail John stayed behind to marry Anne, thus beginning the Washington family legacy in the New World.  The bride’s father gave the newlyweds a wedding gift of 700 acres of land on Mattox Creek four miles to the east.  John Washington eventually expanded his land holdings to 10,000 acres.  In 1664, he moved his family to a property on Bridges Creek, within the boundaries of today’s George Washington Birthplace National Monument.  His son Lawrence, born in 1659, inherited the bulk of his father’s estate.  His son Augustine, born in 1694, inherited some property from his father and acquired more, including an iron furnace near Fredericksburg and a substantial plantation on Pope’s Creek.  Augustine found a small house on the Popes Creek property and began expanding it into a middle-sized plantation manor house.  It was here that George Washington, the first son of his second marriage, was born on February 22, 1732.  This is where young George lived until 1735, when his father moved the family to his Little Hunting Creek Plantation, the land that would eventually be renamed Mount Vernon.  In 1738, the family moved again, to Ferry Farm near Fredericksburg.

Washington’s American ancestors saw themselves primarily as planters, but they all also involved themselves in the public service that confirmed a planter’s status while imparting skills such as public speaking, leadership, and generosity to others.  They served as justices on the county courts, militia officers, sheriffs, vestrymen in the local Anglican Church, and members of the Virginia House of Burgesses.  When Augustine Washington died in 1743, the bulk of his estate went to the two sons of his first marriage.  George Washington did not inherit much wealth or land, but his father did pass on to him the Washington family’s status as members of the landed gentry and its commitment to public service.

George Washington’s half-brother Augustine Jr. inherited the Pope’s Creek plantation when his father died in 1743 and eventually willed it to his son, William.  George Washington frequently returned to Popes Creek throughout his adolescence to learn practical farming and to assist with the responsibilities of running the plantation.  William named the property Wakefield and owned the house until it burned down on Christmas Day, 1779.  He saved the only item thought to have come from the original house, a tilt-top tea table. It is now on display in the Memorial House.

The family never rebuilt the birthplace house, and its exact location was lost.  In June 1815, George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted grandson of George Washington, placed a commemorative stone by the ruins of a chimney thought to mark the birthplace.  During the 19th century, the land at Pope’s Creek was farmed.  Five years after the Civil War, a visitor to Wakefield observed that the freestone slab that George Washington Parke Custis placed over the presumed birth site was missing.

The State of Virginia acquired some of the land on Pope’s Creek, with plans to preserve and mark it as a memorial, but did nothing until after the Civil War.  In the 1880s, the United States acquired Virginia’s land and more.  In the 1890s, Congress donated a 50-foot obelisk and erected it on a brick foundation on the recently discovered site of what people thought were the remains of the birth house.

On February 23, 1923, Mrs. Josephine Wheelright Rust organized the Wakefield National Memorial Association “to rebuild the home in which George Washington was born, to restore the neglected graveyard of his ancestors, and to make Wakefield a place of pilgrimage for all those who venerate the name of Washington.”  The date set for completion of the task was 1932—the 200th anniversary of Washington's birth.  After relocating the memorial shaft, the association built the Memorial House over the foundation found in the 1890s.  Constructed between 1930 and 1931, and not intended to be a replica of the birth house, of which no images survived, Memorial House represents instead a typical house of the upper classes of the mid 1700s.  It is probably a bit more elegant than the original. 

Charged with administering the site since 1932, the National Park Service conducted archeological investigations that revealed a second, larger foundation not far away from the Memorial House.  Excavations confirmed that this was the actual location of the birth house. The outline of the foundation is now marked with crushed oyster shells.  The excavations of the main house and a number of outbuildings also provided thousands of artifacts, including ceramics, jewelry, glass, and clay pipes.  These artifacts have been invaluable in telling the story of the site, in furnishing and interpreting the Memorial House, and in the reconstruction of the working colonial farm.

Today, the monument includes the historic birthplace area, the burial ground, and the working colonial farm.  Livestock, poultry, and crops of traditional varieties and breeds are raised on the farm to show farming techniques common during colonial times. A colonial herb and flower garden is also included on the grounds.

George Washington Birthplace National Monument, a unit of the National Park System, is located in the Northern Neck of VA, 38 miles east of Fredericksburg and is accessible via Virginia Rte. 3. It is open daily 9:00am to 5:00pm year round. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Days. An entrance fee is charged for adults ages 16 and older. 

A Visitor Center includes exhibits, film, bookstore, and restrooms. Ranger talks are offered on the hour 10:00am to 4:00pm.  The property includes a one-mile nature trail and picnic area with tables, grills, pavilion, and restrooms. The Potomac River beach offers views of the river and Maryland, walking, sunbathing, and fishing; however, swimming is not allowed.  For more information, visit the National Park Service George Washington Birthplace National Monument website or call 804-224-1732, extension 227.



Mount Vernon, Virginia

Mount Vernon plantation was not only the beloved home of George Washington, the first president of the United States, but also the source of much of his wealth and the mark of his status as a leading member of the Virginia planter elite.  He lived here for over 40 years, happily returning home whenever his life of public service permitted.  Between 1759, when he moved to Mount Vernon with his bride, Martha, and his death in 1799, he expanded the plantation from 2,000 acres to 8,000 and the house from six rooms to 21. The house, with its long, two-story piazza overlooking the Potomac River, is one of the most instantly recognizable, and most copied, buildings in America.

The veneration of George Washington, the “Father of His Country,” attracted visitors to his home during his lifetime and continues today.  Under the leadership of Ann Pamela Cunningham, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association purchased Mount Vernon from the Washington family in 1858, restored the house in the country's first successful nationwide preservation effort, and opened the estate to the public in 1860.  Thanks to the continuing efforts of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, George Washington’s plantation continues to pay tribute to the nation’s first president.

Today meticulously restored to its appearance in 1799, the mansion preserves the legacy of this great American. Three rooms are on either side of the wide central hall on the first floor. The front parlor, music room, and the grand two-story large dining room are located north of the center hall. A small dining room, a first floor bedchamber, and Washington’s private study are on the south side of the house.  The second floor contains six bedrooms, including the master bedroom, with its narrow staircase leading directly to Washington’s study below.  The third floor has more bedchambers, including the small garret chamber to which Martha Washington retreated after her husband’s death.

The grounds remain largely as Washington intended, an appropriate setting for a member of the plantation elite.  Pleasure grounds, gardens, and broad vistas extend from the Potomac River west to the original entrance road.  The smokehouse, workshops, stables, and other restored outbuildings, where slaves did much of the work of the estate, sit on a line north and south of the house, close enough for convenience but nearly invisible.  Other portions of the estate present the plantation as a living-history pioneer farm.  The tomb of George and Martha Washington lies to the south of the mansion.

Two modern facilities help tell the story of the real George Washington to visitors.  The Ford Orientation Center and the underground Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center include galleries and theaters, interactive displays, and over 700 artifacts.

In 1674, John Washington, the great-grandfather of George, obtained the land along the Potomac where Mount Vernon lies.  In 1726, Augustine, George’s father, acquired the property and probably constructed the first portion of the present mansion.  From about 1735 until 1738, Augustine and his family, including young George, resided there on what was then known as Hunting Creek Plantation. In 1740, Augustine deeded the estate to his eldest son, Lawrence, George's half-brother, who renamed the plantation Mount Vernon after Admiral Vernon, under whom he had served in the Caribbean.

George spent part of his youth at the estate with Lawrence, who had married into the powerful Fairfax family and became a mentor to his young half-brother.  It was here that George absorbed the planter ideals of honor and ambition.  Honor demanded demonstrations of merit before the whole community, speaking in public, training militias, giving generously to those below him, and showing his good taste through his personal appearance, his polite manners, and the design of his plantation.  Ambition was a virtue.  Fame and glory showed character and benefited both the man and the greater society.  It was these values that Washington first pursued and then came to embody.

George Washington’s first military assignment came in October 1753 when he delivered a British ultimatum to the French in the Ohio Valley. Its refusal precipitated the French and Indian War.  His subsequent years of military service earned George Washington high rank and respect as a military leader.  In 1754, George leased the property, then over 2,600 acres, from Lawrence's widow and upon her death in 1761, George inherited it.

From 1757 to 1758, Washington rebuilt the modest one and one half-story house at Mount Vernon into an impressive two and one half-story mansion and extensively redecorated the interior.  In 1759, Washington retired from the army and married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow and mother of two children.  Their combined property placed the couple high in the Tidewater planter aristocracy.  Between 1759 and 1774, he occupied most of his time becoming one of the largest landowners and richest and most innovative planters in Virginia.  He served in the Virginia House of Burgesses for part of that time, becoming increasingly dissatisfied with British colonial policies.  Toward the end of this period, he began to enlarge the house, adding a new wing on the south, beginning work on a north wing, and remodeling the interior.

Selected as one of the Virginia representatives to the Continental Congress, George Washington left for Philadelphia in 1774.  Congress appointed him as commander in chief of the Continental Army the following year.  Although his military experience was limited, he had the intelligence, courage, and determination to avoid defeat long enough to turn his ragtag Continental Army into a force capable of meeting and defeating professional British troops on the open field.  On August 19, 1781, Washington marched south with his army to assist the French fleet against the British under Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. The surrender of Cornwallis on October 19 ended the war. 

By this time, America recognized Washington as its first military hero, but in December 1783, he resigned his commission.  By renouncing power at a time when he probably could have been crowned king, he became internationally famous and set the first of many precedents for the new nation.  He happily returned to Mount Vernon and finished remodeling the house, adding the large dining room on the north, the curving arcades that connect the main house with the detached kitchen and servants’ hall, the two-story piazza, and the large octagonal cupola on the center of the roof.  Beveled pine blocks covered with paint mixed with sand, giving the appearance of stone, replaced the simple frame exterior.

In the summer of 1787, he traveled to Philadelphia, where he served as president of the Constitutional Convention.  He departed once more when the Electoral College created by the newly adopted Federal Constitution elected him president in its first and only unanimous vote.   Because the Federal Government was located in New York and Philadelphia throughout his presidency, he was able to return to Mount Vernon only about twice a year.

Washington’s first term was largely devoted to organizing the executive branch and defining the relationship between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the new government created by the Constitution.  Always aware of the effects of his actions, he established precedent after precedent for the presidency as an institution.  He also worked with his Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton to put the nation’s finances in order and selected a permanent site for the nation’s capital on the Potomac River, not far from Mount Vernon. His second term was troubled by the international tensions created by the war between England and revolutionary France and by growing partisanship within his own administration.  His support for the strict neutrality advocated by Hamilton kept the new United States out of war, but led to the resignation of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.  Washington hated political partisanship, but the differences between Hamilton and Jefferson soon sparked creation of the first two political parties, Federalist and Republican.

In 1798, Washington declined a third term, setting a precedent left unbroken until 1940 and now permanent in the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.  He retired to his home at Mount Vernon in 1797 and died there two years later at the age of 67.  His wife lived there until she passed away in 1802. 

Mount Vernon is located 7 miles south of Alexandria, at 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy., in VA. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.   Mount Vernon can be visited by car, bus/Metro, or boat. Mount Vernon offers a wide array of activities for visitors.  For more information visit the Mount Vernon website or call 703-780-2000.  It is open daily year-round according to the following schedule: April-August, 8:00am to 5:00pm; March, September, and October, 9:00am to 5:00pm; and November-February, 9:00am to 4:00pm.  An admission fee is charged.  Seasonal half-hour narrated boat tours along the Potomac River depart from the Mount Vernon dock; there is a separate charge for the boat tours.  Mount Vernon has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

George Washington Memorial Parkway, Virginia, Maryland, Washington, DC

Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, the first section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, opened in 1932, the bicentennial of the birth of the man who shaped the nation as peerless leader in the War for Independence, chairman of the Constitutional Convention, and first president of the United States.  Planned to connect Washington, DC, the capital city whose location he had selected, to Mount Vernon and the Great Falls of the Potomac River, the parkway passes over the same land Washington frequently traveled on horseback.  The last section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway opened in 1968 after many delays.  The beautifully landscaped road, almost 40 miles long, is one of the nation’s premier parkways.  With views of the broad Potomac to the south and the rugged Potomac Palisades to the north, the parkway provides a scenic entryway for visitors to the nation's capital. Here, you can learn about the first president and the development of America and experience a variety of park sites.

Many visitors made the pilgrimage to Mount Vernon during George Washington’s lifetime, and by the 19th century, his plantation had become a tourist “Mecca.”  Magazines and tourist guidebooks promoted the journey as a patriotic pilgrimage that would improve visitors’ character and strengthen the nation by fostering greater appreciation for the ideas, events, and values of the early republic.  At the turn of the 20th century, an electric trolley line replaced the steamboat as the most popular way to visit the great American hero’s home; both allowed for a scenic journey with stops for picnics along the way.  The first automobile tourists arrived at Mount Vernon in 1904, and by the mid 1920s, sightseers congested the hazardous, poorly maintained roads. Billboards, gas stations, and other unsightly developments detracted from the drive.

Planning for a highway "of noble proportion," linking the capital with Mount Vernon began as early as 1887-88, with the chartering of the Mount Vernon Avenue Association. Lt. Colonel Peter Hains of the United States Army Corps of Engineers surveyed a number of possible routes and described his vision in a report to Congress, "It is to commemorate the virtues of the grandest character in American history...  It should have the character of a monumental structure, such as would comport with the dignity of this great nation in such an undertaking, and the grandeur of character of the man to whom it is dedicated."

The project encountered setbacks at first.  The 1902 Senate Park Commission or McMillan Plan provided support by recommending the building of a highway from the planned Arlington Memorial Bridge to Mount Vernon.  In anticipation of the bicentennial of Washington’s birth in 1932, Congress directed construction of a “suitable memorial highway” under the auspices of the Bicentennial Commission.  Charged with its design and completion, the Bureau of Public Roads began building the highway in 1929.  Well-known landscape architects, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., Charles W. Moore II, and Gilmore D. Clarke helped create one of the nation’s earliest and finest scenic highways, the first with a specific commemorative purpose, and the first built by the Federal Government.

In 1930, while the Mount Vernon Memorial Highway was still under construction, Congress passed the Capper-Cramton Act authorizing creation of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  The parkway was to include the earlier Memorial Highway and extend it to Great Falls creating a long regional park on both sides of the Potomac.  Beginning in the 1800s, the Great Falls of the Potomac were a popular tourist attraction. In the 1920s, stone quarrying and plans for hydroelectric dams threatened to destroy the natural beauty of the Great Falls and Potomac Palisades.  Senator Arthur Capper and Congressman Louis C. Cramton lobbied for the preservation of this unique natural and historical landscape, and aroused public sentiment by linking saving the area to the awe-inspiring name of George Washington.  Great Falls was closely associated with Washington’s dreams for the new nation he had helped create.  He saw the Potomac River as a future channel of commerce connecting the Eastern Seaboard to the lands west of the Allegheny Mountains and uniting the nation through improved trade and transportation.  The most serious obstacle to making the Potomac navigable was the Great Falls.

In 1784, Washington convinced the assemblies of Virginia and Maryland, which bordered the river, to establish a company to improve navigation on the Potomac between its headwaters near Cumberland, Maryland and tidewater at Georgetown. Organized in 1785, the Patowmack Company had directors and subscribers from both States; George Washington was president and presided over the project until he went to New York to accept the office of president.  The greatest engineering challenge was the construction of a canal and locks on the Virginia side of the river to bypass the Great Falls, where the Potomac drops nearly 80 feet in less than a mile.  Hired hands, indentured servants, and slaves blasted the southern end of the narrow canal through high rocky cliffs by using only black powder creating an engineering marvel of the day.  Although George Washington did not live to see the canal completed, he often visited the project to inspect its progress.  Many boats used the canal to bypass the falls, but it was never profitable and was abandoned in 1830.

Building George Washington Memorial Parkway was a technical challenge.  It also required close cooperation between the National Park Service, which administered the parkway beginning in 1933, and a variety of federal, state, and local agencies, including the Bureau of Public Roads, the National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, and the Commission of Fine Arts.  Chronic shortages of money slowed construction, which lasted off and on for almost 40 years.  Most of the parkway on the Virginia side of the river opened in 1965, the final section in 1968. 

Conservationists, who opposed highway construction in scenic or historic locations, ultimately prevented the planned extension of the parkway to Great Falls.  In Virginia, construction ended at the Washington Beltway.  On the Maryland side, the parkway was partially completed between Chain Bridge and Carderock, just north of the Beltway.  The Maryland parkway had its name changed in honor of Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, whose home now a unit of the National Park System, is located nearby.

The historic and natural resources of the area would likely not have survived without the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Colonial-style signs and memorial trees and tablets mark numerous places to see, enhancing its roles as scenic drive and commemorative highway. A bronze tablet at the Mount Vernon terminus commemorates the parkway’s completion.

There is much to see and do along the parkway.  In addition to the places associated with George Washington, a wide range of natural areas and memorials, such as the bronze Iwo Jima statue and the monuments that line the approach to the Arlington Cemetery are along the parkway. For a complete list click here.

George Washington Memorial Parkway, a unit of the National Park System, is adjacent to the Potomac River north and south of Washington, DC. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos.  The parkway is accessible from all major travel routes from the south and west of Washington, including I-495, I-95, and I-66.  Click here for a map the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  For more information, visit the National Park Service George Washington Memorial Parkway website or call 703-289-2500.  The parkway is designated a National  Scenic Byway.  George Washington Memorial Parkway has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

Washington Monument National Memorial, Washington, DC

The nation’s best-known memorial to the first president of the United States is located in the city that bears his name.  At 555 feet, 5 1/8 inches tall, the Washington Monument National Memorial towers over the nation’s capital.  George Washington inspired reverence as the man most responsible for gaining the American colonies’ independence from England, as a leader in forming the nation’s government under the Constitution, and as the first president of the new United States.  In 1799, “Light Horse Harry” Lee famously said that Washington was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”  He was not exaggerating.  The sleek marble-clad Washington Monument, a major engineering feat at its completion, honors his achievements and unselfish devotion to public duty.

Plans for honoring Washington predate his presidency.  In 1783, the Continental Congress resolved to erect an equestrian statue in the new national capital, even before selecting a site for the city.  Major Pierre (Peter) Charles L'Enfant’s plans for the new city proposed that the statue be located on line with both the White House and the Capitol, very close to where it is now.  Washington’s death in 1799 rekindled public interest, but disagreements about what the monument should be prevented any action.  In 1833, a year after the 100th anniversary of Washington’s birth, John Marshall, James Madison, and others formed the Washington National Monument Society.  The Society held a competition in 1836 to find a design worthy of honoring the national hero.  They considered several before selecting architect Robert Mills' design.  On July 4, 1848, an elaborate cornerstone-laying ceremony took place, attended by President James K. Polk and other dignitaries, among whom were Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, both members of the House of Representatives and future presidents themselves. The grand monument took 36 years to complete, delayed by politics, financing, and civil war.

The present monument does not much resemble Robert Mills’ original design, which called for a huge colonnade surrounding the base of a nearly flat-topped, four-sided 600-foot obelisk.  The colonnade was to house statues of Revolutionary War heroes and to be topped with a statue of Washington in a chariot.  The current location is slightly south and east of the original site selected by L’Enfant, which turned out to be unable to support the weight of such a massive structure.

In 1855, the small anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant American, or “Know-Nothing” Party seized control of the Washington National Monument Society through an illegal election, following a dispute over a memorial stone donated by Pope Pius IX. The Know-Nothings retained control of the society until 1858. While in control, the Know-Nothings added just a few courses of masonry to the monument using inferior marble, which were later removed.  Construction halted in 1858 when the monument was at a height of 156 feet and the money ran out.  It did not resume until after the Civil War. The monument remained unfinished for more than 20 years. Today a distinct color difference is still visible near the level at which construction temporarily stopped in the 1850s.

In 1876, the centennial of the Declaration of Independence, President Ulysses S. Grant approved legislation to complete the project, helping to gain public support.  With adequate funding and a new design by Lt. Colonel Thomas Casey, of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the monument was completed within five years with the installation of the 3,300-pound marble capstone in December 1884. A dedication ceremony occurred February 21, 1885.  The famous unadorned obelisk Casey designed is the monument of today.

The new monument was extremely popular.  Over 10,000 people climbed the 898 steps to the observation level in the first six months after its dedication.  With the construction of the elevator for passenger use, the number of visitors soared.  In fiscal year 1889, an average of 10,000 people a month went to the top.  They saw and visitors today still see Washington’s buildings and monuments and a view that averages over 30 miles in clear weather.  The 50 American flags encircling the base of the monument represent the 50 States.

A unique feature of the Washington Monument is the 193 memorial stones installed on its east and west interior walls.  Starting in July 1848, the Washington National Monument Society invited States, cities, and patriotic societies to contribute memorial stones to build the monument. The society required that the stones be durable, quarried in the United States, and of the appropriate size necessary for construction.  Due to issues of resource protection and visitor safety, the public receives limited access to the memorial stones, but can view several of them while riding the elevator.  Photographs of the memorial stones can be seen in the online photo gallery on the National Park Service Washington Monument website.

The Washington Monument, a unit of the National Park System, is located on the National Mall at 15th St. in Washington, DC.  Click here for the  National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. The closest Metro stop is Smithsonian station. The Washington Monument is closed for repairs due to an earthquake on August 23, 2011. For more information visit the National Park Service Washington Monument website or call 202-426-6841.

Washington Monument is the subject of an online lesson plan, The Washington Monument: Tribute in Stone. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places homepage. The Washington Monument has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey. The Washington Monument is featured in the National Park Service Washington, DC Travel Itinerary.

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John Adams (1797-1801) & John Quincy Adams (1825-1829)
Adams National Historical Park, Massachusetts

Adams National Historical Park was the home of John Adams, the second president of the United States, and his son John Quincy Adams, the sixth president. Distinguished in public service and in literary pursuits, four generations of the Adams family left its stamp on the history of the United States and on this site.  Set on 13 acres in Quincy, Massachusetts, the park includes the birthplaces of both President Adams. Built in the 17th century and only about 75 feet apart, these two New England “saltbox” houses are the oldest intact presidential birthplaces in the United States.  In 1788, John Adams moved his family and law office a short distance to a working farm that he called “Peacefield.”  Here he retired in 1801, at the end of his term as president, and here he died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  John Quincy Adams spent most of his adult life abroad or in Washington, but returned to the family home whenever he could.  The Adams family called “Peacefield,” or “Old House,” home for 139 years.

John Adams Birthplace
John Adams’ father purchased this 17th-century frame house and seven acres of land in 1720.  The house probably consisted of two rooms on each floor, arranged on either side of a massive central chimney.  A lean-to addition on the back gave it its characteristic “saltbox” form.  John Adams was born in the east bedchamber in 1735.  He lived here until 1764, when he married Abigail Smith and moved 75 feet away to the house where his son, John Quincy, would be born three years later. The house was a rental property after 1780, when John Adams’ mother died.

John Quincy Adams Birthplace
John Adams inherited this 17th-century saltbox house, which is remarkably similar to his own birthplace next door, in 1761. Here he and his young wife started their family and the future second president launched his career in politics and law. John Adams maintained his law office in the house and he, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin wrote the Massachusetts Constitution here. This document, still in use today, influenced the United States Constitution. John Quincy Adams was born in an upstairs bedchamber in 1767 and spent his childhood here.  John Adams spent most of the period between 1767 and 1788 away from home, but his family continued to live in this house.  In 1803, John Quincy Adams purchased his birthplace from his father and lived there from 1805 until 1807, when he moved to Boston. Both houses contain authentic 18th and 19th-century furnishings, although except for a few pieces they are not original items.

“Peacefield” or Old House
John Adams bought a farm outside Quincy in 1788.  He named the farm “Peacefield” and moved his family to the original house on the property the following year.  The family soon began referring to the house as “Old House,” for the country villa the original owner built in 1731. Adams immediately began to expand the house.  He hoped to settle down here as a farmer, but his many public duties kept him from carrying out that plan until the end of his presidential term of office.  During that time, his wife continued to enlarge the house and managed the farm.  John Adams lived here year-round from 1801 until his death in 1826.

John Quincy Adams, who spent most of his life either abroad or in Washington,DC, used “Old House” as his summer retreat.  Like his father, he continued to expand and modernize the building.  Adams’ son, Civil War minister to Great Britain Charles Francis Adams, and grandsons, writers and historians Brooks and Henry Adams, lived in the house until 1927.

The house that John Adams bought consisted of a seven bay, two-story building facing the street with a kitchen ell in the back.  In 1800, he almost doubled the size of the house by building a two and one-half story, L-shaped addition on the east end.  The style of the wing is Georgian, to harmonize with the original building.  It contains a large reception room, the “Long Room,” on the first floor.  John Quincy Adams renovated the house and added a wing connecting the addition to the kitchen ell.  The present house also incorporates additions and renovations made by Charles Francis Adams.

Furnished with a remarkable collection of furniture and decorative items, the house remains as it did when the family departed in 1927. Much of the china, pottery, glassware, paintings, and some pieces of furniture reflect the diplomatic background of John, John Quincy, and Charles Francis Adams who each returned with prized possessions from their various European missions. The property includes a woodshed, duck pond, orchard, and 18th-century garden dating from the days of John Adams.

Stone Library
John Quincy Adams requested in his will a fireproof building, separate from the house, for his books and papers.  In 1870, Charles Francis Adams, his son, built the Stone Library with the help of Boston architect Edward Cabot.

Located just to the northwest of the Old House at the edge of a formal garden, the stone library holds over 14,000 volumes.  The granite and brick library is a single one-story room with a slated gable roof. The Medieval style, a departure from the Colonial style of the first two generations, reflects the elegant tastes of the third generation and the first of many alterations to the surrounding grounds.  Floor to ceiling oak bookcases line the interior walls.  Natural light comes from a skylight and French doors on the south, west, and north walls.

A giant among the Founding Fathers, John Adams was one of the leaders of the movement for independence.  He was on the committee responsible for drafting the Declaration of Independence and steered it through the Continental Congress.  During the Revolution, he served the nation as a diplomat, helping to negotiate the peace treaty that ended the war.  Elected vice president in 1788, he found the position frustrating.  He won the vote to succeed Washington as president by only a narrow margin and soon had to deal with the international tensions created by the French Revolution, tensions which soon split his Federalist Party.  One of his greatest achievements was keeping the young United States out of a declared war with France while protecting American shipping rights on the high seas.

John Quincy Adams was one of America’s great secretaries of state.  His accomplishments include obtaining Florida from Spain and working with his president James Monroe to formulate the Monroe Doctrine.  During his single term as president, John Quincy Adams sought to bolster domestic business by proposing federally funded roads and canals and protective tariffs.  He was an abolitionist and defender of Indian rights, and frequently opposed States rights.  Adams realized few of his initiatives, because most Americans favored minimal government at that time. Defeated by Andrew Jackson in 1828, Adams went home to Massachusetts, but a year later, his district elected him to the House of Representatives, where he served for 18 years.  He was an outspoken opponent of the expansion of slavery and supporter of the constitutional right of the people to petition the government on that question.  “Old Man Eloquent” collapsed while addressing the House in February 1848 and died two days later at the age of 81.

The Visitor Center for the Adams National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park System, is located at 1250 Hancock St., Quincy, MA.  John Adams Birthplace and John Quincy Adams Birthplace have both been designated as National Historic Landmarks.  Click on the following links for The National Register of Historic Places files for Adams National Historic Site: text and photos, John Adams Birthplace: text and photos, and John Quincy Adams Birthplace: text and photos.

The park is open from April 19th to November 10th. During this time, the park is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm. An entrance fee includes guided tours of the Presidential Birthplaces unit and the Old House unit, and travel between them and the Visitor Center by trolley bus.  Tours last approximately two hours and depart regularly from the Visitor Center. The last tour leaves at 3:15pm daily.  The Visitor Center is open during the Winter Season, Tuesday through Friday from 10:00am to 4:00pm.  For more information, visit the National Park Service Adams National Historical Park website or call 617-770-1175

Many components of the Adams National Historical Park have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey including the  Old House, John Adams Birthplace, John Quincy Adams Birthplace, the Stone Library, the Doghouse, and the Flower Garden.


Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)
Monticello, Virginia

Monticello, “Little Mountain,” was the home from 1770 until his death in 1826, of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States.  It is also an architectural masterpiece.  Jefferson was one of America’s first and finest architects and he created, rebuilt, and revised the house throughout his long life.  No president’s home than Jefferson's Monticello better reflects the personality of its owner.  Jefferson, a true Renaissance man, was a giant among the Founding Fathers.  His deeply-rooted disputes with Alexander Hamilton created the two-party system in the United States and launched two competing visions of what the United States should be that dominated 19th-century politics and still survive today.  He was also a complex man, made up of penetrating intelligence, insatiable curiosity, high ideals, and deep contradictions.  The author of the ringing assertion that “all men are created equal” was also the master of 200 slaves.  The political theorist who saw the small-scale farmer as the bedrock of American democracy was himself the owner of many thousands of acres of land and a proud member of the Virginia plantation aristocracy.

In 1769, Jefferson began building his house on the plantation that he inherited from his father, Peter Jefferson. He located it on top of a hill he explored as a child.  The main house was still not finished two years later. When he married Martha W. Skelton in 1772, he brought her to the South Pavilion, his bachelor quarters, because the house was not yet habitable. The newlyweds arrived on horseback during a blizzard.  The original eight-room house was apparently still incomplete in the 1780s, but even so impressed European visitors with the sophistication of its design.  At this stage, Jefferson knew architecture only through books, and his house closely followed the designs of Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio.

Educated at the College of William and Mary, Jefferson was “the penman” of the American Revolution.  His pamphlet, A Summary View of the Rights of British America, written at Monticello and published in 1774, demonstrated his knowledge of the law and his ability to write clearly.  By the time Virginia sent him to the Second Continental Congress two years later, everyone recognized him as a fluent writer and superb legal draftsman.  The committee appointed to draft a declaration of independence in June 1776 selected him to write it.  He submitted his last draft on July 2.  Two days later, Congress adopted the final version of the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson served as governor of Virginia from 1779 to 1781.  During this time, he drafted the important Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, although it did not become law until 1786.  Driven from his home by the British and heavily criticized during his last year in office, he decided to abandon politics and retire to Monticello.  The death of his wife in 1782 changed his plans. Although he lost his wife at a young age long before residing in the White House, Thomas Jefferson never remarried. They had six children, but only two survived to adulthood. Returning to politics, he served briefly in Congress under the Articles of Confederation, where he laid the foundations for the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 that established the framework for westward expansion.  In 1784, he went to France as a member of a trade commission.  A year later, he succeeded Benjamin Franklin as minister to France.

Jefferson’s five years in France had a dramatic impact both on his life and on his house.  He thrived on the Enlightenment principles he encountered in France and was smitten with the new Neoclassical architecture that he saw.  He witnessed the early days of the French Revolution, which he called “the first chapter of the history of European liberty".

When Jefferson returned to America in 1789, George Washington asked him to serve as his secretary of state.  He held that position until 1793, when he resigned after a series of bitter disputes with Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the treasury.  Hamilton generally distrusted the common man and favored a strong federal government that would encourage the development of industry in the new nation.  Jefferson, on the other hand, had an abiding faith in the ability of the people to govern themselves and saw no need for a strong central government.  His vision of America was of an agrarian nation of educated small farmers.  The Constitution made no provision for political parties, but the new Federalist Party soon coalesced around Hamilton and his allies.  Jefferson was at the heart of the Democratic-Republican Party.

In the election of 1796, Jefferson finished second to John Adams, the Federalist candidate.  Under the Constitution at that time, Jefferson became vice president, although the fact that the two men were from different parties guaranteed conflict.  In 1800, Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, received the same number of electoral votes, throwing the decision into the House of Representatives, which finally chose Jefferson in February 1801.  The two confused elections led in 1804 to the adoption of the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, which corrected the problems by providing for separate voting for vice president.  Many Federalists feared the onset of mob rule in America after Jefferson's election in 1800, but this first transition from one political party to another passed smoothly.

The greatest achievement of Jefferson’s first term was the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, more than doubling the size of the United States.  Jefferson immediately dispatched Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the new territory and to continue to the Pacific Coast.  Easily re-elected in 1804, Jefferson had to deal with the effects of the Napoleonic Wars between Britain and France. The Federalists tended to support the English, while the Democratic-Republicans generally leaned towards the French.  In 1807, Jefferson sought to avoid war by instituting an embargo prohibiting Americans from trading with both nations.  The embargo turned out to do more damage to American traders than it did to the British and the French.  It was so unpopular that Jefferson wisely decided not to run for president again in 1808.  At the end of his term, he happily retired to Monticello.

By 1809, Jefferson finished the rebuilding of Monticello begun in 1796. He transformed the original eight room Palladian villa, with its tall two-story portico, into a 21-room house designed in the fashionable Neoclassical style he saw in France.  The front elevation was a deceptively low horizontal composition centered on a pavilion dominated by a columned portico and a low dome.  The renovation kept most of the rooms of the original house, but more than doubled its depth.  By moving the front wall forward, Jefferson provided space for two new rooms on either side of a much larger two-story entrance hall.

The interior incorporated many examples of Jefferson’s ingenuity: dumbwaiters, disappearing beds, unusual lighting and ventilating arrangements, a duplicate-writing machine, folding doors, bookshelves that become storage boxes, and an extraordinary clock, which still runs by a series of weights and pulleys.  Closet-like alcoves hid two steep staircases that led to low bedrooms above the high first floor and to a “ballroom” under the dome.  The house lay at the center of a U-shaped plan that embraced two sunken, terrace-covered service wings set into the hillside.  House slaves could do their work in these wings out of sight of the public rooms.  Small temple-like pavilions sit at the ends of the wings.

Jefferson, an avid horticulturist, also created the gardens at Monticello, which were a botanic showpiece, a source of food, and an experimental laboratory of ornamental and useful plants from around the world. He experimented with plant species brought over from Europe and was particularly interested in developing vineyards.

Jefferson spent most of his retirement at Monticello writing and pursuing his political interests.  Continuing his life-long commitment to education, he established the University of Virginia and designed the buildings surrounding its “yard.”  Debts inherited from his father-in-law, the cost of entertaining his many visitors, and his inability to curb his lavish tastes contributed to serious financial problems at the end of his life.  Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and only a few hours before his old friend and rival, John Adams. His tomb is in the family cemetery at Monticello.

Deeply in debt after her father’s death, Jefferson's only surviving child sold Monticello and 550 acres of land for $7,000 in 1831.  Uriah Levy, a wealthy naval officer who revered Jefferson, bought the neglected property three years later.  He renovated the house and apparently kept it and the grounds in good condition until his death in 1858.  After a long dispute over Uriah Levy’s will, his 27-year old nephew, Jefferson Levy, acquired full possession in 1879.  He again restored the decaying house, opening it to the public.  He also enlarged the estate to about 2,000 acres.  After resisting all efforts to buy the property for many years and after the Federal Government waived the opportunity to acquire it for the nation, he finally sold Monticello and 650 acres for $500,000 to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in 1923.  The Foundation has meticulously restored the house, grounds, and working plantation landscape to their appearance when Jefferson lived there.  Visitors can gain a unique insight into the life and character of this multi-faceted man.

Monticello, located in Albemarle County in the Piedmont region of Central Virginia, has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.   Monticello is also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Monticello is on Va. Route 53 near the intersection of I 64 and Va. Rte. 20, approximately two miles southeast of Charlottesville. Monticello’s street address (for mapping purposes only) is 931 Thomas Jefferson Prkwy., Charlottesville.  The house and grounds are open daily, March-October from 8:00am to 5pm; and November-February from 9:00am to 4:30pm, except for Christmas. Entry is permitted until the posted closing time. The grounds are closed approximately one hour later. There is an admission fee. A variety of tours and activities are offered.  For more information visit the Monticello website or call 434-984-9822.

Monticello has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.  Monticello is also featured in the National Park Service Journey through Hallowed Ground Travel Itinerary.


Poplar Forest, Virginia

Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and third president of the United States, began construction of Poplar Forest in 1806.  It was a retreat and the purest of his Neoclassical architectural masterpieces.  He visited the house in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains as often as four times a year, frequently staying as long as a month.  Its elegant geometrical design and unusual, somewhat impractical plan embodied the abstract forms that architects of the Neoclassical loved.  Poplar Forest, set in its carefully planned landscape, was a personal architectural creation and the place where Jefferson found rest and leisure and enjoyed private time with his family.

Thomas Jefferson long dreamed of a quiet retreat where he could get away from the pressures of public life.  His long and distinguished political career kept him from realizing his dream until late in his presidency.  Jefferson acquired the 4,800-acre plantation at Poplar Forest through his marriage to Martha Wayles Skelton in 1773. During the Revolution when the British drove him from Monticello in June 1781, he escaped with his family to Poplar Forest, staying in the only dwelling on the property, the overseer's house.  During a visit in 1801, a rainstorm left him cooped up in the overseer’s house with numerous children and dogs.  Jefferson spent his time— in what was undoubtedly a cramped and noisy setting —computing how long it would take to pay the national debt.  According to tradition, it was then that he began to realize the advantages of building a more tranquil place for himself.

Thomas Jefferson designed and built this architecturally notable house between 1806 and 1823.  Jefferson was a brilliant self-taught architect, considered by many to be America’s first.  Octagons fascinated him. Poplar Forest was one of his many octagonal designs and the only octagonal house actually built.  The one-story brick residence is set on a high basement.  The front and rear elevations are strictly symmetrical and feature Classical porticoes with pediments and four Tuscan columns.  The plan is an equal-sided octagon that reflects Jefferson’s passion for geometry.  On the interior, four elongated octagonal rooms surround a central chamber illuminated by a large skylight.  This central space is a perfect cube, measuring 20 feet in all directions.  Jefferson liked octagonal rooms in part because they allowed for more light, especially important in a time prior to electricity.  The abstract symmetry of the house extended to the landscape as well.  Two artificial mounds on either side of the sunken lawn behind the house served as ornamental elements and screened identical octagonal privies.  The villas of Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio, influenced the design, with the mounds replacing pavilions.  In 1812, Jefferson proudly declared, “When finished, it will be the best dwelling house in the state, except that of Monticello."

In 1814, Jefferson added a service wing where slaves did the work necessary to maintain the house.  Approximately 94 slaves worked on the plantation.  Letters and documents, as well as excavations of the slave quarters scattered about the property, provide glimpses into their lives.  Slaves at Poplar Forest performed a variety of jobs, including fieldwork, road building, livestock tending, brick-making, blacksmithing, woodworking, carpentry, masonry construction, weaving, and spinning, as well as service in the house.

Jefferson kept to a regimented daily schedule for most of his life, and the time he spent at Poplar Forest was no exception.  An early riser, he spent the mornings riding, reading, or writing. He maintained a library of more than 1,000 books in many languages.  When his family accompanied him to Poplar Forest, they dined early and read or strolled about the gardens in the evenings.  Jefferson loved spending time with his grandchildren.

Jefferson’s grandson, Frances Eppes, inherited 1,074 acres and the house at Poplar Forest but sold it only a few years later.  In 1845, a fire destroyed the roof and interior, leaving only the basic shapes of the rooms, four chimneys, and the portico columns. Later families modified Jefferson's villa retreat into a home more suitable to their needs. Organized in 1983, the Corporation for Jefferson's Poplar Forest bought the house and 50 acres of land in 1984.  The corporation opened the house to the public two years later and began to make plans to restore the house and landscape to its appearance during Jefferson’s lifetime.  The restoration work on this National Historic Landmark is extraordinary. Jefferson designed and built his retreat solely to suit his "fancy," and ongoing restoration and archeology efforts give unique insight into his life and creativity.

Poplar Forest is located on Rte. 661 (Bateman Bridge Rd.) at 1548 Bateman Bridge Rd. southwest of Lynchburg, VA. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file:text and photos. An admission fee is charged. Poplar Forest is open for tours and special events, seven days a week March 15 through December 15. Tours of the house are offered from 10:00am to 4:00pm each day. Poplar Forest is closed on Thanksgiving Day.  For more information visit the Poplar Forest website or call 434-525-1806. 

Poplar Forest has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.



Thomas Jefferson Memorial National Memorial, Washington, DC

The serene classical Thomas Jefferson Memorial National Memorial honors the third president’s ideals of beauty, science, learning, culture, and liberty.  Jefferson truly was a Renaissance man.  He was fluent in six languages:  Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, and Anglo-Saxon.  He spent much time studying the natural sciences, ethnology, archaeology, agriculture, and meteorology.  Jefferson was also a gifted architect, America’s first, according to some scholars.  As American minister to France, he developed a love for the beauties of Classical architecture, as evidenced by two of his famous creations, Monticello and the University of Virginia. He almost single-handedly introduced the Neoclassical style to this country.  It is entirely appropriate that the memorial built in his honor should be based on the Pantheon in Rome, which he loved. 

Jefferson made his chief contributions to the history of the United States in the realm of political theory.  Jefferson was a life-long advocate for government as the servant of the people, for religious freedom and the separation of Church and State, and for education for all.   Jefferson’s faith in the educated common man and his ability to use his liberties wisely has been a constant in American political life.  His statement in an 1800 letter to his friend Benjamin Rush, engraved on the frieze encircling the interior of the memorial, captures the essence of his political philosophy:

I HAVE SWORN UPON THE ALTAR OF GOD ETERNAL HOSTILITY
AGAINST EVERY FORM OF TYRANNY OVER THE MIND OF MAN.

In 1901, the McMillan Commission called for two new memorials in Washington’s monumental core.  They both would be on land reclaimed from the Potomac River.  One was to lie at the west end of a line beginning at the Capitol and passing through the Washington Monument.  The second would be at the end of a line extending south from the White House.  Completed in 1922, the Lincoln Memorial occupied the first location.  The Thomas Jefferson Memorial eventually occupied the second.  Its dedication in 1943 finally added a southern “compass point” to the McMillan Commission’s grand composition for the core area of the nation’s Capital park system.

Congress created the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Commission in 1934, nine years before the bicentennial of Jefferson’s birth in 1743.  The commission considered a number of locations before selecting the present one next to the Tidal Basin.  In 1935, the commission selected John Russell Pope as the architect for the memorial.  Pope already had designed the National Archives Building and Constitution Hall and was working on the National Gallery of Art.  He was probably the nation’s most famous classicist.  His original design called for a huge building and the transformation of the Tidal Basin into a series of reflecting pools, rectangular terraces, and formal rows of trees.  The design was controversial.  Many people expressed concern about the possible destruction of the Tidal Basin’s famous cherry trees.  Architects and artists who favored Modern architecture denounced the building as a “senile sham” and a “cold mausoleum imitation of imperial Rome.”  After Pope’s death in 1937, his colleagues Otto R. Eggers and David P. Higgins took over the project.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the final, more modest design, and Congress voted the first part of the $3 million construction cost in 1938.  Work began that year and continued through World War II.  On April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the completed memorial.  To 5,000 spectators and a radio audience of millions, Roosevelt proclaimed, “Today in the midst of a great war for freedom, we dedicate a shrine to freedom.” 

The circular, open-air memorial is 165 feet in diameter, with an exterior made of Vermont Imperial Danby marble.  The design of the shallow dome clearly refers to the dome of the Pantheon.  The 54 Ionic columns surrounding the building permit a clear view of the interior from all four sides.  A portico with eight Ionic columns forms the main entrance.  An Adolph A. Weinman sculptural group in the pediment shows Jefferson and his colleagues presenting their draft of the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Congress.

Rudulph Evans' bronze statue of Jefferson dominates the white marble interior of the memorial. The Memorial Commission chose Evans’ design from among 101 entries in a nationwide competition.  It shows Jefferson in midlife, wearing a waistcoat, knee breeches, and a long, fur-collared coat. In his left hand, he holds what is believed to be the Declaration of Independence.  At the dedication in 1943, the statue was made of plaster.  The bronze version had to wait until wartime restrictions on the use of metals ended. The statue is 19 feet in height and stands on a 6-foot pedestal of black Minnesota granite.

Four quotation blocks drawn from several of Jefferson's writings, in addition to the personal credo quoted above, adorn the interior of the memorial and illustrate some of the principles to which he dedicated his life.  The quotation on the southwest wall comes from the Declaration of Independence.  A statement on the evolution of law and the Constitution, taken from an 1816 letter to Samuel Kercheval, is on the southeast wall.  The northeast panel contains selections dealing with the evils of slavery and the need for education, taken from his Summary View of the Rights of British America of 1774, his 1784 Notes on the State of Virginia, and 1780s letters to George Wythe and George Washington.  On the northwest wall stands the fourth panel, expressing Jefferson's commitment to freedom of religion. This quotation is from his 1779 Statute for Religious Freedom, adopted by Virginia in 1786, with the last sentence coming from a 1789 letter to James Madison.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial National Memorial, a unit of the National Park System, is located in West Potomac Park. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file:text.  The monument is free and open to the public 24 hours a day.  Park rangers are on duty to answer questions from 9:30am to 11:30pm daily.  For more information, visit the National Park Service Thomas Jefferson Memorial National Memorial website.  The Thomas Jefferson Memorial and nearby Tidal Basin are especially picturesque during Washington’s annual National Cherry Blossom Festival.  The Thomas Jefferson Memorial is featured in the National Park Service Washington, DC Travel Itinerary.

The Thomas Jefferson Memorial has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.


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James Madison (1809-1817)
Montpelier
, Virginia

Montpelier was the home of James Madison, fourth president of the United States, for 76 years.  Madison was a brilliant political philosopher and pragmatic politician.  When he was elected president in 1809 he was already recognized as the “Father of the Constitution.”  With his mentor and friend, Thomas Jefferson, he had founded the Democratic-Republican Party.  As president, his efforts to keep the peace between Britain and the new nation were unsuccessful.  The resulting War of 1812 ended indecisively but was regarded by most Americans as a “Second American Revolution.”  His term ended with a period of intense nationalism.

James Madison was born in 1751 in King George County, Virginia, where his mother was visiting her family.  They soon returned home to Montpelier, which had been in the Madison family since 1723.  The family’s first home appears to have been a modest frame dwelling located about a half a mile south of the existing house.  James Madison's father probably had the earliest part of the present house built in the 1760s.  At the time, it was the largest brick dwelling in Orange County, reflecting the family's high status in the community.  The original two-story brick house consisted of two rooms on either side of a central hall.

Although Madison always considered Montpelier his home, he was often absent.  His active participation in State and national politics began at the time of the American Revolution.  He helped frame the Virginia Constitution in 1776, served in the Continental Congress, and was a leader in the Virginia Assembly.  Madison was instrumental in the calling of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, where he served on key committees and was a tireless advocate of a strong central government.  His Virginia plan was the model for much of the Constitution.  He also played a critical role in shepherding the document through the Continental Congress.  From 1787 to 1788, Madison along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote a series of essays that were a major contribution to the ratification of the Constitution.  Later published in book form as The Federalist, the essays continue to be studied as classics in political theory.  In later years, however, when people called him the "Father of the Constitution," Madison always protested that the document was not "the off-spring of a single brain," but "the work of many heads and many hands.

As a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1789 to 1797, Madison helped frame and pass the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the new Constitution.  During these years, he lived in Philadelphia, then the capital.  He met and married Dolley Payne Todd there in 1794.  In 1797, they returned to Montpelier where they lived with his parents.  Between 1797 and 1801, Madison added a new matching wing to the north end of the house.  The two-story, side-hall plan addition provided a separate household for James and his wife, including a dining room and chamber downstairs and two chambers upstairs.  His parents continued to live in the old house.  Probably with advice from his friend, Thomas Jefferson, James added a large two story front portico of four Tuscan columns under a Classical pediment.  The portico unified the two-part house and gave it its visual focus.  James Madison inherited Montpelier upon his father’s death in 1801, but his mother continued to maintain a separate household in the original house.

Madison became Jefferson’s secretary of state in the same year and moved to Washington.  Seven years later, he was elected to succeed his friend and mentor as president.  During his first term, Madison was enmeshed in the difficulties stemming from the Napoleonic Wars and trade relations with Britain and France.  The British seizure of American ships, cargoes, and seamen on the high seas led the “War Hawks” in Congress to call for military action.  Madison asked Congress to declare war on June 1, 1812.  Not prepared for war, the young nation took a severe trouncing.  The British captured Washington, burned the White House, Capitol, and other public buildings, and forced the government to flee the city.  The war ended in a stalemate with the signing of the inconclusive Treaty of Ghent in 1815.  A few notable victories, climaxed by General Andrew Jackson's triumph at New Orleans, convinced most Americans that the War of 1812 was gloriously successful, resulting in an upsurge of nationalism.

When Madison retired from office in 1817, he returned to Montpelier.  Changes to the house by this time included the addition of one-story wings at each end of the building to provide bedchamber suites for Madison’s wife and widowed mother.  Exterior changes added a new central main entrance and harmonized the details of the two parts of the main house.  Interior spaces were substantially reconfigured.  Madison continued to be involved in public affairs during his 19 year retirement.  He died in 1836 at the age of 85.  He and his wife lie buried in the family cemetery on the grounds. 

Dolley Madison sold Montpelier in 1844.  Subsequent owners made many changes to the house and grounds. The family of William duPont, which owned the property from 1901, bequeathed the estate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1984, which now maintains it as a historic house museum. The National Trust established an independent, nonprofit foundation, The Montpelier Foundation, which assumed the management of Montpelier in 2000. In 2003, the foundation launched a painstaking five-year restoration to return the house to the way it looked when James and Dolley Madison lived there in the 1820s.

Montpelier, located four miles west of Orange on State Rte. 20 in VA, at 11407 Constitution Hwy. Montpelier Station, VA. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  It is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and is open to the public November–March from 9:30am to 4:30pm and April-October from 9:30am to 5:30pm every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.  In addition to guided tours of the house and self-guided audio tours of the grounds, quarterly and weekend themed tours are offered for no additional fee. Visit the Montpelier website or call 540-672-2728 ext. 140 for more information.

Montpelier is the subject of an online lesson plan, Memories of Montpelier: Home of James and Dolley Madison. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page. Montpelier has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. Montpelier is also featured in the National Park Service Journey Through Hallowed Ground: Route 15 through Virginia's Piedmont Travel Itinerary.


James Monroe (1817-1825)
Oak Hill, Virginia

James Monroe, fifth president of the United States, began building the imposing house at Oak Hill during his first term as president.  It was here that he worked on the Monroe Doctrine and here he retired in 1825.  Monroe was the last in the Virginia Dynasty of presidents from 1801 to 1825.  Monroe became president at a time when Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party dominated the political scene, but the Panic of 1819 and the first emergence of the sectional rivalries that would eventually culminate in the Civil War dashed hopes for an “Era of Good Feelings.”  He is most famous for the Monroe Doctrine, which he promulgated in 1823 and which became and continues to be a cornerstone of American foreign policy.

Monroe was born in 1758 and served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.  In 1780, he began to study law under Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia. Their friendship was a great aid to Monroe throughout his long political career.  Monroe became a member of the Virginia House of Delegates two years later, at age 24, and served in Congress for three years under the Articles of Confederation.  He also served as governor of Virginia from 1799 until 1802 and again in 1811.  In 1790, he was appointed to the United States Senate, where he supported Jeffersonian policies.  He helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and served as both secretary of state and secretary of war during the War of 1812.

James Monroe inherited Oak Hill from his uncle in 1808, which was also the year in which he made his first, unsuccessful bid for the presidency. Construction of the mansion probably did not begin until 1820, due to financial difficulties.  During that time, Monroe lived on the property in a wood frame clapboard building, known today as the “Monroe Cottage.”  Completed in 1823, the main house stands at the head of a long avenue of trees.  A huge Roman Doric portico on a high foundation dominates the front elevation of the house, which overlooks the garden and rolling country southward to the Bull Run Mountains.  The house originally consisted of a red brick, two-story main block with small flanking one-story wings.  There is a persistent tradition that Thomas Jefferson and James Hoban were involved in its design.  The wings were enlarged and raised to two stories in the 1920s, and small porticoes were added to their end elevations.  Two handsome marble mantels that the Marquis de Lafayette sent from Europe ornament the simple interior.  A complex of outbuildings surrounds the house, many of which date back to Monroe's occupancy.

In 1816, Monroe launched his second, successful presidential campaign with the support of the Madison administration.  He defeated the candidate of the moribund Federalist Party in the Electoral College 183 to 34. The “Era of Good Feelings” that this end of party rivalries was supposed to usher in soon evaporated.  A depression struck the country in 1819, and sectional conflict over the expansion of slavery erupted for the first time when Missouri sought admission to the Union as a slave state in 1819.  The fierce debates threatened to split the country. The adoption of the Missouri Compromise in 1820 temporarily averted disaster by setting rules for the expansion of slavery in the western territories, while admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state.

Perhaps Monroe’s most significant contribution to history was the Monroe Doctrine announced during his State of the Union Address on December 3, 1823, in response to the revolutions that were bringing independence to Latin America.  The principles of this message were threefold: no further colonization by Europe in the new world, abstention of the United States from the political affairs of Europe, and noninterference of European nations in the governmental affairs of the western hemisphere.  Although forgotten for many years, this doctrine has come to represent a central principle in American foreign policy.

Monroe retired to an active life at Oak Hill at the end of his second term in 1825.  Financial difficulties forced him to sell all his properties by 1830, when he moved to New York to live with his daughter.  He died there on the 4th of July in 1831.

Oak Hill, a private residence not open to the public, is located south of Leesburg in Loudon County, VA.  Oak Hill has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. Oak Hill is also featured in the National Park Service Journey Through Hallowed Ground: Route 15 through Virginia's Piedmont Travel Itinerary.

James Monroe also lived at Ash Lawn-Highland, which is open to the publicand is featured in the National Park Service Journey Through Hallowed Ground Travel Itinerary
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James Monroe Museum & Memorial Library (James Monroe Law Office), Virginia

In 1782, only two years after James Monroe began to read law under Thomas Jefferson, he entered the Virginia House of Delegates.  The following year, he took a seat in the Continental Congress, where he served until 1786.  That year he left New York City for Fredericksburg, Virginia to establish his law practice.  He brought his new wife, the former Elizabeth Kortright, with him. At the age of 28 and disillusioned with politics, Monroe at the time could not have realized his destiny of becoming the fifth President of the United States.

He practiced law in Fredericksburg for three years in a modest one and one half story brick building. Events of this period included the birth of his first child and his election to the Virginia Assembly.  Monroe also attended the Annapolis Convention, one of the forerunners of the Constitutional Convention, while living in Fredericksburg.  In 1790, he left Fredericksburg when he was elected to the United States Senate. From that point on, Monroe served in a State or national office almost continuously, culminating in the highest of them all, the presidency of the United States.

In 1927, Rose de Chine Gouverneur Hoes, Monroe’s great-granddaughter, learned about the planned demolition of the buildings on Monroe’s Fredericksburg town lot, the site of his law office.  She bought the property and opened the James Monroe Museum containing her extensive collection of Monroe objects, books, and documents.  Her son, Laurence Hoes, added to the collection, built a large addition to the original museum in 1948, and donated the complex to the State of Virginia.  Over the years, other Monroe descendents gave many more family objects and furniture.

President Monroe’s descendants thought the little brick building on the site was Monroe’s original law office.  Since then, however, further research has determined that the building where the museum is housed is not Monroe’s law office but is instead three individual buildings constructed at different times beginning in 1816 and now combined into one.  The museum on the site of the original law office houses the largest collection of objects and memorabilia related to James Monroe.   Everything on display in the museum belonged to the Monroe family; no reproductions or replacement pieces are included.   The on-site archives contains over 10,000 documents, and the library holds more than 3,000 volumes of rare and historic books, some once part of James Monroe’s personal library. Adorned with plaques and memorials to James Monroe and his achievements and several varieties of Mrs. Monroe’s favorite flower, the rose, the peaceful Memorial Garden offers a contemplative setting.

The museum’s permanent and changing exhibits present a variety of perspectives on James Monroe’s life and times.  Everything on display belonged to the Monroe family.  Objects come from all of the Monroes' homes; documents are from the museum's archives.  The State of Virginia owns the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library, and the University of Mary Washington administers it.

The James Monroe Law Office, located at 908 Charles St. in Fredericksburg, VA., has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.  The museum is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm Monday through Saturday, 1:00pm to 5:00pm on Sundays. During the months of December, January and February the museum closes at 4:00pm daily. A guided tour takes approximately 30 minutes, though visitors may linger to re-visit the self-guided galleries and walk in the lovely Memorial Garden. There is an admission fee.  For more information, including more on James Monroe’s accomplishments, visit the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library website or call 540-654-1043. Visitors can also read about the connection between James Monroe and Fredericksburg and the early history of the museum. Children will enjoy the special activities, including a reading shelf, video presentation, and special "paper dolls."

Highland (Ash Lawn-Highland), excerpted from the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Travel Itinerary

James Monroe, U.S. Senator; Governor of Virginia; Minister to France, England, and Spain, and fifth President of the United States, purchased this farm, originally named Highland, in 1793. Monroe's friend and mentor Thomas Jefferson selected the house site within view of Jefferson's Monticello. Monroe had hoped to move immediately from his farm at the present site of the University of Virginia so that he could be closer to Jefferson. But when Monroe's appointment in 1794 as minister to France indicated a long stay abroad and a delay in house construction, he sent instructions from Paris giving Jefferson full authority to locate the house at Highland and to plant its orchards. Monroe completed the simple farmhouse, the western portion of the present building, in 1799. Calling the house his "castle cabin" he added to it over the next 20 years.

The Monroe family considered Highland its home for a quarter century. Monroe intended Highland to be a working farm. To increase its productivity, he experimented with diverse crops and planting methods, becoming, like Jefferson, an early advocate of scientific agriculture. In addition to his principal crops of timber, tobacco, and grain, he, also like Jefferson, tried to cultivate Bordeaux grapes for wine, a frustrating endeavor for all farmers until modern agricultural methods were developed.

Throughout his two terms as President, 1817-1825, Monroe often spoke of retiring to Highland. Unfortunately, pressing debts, largely as the result of government service, combined with Mrs. Monroe's poor health, forced Monroe to sell the estate in 1826, and retire to Oak Hill. He described Highland at that time as 3,500 acres with a "commodious dwelling house, buildings for servants and other domestic purposes, good stables, two barns with threshing machine, a grist and sawmill with houses for managers and laborers . . . all in good repair."

About 1840, by which time subsequent owners had changed the name of the house to Ash Lawn, one wing of the Monroe house was damaged by fire and partially removed. In the 1880s, Parson John Massey, a retired Baptist minister and later Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, built the two-story Victorian section of the house partially over the foundation of the damaged Monroe wing, expanding the house to its present size. Jay Winston Johns of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, purchased the plantation in 1930 for his residence and formally opened it to the public, and after his death willed the property to the College of William and Mary, which Monroe had attended prior to his service in the American Revolution. The College began systematic research and restoration of Ash Lawn and reopened the property for public visitation in 1975.

Ash Lawn-Highland is located at 1000 James Monroe Pkwy. southeast of Charlottesville off Rte. 53. It is open from March-October daily 9:00am to 6:00pm and from November-March daily 11:00am to 5:00pm, closed Thanksgiving day, Christmas day, and New Year's day. There is a fee for admission. Call 434-293-9539 for further information or visit the website.

James Monroe Tomb, excerpted from Richmond, Virginia Travel Itinerary

Hollywood Cemetery is set amongst a series of wooded hills and dales overlooking the falls of the James River. The site of Hollywood was part of the estate of Belvidere, a country house built by William Byrd III in 1758 just east of the site of the future cemetery. Byrd’s strained financial circumstances prompted him to dispose of most of his property around Richmond through a lottery in 1769. He divided his property west of colonial-era Richmond into 100 acre “out lots” for the lottery. Eventually the Harvie family acquired a number of out lots, including the area known as Harvie’s Woods, the future site of Hollywood Cemetery. The Harvie family burial plot is still visible in Hollywood just west of Westvale Avenue. The completion of the James River and Kanawha Canal around the falls of the James River in 1800 made Harvie’s Woods fairly accessible from Richmond via the canal towpath. As a result, the area became a popular spot for walks, picnics, and hunting. Its hilltops provided a picturesque vantage point of Richmond and the James River, which visitors and artists alike enjoyed.

A brief period of real estate speculation around 1816 led to the incorporation of Harvie’s Woods into a major subdivision, Sidney. For a considerable period of time Sidney remained a separate city, but one that existed only on paper for many years. This began to change after 1840, when the rapid growth of Richmond made cutting down the hills and filling in the vales of Harvie’s Woods a distinct possibility. The preservation of the site as a landscaped cemetery occurred in 1847, when, after a visit to Mount Auburn cemetery near Boston, Richmonders William Haxall and Joshua Fry worked to organize a similar “Rural Cemetery” on the outskirts of Richmond. Fry and Haxall began a company with some 40 prominent Richmond subscribers. The company retained the services of John Notman of Philadelphia, the initial designer of the second rural cemetery in the United States, Laurel Hill, established in 1836.

Notman briefly visited the Richmond site and returned to Philadelphia with his notes and a topographical survey of the cemetery property. Using this data, he prepared a cemetery plan for a fee of $300. Notman suggested the name “Holly-Wood” for the new cemetery because of the large number of holly trees he saw during his inspection of the site. In his design, Notman attempted to preserve much of the original topography of Harvie’s Woods. The plan accommodated burials through double tiers of lots terraced on the hilltops and terraced hillsides of the site. Winding roads and footpaths made the lots readily accessible to visitors and family members. Notman reoriented access away from the canal to a new entrance at the northeast corner of the property.

The Hollywood Cemetery Company diligently worked to implement the Notman design between 1848 and the early 1850s laying out and surveying cemetery lots. The Notman plan required considerable infrastructure, including a terraced entrance drive, roadways through the site, and paths to provide access to the tiers of lots. Managing the streams and controlling erosion were important parts of the construction. The company built a board enclosure fence around the property and an extensive system of gutters, drainage ditches, culverts, and bridges. To ornament the site the company constructed several lakes, all of which have been filled in. The results of this work are still visible in the original 40 acres of the cemetery, an outstanding 19th century designed landscape.

Notman proposed an entrance lodge in the form of an Italian villa at the entrance to the cemetery at Albemarle and Cherry Streets. The company did not act on Notman’s recommendation but by the 1870s constructed a Gothic “ruin” entrance with an incomplete church tower, iron carriage and pedestrian gates, and a masonry fragment opposite the tower. The entrance was in the best tradition of sham ruins built as picturesque ornaments on English estates. In 1890, the company added to the church tower, creating a chapel (now the cemetery office). Around that time, they replaced the original with a new and enlaraged superintendent’s house, which was converted to apartments in the 1990’s. About 1915, the company opted to close the original gates to the cemetery replacing them with the present gates to accommodate cars more easily.

Upon entering the cemetery and proceeding along Westvale Avenue, the visitor sees an outstanding collection of hillside mausoleums, many dating from the antebellum period. Designed using Egyptian, Classical, and Romanesque forms, they reflect the Victorian preference for inserting mausoleums into hillsides. The original portion of the cemetery has an extensive collection of ornate, 19th-century funerary monuments throughout. The earliest are often carved in white marble in a variety of Classical and Picturesque styles.

Hollywood is divided primarily into individual family lots with some landscaped common area. Prior to 1861, the company encouraged the erection of ornate cast iron fencing. In addition to fencing, the early lots had plantings and cast iron ornaments for decoration. The cast iron in the cemetery came from a number of Richmond, Baltimore, and Philadelphia foundries. One of the most famous pieces of cast iron is the Newfoundland dog cast by the Hayward Bartlett Company of Baltimore. After the war, the Hollywood Cemetery Company discouraged and in some cases restricted the use of cast iron, and eventually much of the original cast iron was removed to ease maintenance.

At the southern end of the cemetery is President’s Circle, a section of the cemetery on a promontory overlooking Richmond and the James River. In 1858, the Commonwealth of Virginia reinterred the remains of President James Monroe there and erected the centerpiece of the circle: the monumental James Madison Tomb, a National Historic Landmark. Governor Henry A. Wise led the efforts to return the remains of James Monroe to his native state from the place of his death and burial in 1831 in New York City. Wise’s efforts came after failed attempts to construct a Washington Monument on President’s Circle in 1847, and to erect a monument to Monroe in New York in 1856. After receiving permission from Monroe’s descendants to bring him back to Virginia, Wise obtained state financial support to purchase a site and construct the monument. Monroe’s remains were returned from New York on July 4, 1858 with great pomp and ceremony and a military honor guard.

Wise commissioned Alfred Lybrock, a German born and trained architect, to design a suitable monument to cover Monroe’s remains. In 1859, the Commonwealth of Virginia installed Lybrock‘s design, a granite sarcophagus surrounded by a flamboyant Gothic Revival cast iron canopy. After obtaining bids from a number of foundries, Virginia commissioned the firm of Wood and Perot of Philadelphia to cast the ornamented James Monroe Tomb in place today. Monroe’s tomb firmly established Hollywood as one of the foremost places of burial in Virginia.

Hollywood became one of the largest cemeteries in Richmond for military interments during the Civil War. The need for space for military burials prompted the Hollywood Company to acquire the Confederate Section in 1863. After the close of the war in 1866, the United States government refused to allow Confederates in National Cemeteries. This prompted the founding of the Hollywood Ladies Memorial Association to care for those graves already in the cemetery and to reinter dead from other sites. The culmination of the association’s efforts was the reinterment of some 7,000 bodies from the Gettysburg battlefield and the construction of the Confederate Monument, a massive granite pyramid. Charles Dimmock designed the monument in 1869.

Hollywood contains the remains of 28 Confederate generals who died during and after the war.  In addition to war dead, survivors are buried in the Confederate Section and throughout the cemetery. The most important Confederate notable in the cemetery is Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Davis family plot is at the western end of the Ellipse, a development of the 1890s overlooking the river that has some of the most attractive monuments and mausoleums in the cemetery. Davis was reinterred in Hollywood with much fanfare in 1890, and his statue is perhaps the only representational sculpture in the entire cemetery.

After the Civil War, granite became the predominant material in the cemetery. The “Petersburg” granite in the cemetery is from quarries along the James River. The development of carving and polishing machines made granite both ornamental and relatively inexpensive. Granite monuments became the material of choice in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this period, concrete coping became the standard edging treatment of lots, and stone coping replaced fencing. The new aesthetic of granite significantly contrasted with the earlier aesthetic of cast iron and marble. C. P. E. Burgwyn designed a major addition in 1877 expanding the cemetery to the west; many fine monuments of the late 19th and early 20th centuries are located in this section.

Hollywood Cemetery has had several expansions and added a major mausoleum in the later 20th century. Burials in the cemetery continue, with a number of funerals every week Monday through Saturday. Hollywood is one of the most visited sites in Richmond, and visitors are welcome in this private cemetery as long as they adhere to the rules established by the Hollywood Company.

Hollywood Cemetery, including the James Monroe Tomb, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 412 South Cherry Street.   Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. The grounds of the cemetery are open to the public seven days a week 7:30am to 5:00pm.  For more information, call the cemetery office Monday-Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm at 804- 648-850, or visit the Hollywood Cemetery website. The James Monroe Tomb has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

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Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)
The Hermitage, Tennessee

The Hermitage was the plantation home of Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, from 1804 until his death in 1845.  Completed in 1819, the main house is a two-story Greek Revival, brick mansion.  Frontier-born, Jackson was the first chief executive elected from west of the Allegheny Mountains, the first from other than Virginia or Massachusetts, and the first non-aristocrat.  The charisma of “Old Hickory,” his renown as a military hero and Indian fighter, and his astuteness in politics assured his election as president.  Although he was a wealthy, slave-holding planter and served in both Houses of Congress, he saw himself and both his supporters and opponents saw him as representing the common man.  He not only expanded the powers of the office of president but also virtually redefined them.

Born in 1767 in the British colony of South Carolina, Andrew Jackson joined the American forces during the Revolutionary War. Captured by the British, he suffered great privations. After the Revolutionary War, he moved to Tennessee, where he became a lawyer and entered politics, becoming Tennessee’s first congressman, and later a senator and a judge on the Supreme Court of the State.

In 1804, Andrew Jackson purchased a 425-acre tract of land that he named The Hermitage. For the next 15 years, Jackson and his wife, Rachel, lived in a cluster of log buildings on the property. Here they entertained notable visitors including President James Monroe and Aaron Burr.  Jackson led the life of a gentleman farmer at The Hermitage until 1813, when the Tennessee militia called him to active service.  His military conduct during the Creek War brought him a commission as a major general in the regular United States Army. After the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, he returned to The Hermitage a national hero.

Jackson built the central portion of the present Hermitage mansion between 1818 and 1819 on a site chosen by his wife. The square, two-story brick building followed a four-room, center-hall plan with parlor, dining, and two bedrooms on the first floor and four additional bedrooms on the second.

In 1823, the Tennessee legislature elected Jackson to the United States Senate, but the following year he was an unsuccessful candidate for the presidency.  Even though he won the greatest number of popular and electoral votes, he did not have a necessary majority in the Electoral College.  This threw the election into the House of Representatives.  The House selected John Quincy Adams as president in what Jackson considered a “corrupt bargain.”  Jackson immediately resigned from the Senate to begin planning his next campaign.  In the extraordinarily bitter campaign of 1828, he defeated Adams with a majority of 178 electoral votes to 83.  His election was in many ways the first modern one, because by this time most States chose their electors by popular vote.  His victory was clouded by the death of his wife.  She died in January 1829, only a short time before he departed from The Hermitage for the inauguration.

Jackson achieved three major political victories during his two terms as president.  He closed the Second Bank of the United States.  This action contributed to a nationwide depression and created difficulties during his successor’s term.  In spite of threats of secession, he disallowed South Carolina to refuse to enforce Federal tariffs, thus “nullifying” a law with which they disagreed.  In his third victory, Jackson, a famous Indian fighter, defied the Supreme Court and launched the removal of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole Tribes from their homelands in the Southeast to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma.  His successor completed the removal with the tragic Cherokee Trail of Tears.

At the end of his second term as president in 1837, Jackson returned to a vastly changed house. In 1831, he arranged from Washington, DC for an expansion of the original 1819 building. He added one-story to both sides of the house, a dining room, pantry, and storage area on the west and a library and plantation office on the east.  In 1834, fire gutted the central and eastern sections of the mansion, leaving only the foundation and exterior walls intact.  By May 1835, the reconstruction transformed the front entrance and increased the ceiling heights of both floors. The front elevation was painted white to hide smoke damage. Decorative interior features in the fashionable Greek Revival style included carved marble mantels, classical door and window surrounds, and an apparently unsupported circular staircase.  Scenic wallpaper imported from France was installed in the main hall.  Dufour made the paper in Paris c. 1825, using 3,500 wooden blocks to handprint and color brush to complete the process.

Andrew Jackson died on June 8, 1845.  His body lies next to that of his wife in the tomb at the southeast corner of The Hermitage garden.  In 1856, the State of Tennessee purchased 500 acres of The Hermitage plantation, including the mansion and outbuildings, from Jackson’s adopted son Andrew Jackson, Jr.  The intention was to preserve the property as a “shrine” to Andrew Jackson.  The state intended to turn over the property to the Federal Government as the site of a southern branch of the United States Military Academy.  The Jackson family remained at The Hermitage as caretakers until 1887.  The Senate Committee on Military Affairs endorsed the plan, but with the growing threat of war between the North and South, they did nothing.  In the 1870s and 1880s, increasing numbers of people began coming to visit the plantation.  In 1889, a group of wealthy Nashville women formed the “Ladies’ Hermitage Association,” directly modeling it on the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union that successfully saved Mount Vernon before the Civil War.  The following year, the Tennessee legislature granted the Ladies’ Hermitage Association ownership and control of the mansion and 25 acres of land on behalf of the State.  The association opened The Hermitage to the public as a museum that same year, one of the first historic sites preserved as a monument to one of America’s great men. Today, visitors will find The Hermitage restored to its appearance in 1837, when Jackson returned there after serving his second term as president.

The Hermitage is located 12 miles east of Nashville, TN at 4580 Rachel's Lane, accessible from I-40, exit 221A or I-65, exit 92. It has been designated as a National Historic Landmark: text and photos.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark file.   The Hermitage is open daily from 8:30am to 5:00pm from April 1-October 15, and 9:00am to 4:30pm from October 16-March 31. The Hermitage is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the third week in January. All tours of The Hermitage begin at the Andrew Jackson Visitor Center. Be sure to allow at least two hours to enjoy the full tour.  For more information visit The Hermitage website or call 615-889-2941.

The Hermitage mansion and several other buildings at The Hermitage, including Alfred's Cabin, Hermitage Church, East Cabin, and West Cabin have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.


Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)
Martin Van Buren National Historic Site (Lindenwald), New York

Failing re-election in 1840, Martin Van Buren returned to his recently purchased estate only two miles from the small New York village of Kinderhook where he was born and raised. He immediately began planning his return to the White House in the 1844 presidential election; however, Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States, was not elected to a second term. Not until after the election of 1848 did the ex-president come back to his home in Kinderhook to the life of a gentleman farmer. Van Buren treasured his estate, Lindenwald, residing there for 21 years. In his own words, this is where he spent "the last and happiest years of my life, a farmer in my native town."

Martin Van Buren acquired the house and 137 acres of land in 1839. He immediately began improvements to the estate and continued acquiring property until, after six years, he held a total of nearly 225 acres. Van Buren operated a successful 191-acre farm on the 225-acre estate and experimented with cultivating new varieties of vegetables. He also undertook improvements to the house. Built in 1797, the original dwelling was a two and one-half story red brick Georgian-style house. He removed the stairway and hung fashionable French scenic wallpaper in the center hall, which could then be used for banquets and balls.

In 1849, Van Buren’s son Smith, who came to help his father manage the property, hired famed American architect, Richard Upjohn, to renovate the house. The renovations added more modern amenities--kitchen ranges, running water, a bathroom, and a furnace that was one of the first central heating systems in the Hudson Valley. Exterior renovations included the addition of a four-story brick tower, a central gable, attic dormers, and a new front porch and painting the whole house yellow. They transformed Lindenwald from an 18th-century Georgian house into a fashionable Italian villa, a popular trend of the mid-19th century.

Born December 5, 1782 six years after the colonies declared independence from Britain, Martin Van Buren was the first president born in the new United States of America. Van Buren studied and practiced law in New York and served in the State Senate, the United States Senate, and as State attorney general. Van Buren was the prime architect of the Democratic Party coalition that helped elect Andrew Jackson, and he served as his secretary of state and later vice president. He emerged as President Jackson's most trusted adviser. Jackson referred to him as, "a true man with no guile," but others called him “The Fox of Kinderhook” for his skill at backstage political maneuvering. According to one observer, Van Buren “rowed to his object with muffled oars.

At the time of Van Buren’s inauguration, the country seemed prosperous, but less than three months later the panic of 1837 began. Hundreds of banks and businesses failed. Thousands lost their lands. For six years, the United States struggled with the worst depression thus far in its history. Van Buren's continuance of Jackson's deflationary policies only deepened and prolonged the depression. The remedy he proposed was an independent Federal Government treasury system, which Congress refused to authorize until 1840. The delay helped cement Van Buren’s defeat in his run for re-election. His opposition to the annexation of Texas further hurt his popularity in the West and South. Van Buren blocked the annexation because of the certainty that it would add to the slave territories and carried the threat of war with Mexico. Far from resolved, the issue would cause war and domestic turmoil over the next several decades.

In 1844, Van Buren failed in a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, and he ran unsuccessfully on the Free Soil (anti-slavery) ticket for presidential reelection in 1848. Increasingly opposed to slavery, Van Buren endorsed Lincoln's efforts to limit slavery and preserve the Union. Van Buren lived out the remainder of his life at Lindenwald until his death in 1862.

The house at Martin Van Buren National Historic Site has been restored to its appearance during Van Buren’s occupancy. The grounds include 12.8 acres of the 225-acre farm that Martin Van Buren presided over in 1845.

Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located in the Town of Kinderhook, NY on State route 9H. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. President Van Buren's mansion is open daily for tours from mid-May through October. For more information, visit the National Park Service Martin Van Buren National Historic Site website or call 518-758-9689. Tours begin on the hour from 9:00am to 4:00pm. An entrance fee is charged for those 16 and older. There is no charge to walk the grounds, which are open year round from 7:00am to sunset.

The Martin Van Buren National Historic Site is the subject of an online lesson plan, Martin Van Buren’s “Return to the Soil". The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page. Lindenwald has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.


William Henry Harrison (March -April 1841)
William Henry Harrison Home (Grouseland), Indiana

William Henry Harrison, ninth president of the United States, built this substantial brick house in 1804, while serving as governor of Indiana Territory.  He lived there until he left to take command of American forces in the old Northwest during the War of 1812.  The reputation he gained as military hero and Indian fighter during the years he lived at Grouseland helped ensure his election as president in 1840.  He campaigned as a rough frontiersman and war hero, although he was born in a Tidewater Virginia mansion.  The first Whig to be elected president, he was also the first chief executive to die in office.  He lived less than a month after his inauguration.

In 1773, William Henry Harrison was born at Berkeley on the James River in Virginia.  His father, planter Benjamin Harrison, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  In 1791, he accepted a commission in the United States Army and received an assignment to the Northwest Territory.  After he resigned from the army three years later, he served as secretary of the Northwest Territory and its first representative to the United States Congress.  He helped obtain the legislation that established an independent Indiana Territory in 1800 and received an appointment as the first territorial governor. The new territory included all of what would become the States of Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, as well as the northeastern part of Minnesota.  Its capital was Vincennes, and it was here that Harrison built his fine two and one-half story brick Federal house northeast of what was then a small frontier town.  He named it “Grouseland” for the many game birds on his 300-acre tract of land.  The house had 17 rooms, including an attached one and one-half story dependency in the rear. 

As governor, Harrison saw his principal task as opening lands belonging to the local Indian tribes to white settlement.  He negotiated a series of treaties that provided for the cession of millions of acres of land, but his success generated strong resistance.  Tecumseh, the famous Shawnee leader, who was trying to recruit other tribes to join him in armed resistance, met with Harrison at Grouseland in 1810 and warned that his people would fight to prevent further white encroachment.  Located to the left of the center hall, the “Council Chamber,” is where Harrison held many meetings with Indian leaders and conducted much of his business as governor.

In 1811, Harrison left Grouseland and marched north to attack an Indian stronghold near Tippecanoe Creek.  Celebrated as a great victory, the battle was indecisive and did not end Indian resistance.   During the War of 1812, he obtained a commission in the United States Army and was given command of American forces in the old Northwest.  In 1813, he crossed into Canada to defeat a combined force of British and Indians at the Battle of the Thames.  This battle, in which Tecumseh was killed, ended Indian resistance in the Northwest.

At the end of the war, Harrison resigned from the army and moved his family back to land they owned in North Bend, Ohio.  For the next 26 years, Harrison mingled farming with political activity, holding various state and national offices. Formed in the 1830s in opposition to Jackson’s Democratic Party, the Whig Party nominated him for president in 1840.  The party calculated that a popular military hero could successfully challenge Van Buren, whose popularity had been damaged by the economic depression of 1837.  With the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too,” the Whigs promoted the aristocratic Harrison as a log-cabin-dwelling, hard-cider frontiersman.  Harrison won the election by an overwhelming margin, 234 out of 294 electoral votes, but he died of pneumonia on April 4, 1841, less than a month after taking office.

William Henry Harrison's son, John lived at Grouseland in the 1820s.  John was the father of Benjamin Harrison, 23rd president of the United States.  In 1909, the Francis Vigo Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution saved the house from demolition.  The chapter bought, restored, and opened it as a house museum, which is now maintained by the Grouseland Foundation, Inc.  All of the rooms are furnished with period pieces, some of which belonged to William Henry Harrison.

Grouseland, the William Henry Harrison Home, located at 3 West Scott St., Vincennes, IN, has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.  Grouseland is open daily Monday-Saturday from 9:00am to 4:00pm, and Sunday 11:00am to 4:00pm.  Grouseland is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  An entrance fee is charged.  For more information, including Harrison’s recipe for roast duck, visit the Grouseland website or call 812-882-2096.  Grouseland has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

Berkeley, excerpted from the James River Plantations Travel Itinerary

Berkeley, one of Virginia's earliest Georgian-style plantation homes, is the ancestral home of Benjamin Harrison V, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his son U.S. President William Henry Harrison. On December 14, 1619 Captain John Woodlief arrived from England with 38 colonists to settle the grant that became known as Berkeley Hundred. The settlement was eliminated in an Indian attack in 1622. The property was purchased by Benjamin Harrison III in 1691 and the brick house was constructed by 1726 for Benjamin Harrison IV and his wife Anne Carter, daughter of Robert "King" Carter. The plantation became the focus of colonial Virginia's economic, cultural and social life. The plantation passed to Benjamin Harrison V, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and three-time governor of Virginia, and then to Benjamin Harrison VI. Benjamin Harrison V's son, William Henry Harrison was born at Berkeley and became the ninth president of the United States. The plantation was sold out of the Harrison family in the 1840s.

Benedict Arnold pillaged Berkeley during the Revolutionary War. Major General George B. McClellan occupied Berkeley during the Civil War with his Army of the Potomac. In 1907, the house and 1,400 acres was purchased by John Jamieson, who had served as a drummer boy with McClellan's forces when they were encamped at Berkeley and Westover. The property was inherited by Jamieson's son, Malcolm, in 1927. Restoration of the grounds began immediately and in 1933 the new owner was assisted with the restoration and furnishing of the house by his bride, Grace Eggleston. The property remains in the Jamieson family and is open to the public for tours. A portion of the site is permanently protected by a historic preservation easement.

Berkeley, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 12602 Harrison Landing Rd. Charles City, VA on the south side of Virginia Rte. 5, six miles west of Charles City Court House. Click here for the National Historic Landmark file: text and photos. It is open daily for tours, 9:00am to 5:00pm. There is an admission fee. Please call 804-829-6018 or visit Berkeley Plantation for further information. Berkeley has also been documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey.

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John Tyler (1841-1845)
John Tyler Home (Sherwood Forest), Virginia

John Tyler bought this 1,200-acre plantation in 1842, when he was still serving as 10th president of the United States, and it was his retirement home from 1845 until his death in 1862.  He expanded the original 1780 frame plantation house into one of the longest private residences in Virginia—300 feet long but only one room deep.  Tyler was the first vice president of the United States to succeed to the presidency and set an important precedent by claiming the full powers of that position.  His major goal as president was the annexation of Texas, which occurred shortly after he left office.  Expelled from the Whig Party that nominated him, he was the first president threatened with impeachment.  He named his plantation “Sherwood Forest” because he considered himself a political outlaw—like Robin Hood.

John Tyler was born in 1790 at Greenway plantation, only about three miles away from Sherwood Forest.  He studied law and soon entered politics, serving in the Virginia legislature from 1811 to 1816.  Elected to the United States House of Representative in 1816 as a Democratic Republican, he supported the proslavery, strict constructionist, and states’ right positions that he would hold to for the rest of his career.  After leaving the House, he returned to state politics, serving as governor from 1825-1827.  Elected to the United States Senate in 1827, he backed Andrew Jackson for president but became increasingly dissatisfied with his policies.  By 1836, he abandoned the Democratic Republican Party, resigning from the Senate and becoming at least a nominal Whig, though here again he disagreed with many of the party’s policies.  The Whig Party nominated him for vice president in 1840, with William Henry Harrison, to appeal to states’ rights southerners. The pair known as “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” shared a short time in office together.  Harrison caught pneumonia on Inauguration Day and died a month later.

Tyler was only 51, the youngest president ever up to that point. Tyler was also the first vice president to reach the presidency.  Although called “His Accidency” by his opponents, he refused to serve as acting president, insisting on all the powers of a duly elected chief executive. Because he opposed many of the policies of the party that nominated him, his administration was an intensely controversial one.  He vetoed many bills enacted by the congressional majority and was the first president ever to have his veto overridden.  At one point, all but one of his cabinet members resigned.  The Whigs expelled him from the party and considered impeachment, again for the first time.  They pushed through a resolution of censure in the House of Representatives and even denied him money to maintain the White House.

Letitia Christian Tyler, the President's first wife, died in the White House in September 1842. A few months later, Tyler began courting 23-year-old Julia Gardiner, a beautiful and wealthy New Yorker. Their marriage in New York City on June 26, 1844, marked another first, the first president married while in office.

Tyler’s administration managed to accomplish a great deal in spite of its political difficulties.  It settled a long-standing dispute over the boundary between the United States and Canada and signed the first commercial treaty with China.  It reorganized the United States Navy, established the Weather Bureau, and ended the Seminole War.  Tyler’s last and probably most important achievement was to facilitate the annexation of Texas.  At the very end of his term, Congress passed a resolution offering Texas the opportunity to join the Union.  In 1844, Tyler threw his support to James K. Polk, the Democratic nominee, and retired to Sherwood Forest.>

By this time, Tyler had already expanded the original plantation house.  One and one-half story wings already existed on either side of the two and one-half-story main block.  He added a covered hyphen to connect the east wing with an existing kitchen and laundry and built a new balancing west wing containing an office and ballroom, reportedly designed by Tyler for dancing the Virginia reel.  The two wings created a long narrow house with a unified, symmetrical façade.  The interior displays ornamental woodwork based on the pattern-book designs of Minard Lefever and fashionable Greek Revival details.

Remnants of the terraced gardens and lawns reportedly designed by New York landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing survive on the 25-acre property.  There are also over 80 varieties of trees including a gingko tree given to Tyler by Captain Matthew Perry, when he returned from the Orient in the 1850s.

Tyler concentrated on managing his plantation and raising his second family in the 1850s.  In 1860, hoping to avoid a civil war, he worked to find a compromise.  He presided over the Washington Peace Convention of 1861, but when this failed, he voted for secession at the Virginia Secession Convention. Elected to the Confederate Congress, Tyler died on January 18, 1862, before it assembled. During the Civil War, Tyler’s widow and children left the estate to live with her family in New York.  Following the war, Tyler's wife returned to Sherwood Forest to reclaim the plantation.

Sherwood Forest has been the continuous residence of members of the Tyler family since President Tyler purchased it in 1842.  Restored in the 1970s, the house reflects the lifestyle of this mid-19th century presidential family.

The John Tyler Home, Sherwood Forest, at 14501 John Tyler Memorial Hwy., Charles City, VA has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.  The house is located 18 miles west of Williamsburg and 35 miles east of Richmond on Virginia Rte. 5.  The grounds are open daily for self-guided tours from 9:00am to 5:00pm.  Guided house tours are available by appointment.  There is a fee for admission.  Please call 804-829-5377 or visit the Sherwood Forest website.

Sherwood Forest has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.  The John Tyler Home is also featured in the National Park Service James River Plantations Travel Itinerary.


James K. Polk (1845-1849)
James K. Polk Home, Tennessee

James K. Polk, the 11th president of the United States, lived in this fine brick house in Columbia, one of the best examples of Federal style architecture in Tennessee, from 1819 until 1824 upon his marriage.  Nominated as the first “dark-horse” presidential candidate, his program of westward expansion helped him win the election.  During his single term of office, he led the nation through the Mexican War, pushing its boundaries to the Pacific Ocean.  He also settled a long-standing dispute with Great Britain about the boundary of Oregon Territory. 

James Polk was born in 1795 in North Carolina.  The family moved to the Columbia, Tennessee area in 1806.  His father Samuel Polk built a new house in Columbia 10 years later as a symbol of his success as a farmer. James lived there as a young man for several years.  Polk graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1818 and read law in Nashville for a year although he still called his family's house home.  After passing the bar, Polk returned to Columbia to this house, opened his own practice, and quickly achieved success.  He rapidly rose through the ranks of government, serving in the United States House of Representatives from 1825 until his election as governor of Tennessee in 1839.  He was Speaker of the House from 1835-1839 and was an unfailing supporter of Andrew Jackson.

Polk was the first “dark horse” presidential candidate.  Originally considered only as a possible nominee for vice president, Polk became the Democratic presidential candidate as the result of a deadlock among Martin Van Buren, Lewis Cass, and James Buchanan.  The virtually unknown Polk surprised the nation by winning the close election of 1844 with his popular position favoring the annexation of Texas and acquiring the Oregon territory from Britain.

During Polk's term of office, the nation acquired over 800,000 square miles of western territory. With the acquisition of this land, the continental United States reached approximately its present extent.  Although he had hoped to complete the annexation of Texas peaceably, Polk ultimately ended up seeking a congressional declaration of war in 1846.  At the end of the Mexican War in 1848, the United States gained most of what is now the southwestern United States, including Texas, New Mexico, and California.  Polk agreed to a negotiated northern boundary for Oregon, ending years of disputes with Great Britain.  Debates about organizing the new territories added fuel to the already bitter disputes over the extension of slavery, however, and helped split Polk’s Democratic Party into pro- and anti-slavery wings.

At 49 years of age, Polk was the youngest president inaugurated up to that time, but the strain of his campaign and of his presidency left him exhausted. True to his campaign pledge to serve only one term, Polk left office and returned to Tennessee in March 1849.  Polk died of cholera three months later, as thousands of Americans rushed west in search of California gold.

The Polk house in Columbia is a two story L-shaped brick building.  Accented by sidelights and a fine elliptical fanlight, the entrance is the focal point of the front elevation of the house.  The main block consists of a wide side hall and two parlors on the first floor and three bedrooms and a hall on the second floor.  The State of Tennessee and the James K. Polk Memorial Association of Nashville acquired the house in 1929.  In 1935, they reconstructed the detached kitchen on its original foundation.  The property also contains a period garden.  The James K. Polk Memorial Association administers the property for the State as a house museum and memorial.  It is the only surviving residence of the 11th president and still holds many of his possessions, including furniture and silver.

The James K. Polk Home is located at 301 West 7th St., Columbia, TN, and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.  The house is open April-October, Monday-Saturday from 9:00am to 5:00pm and November-March, Monday-Saturday from 9:00am to 4:00pm.  It is open year round, Sundays from 1:00pm to 5:00pm.  There is a charge for admission.  For more information visit the James K. Polk Home website or call 931-388-2354.

Zachary Taylor (1849- July 1850)
Zachary Taylor Home (Springfield), Kentucky

Springfield, a two and one-half story brick house just east of Louisville, Kentucky, was the boyhood home of Zachary Taylor, 12th president of the United States.  As a career military officer for most of his life, he moved often, and the 20 years he lived at Springfield was the longest period he ever stayed in one place.  A hero of the Mexican War, Taylor was the first professional military man elected president and the first not previously elected to any office.  A strong nationalist, in spite of being a slave holder himself, he opposed the extension of slavery into the territories newly acquired from Mexico and threatened to use military force against secessionists to preserve the Union.  He died suddenly in July 1850 cutting short his controversial term in office.

Born in Virginia in 1784, Zachary Taylor was just a baby when his family moved to a 400-acre farm on Muddy Fork of Beargrass Creek just east of the village of Louisville, Kentucky.  His planter father built the earliest part of the two and one-half story brick house, named Springfield, c. 1790.  Richard Taylor prospered, and by the 1830s increased his farm to 700 acres and doubled the size of the house.

Zachary Taylor received an elementary education from tutors. At Springfield, he learned to ride, shoot, and hunt-practical skills that would later prove useful in his military career.  As a teenager, he joined the Kentucky militia, and in 1808 entered the United States Army. Two years later on leave, he returned to Springfield to marry Margaret Mackall Smith.  Five of their six children were born at his childhood home.  Taylor probably returned periodically to visit his father, who continued to live at Springfield until his death in 1829, when the family sold the plantation. 

Taylor served in the Northwest Territory through both of William Henry Harrison's Indian campaigns and the War of 1812.  At the end of the war, he left the army and returned to Kentucky to farm a 324-acre plantation not far from Springfield that he had received as a wedding present.  Soon after, Taylor rejoined the army.  For the next 20 years, Taylor served at various garrison posts from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.  He fought in the Black Hawk War and the Second Seminole War, gaining the nickname “Old Rough and Ready.”

In 1845, under President Polk’s directives, Taylor defended Texas prior to and during the war with Mexico, winning victories at Palo Alto, Resaca de la Palma, and Monterrey.  President Polk was unhappy with Taylor’s independence and well aware of his growing popularity with the public and his potential as a presidential candidate.  Polk ordered Taylor to remain in northern Mexico and sent General Winfield Scott to capture Mexico City. In 1847, Taylor triumphed again at Buena Vista, even after Polk stripped him of most of his Regulars.  Near the end of the year, with the escalating tension between the two men, Taylor retired from the military.

Taylor’s standing as a military hero and his reputation as a political non-partisan convinced the Whigs that he would make an excellent presidential candidate, appealing to both Northern and Southern sentiments. He asserted that he would be a national rather than a partisan president and that principle would prevail over party and politics. Ever independent, upon winning the 1848 election, Taylor promptly began pursuing his own ideals.

Although a slaveholder himself, Taylor rejected a congressional compromise on the extension of slavery into the territories taken from Mexico.  His most serious problems were California and New Mexico.  In 1848, the California gold rush began, increasing the urgency to establish government in the west.   In order to avoid bitter debates over the status of slavery in Federal territories, Taylor encouraged California and New Mexico to bypass territorial status and enter the Union as states as soon as possible.  He sent word to residents of the two areas that they should decide the slavery issue for themselves.  When southerners objected to admission of California as a free state, Taylor threatened to use military force if necessary to uphold the law and the union.

Taylor fell ill in 1850 after attending a July 4 celebration at the Washington Monument and died five days later.  He and his wife lie buried in the family burial grounds at Springfield, now part of the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery.

The Zachary Taylor house is a two and one-half story brick building.  The slightly projecting original section dating from around 1790 consisted of two rooms on the first and second floors.  Some time, probably between 1810 and 1829, an extension to the east of the house added two more rooms on each floor and a broad central stair hall.  A two story wooden porch it attached to the rear of the house.  In 1974, a tornado caused severe damage to the now restored house. Originally located on a 1,000-acre plantation, the Taylor house now has substantial houses on large lots surrounding it.

The Zachary Taylor Home, Springfield, is a private home, not open to the public, located in Louisville, KY. Springfield has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.  The house has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.

The family burial ground where Taylor and his wife are buried was originally part of Springfield plantation.  The plantation was subdivided in the 20th century, and the half-acre burial ground, which includes a tomb and mausoleum, is now part of the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery at 4701 Brownsboro Road, Louisville, KY, about half a mile away from the house.  The State of Kentucky erected a 50-foot granite monument near the Taylor burial site in 1883, and the U.S. government added a memorial building in 1926.  The cemetery is open for visitation from sunrise to sunset year round.  For further information call 502-893-3852 or visit the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery website.


Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)
Millard Fillmore House, New York

Millard Fillmore, 13th president of the United States, built this simple clapboard one and one-half story house in East Aurora, New York in 1826.  He and his wife Abigail lived there until 1830.  Their only son was born in the home, and here Fillmore began the political career that would lead him to the presidency.  The most important achievement of his single term was the Compromise of 1850, which Congress passed during the first year.  The compromise papered over but did not settle the fierce debates about the extension of slavery, but it did manage to postpone the outbreak of the Civil War for a decade.

Millard Fillmore was born in a log cabin in frontier Cayuga County, New York, in 1800.  Although he had limited opportunity for an education in his youth, he began to study law when he was about 18 and gained admittance to the bar in Buffalo five years later.  Preferring a small town practice to a partnership in the larger city, he soon moved to East Aurora, where he was the only lawyer.  Both he and his wife taught there as well.  He quickly rose in prominence, elected to the State legislature in 1828 on the Anti-Masonic Party ticket.  In East Aurora, he began his 20-year association with Thurlow Weed, boss of the Anti-Masonic and later Whig political machines in New York State.  In 1830, Fillmore moved to Buffalo, which would be his home for the rest of his life.  He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1832 to 1842.  In 1844, he ran for governor and suffered defeat for the first time in his life.

When slaveholder Zachary Taylor became the Whig candidate for president, Weed and other leaders supported northerner Fillmore as vice president to “balance the ticket.”  Fillmore succeeded to the presidency upon President Taylor’s death in July 1850.  Congress was already embroiled in a fierce debate about Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850, which Taylor had opposed.  Fillmore, opposed to slavery but seeking a middle ground between Northern abolitionists and Southern secessionists, strongly supported the measure.

Passed piecemeal in September 1850, the compromise admitted California as a free State; established the territories of Utah and New Mexico, giving residents the right to vote on whether slavery would be legal or not. It also settled a bitter boundary dispute between Texas and New Mexico, abolished the slave trade (but not slavery) in the District of Columbia, and created a strong Federal fugitive slave law.  Both slaveholders and abolitionists had objections to the compromise.  Secessionists in the South threatened insurrection, while Northerners vowed to ignore the Fugitive Slave Law.  The compromise helped postpone for 10 years but did not avert the Civil War.

President Fillmore believed that by preserving the Union, the Compromise of 1850 would give the nation’s transportation, commerce, and industry an opportunity to develop.  The remainder of his administration was prosperous.  Federal land grants encouraged the construction of new railroads.  Settlement continued to move across the prairies.  In foreign affairs, Fillmore restored some of the good will lost in Latin America because of the Mexican War.  He also sent Matthew Perry to Japan to establish trade and diplomatic relations. 

Angered by Fillmore's support of the Compromise of 1850, northern Whigs blocked his re-nomination in 1852, and he returned to Buffalo.  In 1856, he accepted the presidential nomination of the American, or "Know Nothing," Party, but met overwhelming defeat. Although he never again sought public office, Fillmore continued to play a leading role in philanthropic, civic, and cultural life.

In 1930, Margaret Price purchased the by then deteriorated Fillmore House and moved the front one and one-half story section to its present location.  She made many alterations to convert the house into an artist’s studio, though the original floorboards, plain interior trim, and most of the windows survived.  The Aurora Historical Society bought the house in 1975 and restored it as a historic house museum.  Today, it contains many period pieces from the time President Fillmore lived there, c. 1830, including the president's bed and antique toys.  Visitors can see the original pantry with tin ware and pottery, the restored fireplace, the Presidential Rose Garden with pre-1840 varieties, and the carriage barn.

The Millard Fillmore House at 24 Shearer Ave., East Aurora, NY, has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. The museum is open June-October, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday from 1:00pm to 4:00pm, or by private appointment. Visit the Millard Fillmore House website or call 716-652-8875 for more information.  The Village of East Aurora website provides additional visitor information.


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Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)
Franklin Pierce Homestead, New Hampshire

“…I shall never cease to remember my birthplace with pride as well as affection, and with still more pride shall I recollect the steady, unqualified and generous confidence which has been reposed in me by its inhabitants.” Franklin Pierce 

This substantial two-story frame and clapboard house was the home of Franklin Pierce, 14th president of the United States, from his infancy until his marriage in 1834.  Pierce held office during one of the most tumultuous periods of the antebellum generation.  During his tenure, the apparent calm of the Compromise of 1850 shattered.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and the resulting violence in "Bleeding Kansas" sharply accelerated the nation’s slide toward the Civil War.

Pierce’s father Benjamin moved to New Hampshire from Massachusetts in 1785 and began assembling property that eventually totaled several hundred acres.  In 1804, about the time of his son Franklin’s birth, he built the present house.  Benjamin Pierce was a farmer, local militia leader, and politician who later served two terms as governor.  He also operated a tavern in the house that became the social center of Hillsborough.

The Pierce Homestead is a fine example of New Hampshire village architecture.  It is a two-story frame building with a hipped roof.  Paneled doorways set within handsome Classical frontispieces highlight the front and side elevations. The interior originally consisted of two rooms on either side of a wide center stair hall on the first floor; there was a large formal ballroom on the second floor, in addition to the usual bedchambers. Much of the stenciling that decorated most of the principal rooms survives restored, and original French wallpaper depicting scenes of Naples Bay still embellishes the parlor. The interior features paint in the vivid colors of the time and period furniture.   The second floor ballroom, where Benjamin Pierce trained county militia, now holds a curved table that the State legislature used when Franklin Pierce was the speaker.

Between 1820 and 1827, Pierce was often away attending Bowdoin College and studying law. In 1827, he returned home and established a law practice in a remodeled shed across the road from the homestead.  At the age of 24, he entered the New Hampshire legislature and later became its speaker.  During the 1830s, he went to Washington, first as a member of the United States House of Representatives, then as a senator. In 1834, he married Jane Means and purchased his own home in Hillsboro. They had three sons, none of whom lived to adulthood.  In 1838, the family moved permanently to Concord, New Hampshire.

After serving in the Mexican War, Pierce continued to be active in State politics, opposing the abolition movement, which he thought was dividing the country, and supporting the Compromise of 1850.  When the Democrats met to select their nominee for the 1852 presidential election, the party agreed easily enough upon a platform pledging undeviating support of the Compromise of 1850 and hostility to any efforts to agitate the slavery question.  However, they balloted 48 times and eliminated all the well-known candidates before nominating Pierce, a true “darkhorse” candidate.  He won the election by a wide margin, but tragedy marred the triumph. Not long before assuming office, Pierce and his family were in a train wreck; the parents survived but their last living child, an 11-year-old son, died in the accident.  Pierce entered the presidency in a state of grief and nervous exhaustion, and his wife was unable to attend the inauguration.

Northerners heavily criticized Pierce for what they saw as pro-southern policies.  They also denounced his expansionism in foreign affairs as an attempt to extend slavery by means of territorial acquisition.  His attempts to purchase Cuba from Spain failed.  In 1854, the contents of a document known as the Ostend Manifesto became public.  In it, American diplomats in Europe advocated the use of force if necessary to take over Cuba, stressing its importance as a base to revive slavery.  Although the administration renounced the document, the leak was a political embarrassment.  Pierce’s sponsorship of the Gadsden Purchase, which bought a small strip of land on the Mexican border to build a southern transcontinental railway, further enraged northerners.

It was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which President Pierce vigorously promoted, that ended the temporary truce of the Compromise of 1850 and raised sectional passions to a new pitch.  The measure divided the relatively unsettled central portion of the Louisiana Purchase into Kansas and Nebraska Territories.  It provided that the settlers in the new territories should decide their position on slavery by popular vote.  A storm of protest greeted the Compromise in the North, because it effectively repealed the Missouri Compromise by permitting slavery in areas prohibited from having slaves since 1820.  Pierce hoped for the admittance of Kansas to the Union as a slave State and Nebraska as a free State, thus mollifying both sides.  No one doubted that Nebraska would be a free state, but pro and anti-slavery settlers poured into Kansas hoping to influence the outcome.  Sporadic guerrilla warfare soon broke out along with often fraudulently decided and violently disputed elections.  The confrontation culminated in John Brown’s brutal massacre of five pro-slavery men near Pottawatomie Creek.  The nation moved another step closer to the Civil War. 

Pierce created a temporary peace when he sent Federal troops into Kansas Territory and appointed a new governor late in 1856, but too much damage had already been done. Many antislavery men deserted the Democratic Party, creating a new northern party, the Republicans, specifically to oppose the extension of slavery.  The Democratic convention repudiated Pierce and nominated the less controversial James Buchanan.

Pierce returned to New Hampshire a bitter man, still convinced that his policies were the right ones.  During the Civil War, his denunciation of the Emancipation Proclamation and outspoken criticism of Lincoln's policies brought him condemnation in his own state and community.  This, combined with ill health, the death of his wife in 1863, and that of his lifelong friend, author Nathaniel Hawthorne, in 1864, brought on a deep depression.  Franklin Pierce died in 1869 at the age of 64 in Concord.  He was buried there in the Old North Cemetery.

The homestead remained in the Pierce family until 1925 when the State of New Hampshire obtained it. Between 1945 and 1950, the New Hampshire Federation of Women’s Clubs assisted in its restoration, and the State later carried out additional work on the property. Today, the Hillsborough Historical Society manages the house as a museum.

The Franklin Pierce Homestead, located on Rte. 31 about 100 yards north of its intersection with Rte. 9 near Hillsborough, NH, is a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.

The Franklin Pierce Homestead is open 10:00am to 4:00pm on Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day through June 30; 10:00am to 4:00pm Friday through Tuesday from July 1 to August 31; and 10:00am to 4:00pm Saturdays and Sundays from Labor Day weekend through Columbus Day weekend. The homestead then closes after Columbus Day weekend for the winter months. The last tour each day begins at 3:15pm. An admission fee is charged for the tour of the house. For more information, visit the New Hampshire State Park Franklin Pierce Homestead website or call 603-271-3556. Visit the Hillsborough Historical Society Franklin Pierce Homestead website or call 603-464-3637 for additional information.

The Franklin Pierce Homestead has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.


James Buchanan (1857-1861)
Wheatland, Pennsylvania

James Buchanan, 15th president of the United States, purchased this large Federal style house and its 22 acres of land near Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1848. A Unionist and moderate Democrat, Buchanan won the presidential election in 1856, because voters held the futile hope that he could calm the bitter disputes between the North and South about slavery.  His term began with the divisive Dred Scott decision and ended with southern States seceding from the Union after the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln in November 1860.  Buchanan, who thought secession was unconstitutional but that the government had no authority to stop it, could only watch as the Union splintered.  He returned to Wheatland at the end of his term of office.  He died there in 1868 and lies buried in the local Woodward Hill Cemetery.

Born in 1791 near Mercersburg, Pennsylvania and educated at Dickinson College, Buchanan studied law and passed the bar in Lancaster, which would be his home for the rest of his life. Establishing a very successful legal practice, he soon became involved in politics.  After serving briefly in the military during the War of 1812, he served two years in the Pennsylvania legislature after his election in 1814. 

Elected five times to the United States House of Representatives, Buchanan was a gifted debater and well versed in the law. After an interlude as minister to Russia, he served for a decade in the United States Senate. He became President Polk's secretary of state and President Pierce's minister to Great Britain.  Buchanan made three unsuccessful bids for the presidency, but in 1856, his absence from the country during the turmoil over the Kansas-Nebraska Act and his reputation as a compromiser made him a more acceptable Democratic candidate than either Franklin Pierce or Stephen A. Douglas.  Wheatland became the symbol of Buchanan’s "front porch" presidential campaign.  In many places, Buchanan supporters formed "Wheatland Clubs" to promote his election. 

President Buchanan held tightly to his conviction that although slavery might be morally wrong, the Federal Government lacked the right to interfere with States’ rights.  In his inaugural address, Buchanan called the question of slavery in the territories "happily, a matter of but little practical importance."   Still hoping for compromise, he appointed a Cabinet representing all parts of the country.  Only two days after he took office, the Supreme Court delivered the Dred Scott decision, which Buchanan favored and possibly influenced.  The decision gave slaveholders the right to transport their human property wherever they wanted, declared the Missouri Compromise unconstitutional because Congress had no power to regulate slavery in the territories, and blocked any person of African descent from ever attaining citizenship. The Supreme Court's ruling delighted the South and infuriated many people in the North.

Buchanan hoped the admission of Kansas as a State would remove the issue of slavery in the territories from public attention.  Buchanan urged Congress to accept a constitution drawn up by a proslavery group meeting in Lecompton—though the proslavery men were outnumbered four to one in the territory.  His proposal angered Republicans and even members of his own party and Congress refused.  Kansas did not achieve statehood until 1861, remaining a sore reminder of the fractured nation.

By 1858, the Federal Government was near paralysis. Republicans and northern Democrats dominated the House.  Southern votes in the Senate and presidential vetoes blocked any legislation passed by the House.  The North was still depressed following the Panic of 1857, and John Brown's antislavery raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry brought sectional tension to a boil.

The presidential election of 1860 took place in the midst of crisis. Buchanan had pledged that he would not run for a second term. The northern and southern wings of the Democratic Party each nominated their own candidates.  John Bell ran as the candidate of the Constitutional Union Party.  The young Republican Party united behind Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln won, though with far less than a popular majority.  His name did not even appear on the ballot in any southern State.  Outraged by the election, South Carolina seceded; six other States soon followed.  By February 1861, they joined to form the Confederate States of America.

During Buchanan's remaining months in office, he made repeated but unsuccessful efforts to compromise with the secessionists.  Early in 1861, Buchanan finally took stronger measures to uphold Federal authority.  He sent an unarmed merchant ship with reinforcements and supplies to relieve the beleaguered garrison at Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor. When South Carolina batteries drove the ship away, he refused to evacuate the fort, though he made no further efforts to resupply it.  This stalemate only briefly averted the outbreak of war. 

Slavery dominated Buchanan’s administration but was not his only concern.  A dispute erupted with the Mormon-dominated Territory of Utah, which sought to become a State.  Buchanan’s dismissal of Brigham Young as governor led to a short-lived and bloodless Mormon War, which ended when the President sent a special representative to calm tensions in the territory.  He expanded American influence in Central and South America and discouraged intervention by European powers. Like his predecessors Polk and Pierce, he continued attempts to purchase Cuba from Spain.  In 1860, he established diplomatic relations with Japan.

In March 1861, James Buchanan retired to Wheatland with the country on the brink of war. He was the only president who never married.  Following his death on June 1, 1868, 20,000 people attended his funeral in a show of his continued popularity.

The substantial brick house at Wheatland consists of a Federal-style two and one-half story central section flanked by three-story wings.  The main block of the building contains a central hall with two matching rooms on either side; there are 17 rooms in all.  A Doric-columned porch dominates the front of the main section of the house. Few changes have occurred over the years except for some interior improvements made by Buchanan. These included installation of a furnace and central heating, replacement of the open hearth in the kitchen by a cast-iron stove, and the addition of such modern conveniences as a tin bathtub. 

The George B. Willson family, the last private owners of Wheatland, bequeathed one half of the property to the Lancaster County Historical Society.  In 1936, the Junior League of Lancaster and the community leaders purchased the remainder of the property that contained the mansion and its dependencies and began preservation efforts.  Period pieces now furnish the rooms on the first two floors.  Many of the items, especially those in the library, belonged to Buchanan.  Today, LancasterHistory.org retains 10 acres of the original 22 acre property, including the home and three outbuildings.

The James Buchanan House, Wheatland, located at 1120 Marietta Ave., Lancaster, PA, has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. For visitor information visit the Lancaster History.org website or call 717-3924633.

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Abraham Lincoln (1861- April 1865)
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, Kentucky

Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the United States, was the first president born west of the Appalachian Mountains.  His birth in a log cabin at Sinking Springs Farm took place on February 12, 1809, when that part of Kentucky was still a rugged frontier.  When Abraham was two and a half his father moved his young family ten miles away to a farm on Knob Creek.  The story of Lincoln's journey from log cabin to the White House that began here has long been a powerful symbol of the unlimited possibilities of American life.  For almost a century, tourists and historians have come here to seek out the origins of the man and his virtues—honesty, unpretentiousness, tolerance, hard work, a capacity to forgive, and a clear-sighted vision of right and wrong. The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site consists of two units.  The centerpiece of the Birthplace unit is a symbolic birth cabin enshrined within a Neoclassical Memorial Building.  The Lincoln Boyhood Home unit is located at Knob Creek Farm, where the family lived from 1811 until 1816.

Lincoln’s father, Thomas, moved to Kentucky, then part of Virginia, with his parents about 1782, only seven years after Daniel Boone pioneered this uncharted region. By the time of his marriage to Nancy Hanks in 1806, he was a farmer and carpenter.  In 1808, he purchased 300 acres near the Sinking Spring, one of the area’s numerous springs whose water dropped into a pit and disappeared into the earth.  The soil was stony red and yellow clay, but the spring provided an important source of water. Near the spring was a white oak tree, a landmark that lived for approximately 195 years, the “last living link” to Abraham Lincoln. Only two years after he purchased it, Thomas Lincoln lost his land in a title dispute, which was not settled until 1816.

In 1811, the Lincolns leased 30 acres of a 230-acre farm in the Knob Creek Valley while waiting for the land dispute to be settled. The creek valley on this new farm contained some of the best farmland in Hardin County. A well-traveled road from Bardstown, Kentucky, to Nashville, Tennessee, ran through the property. Abraham Lincoln’s first memories are from his time here, working alongside his father, playing with his sister, and assisting his adored mother.  In the early years of his life, he learned from the self-sufficiency of pioneer farming and from short periods of schooling.  His attendance at subscription schools lasted only a few months. Lincoln may have begun to form his views on slavery here.  The Lincoln family belonged to an antislavery church. In 1816, when Abraham was seven years old, the family moved across the Ohio River to Indiana and settled at the present site of the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.

The Sinking Springs land changed hands several times after the Lincolns left in 1811. In 1894, Alfred W. Dennett, a New York businessman, purchased 110 acres of the property and shortly thereafter began to create a park known as "Lincoln Spring Farm" and "Lincoln Birthplace." In 1895, Dennett acquired a nearby, aging log cabin, which according to local tradition contained some of the original logs from the Lincoln cabin, and moved it to the site. Dennett dismantled and displayed the log cabin in a number of places.  In 1905, he had to sell the property at auction.

As the centennial of Lincoln’s birth approached, interest in memorializing the 16th president increased.  Robert Collier, publisher of Colliers Weekly, bought the Sinking Springs Farm in 1905.  The following year, he and his associates formed the Abraham Lincoln Farm Association to create a suitable memorial.  They purchased the cabin and began work on the Memorial Building.  Over 120,000 individuals from across the country, including thousands of schoolchildren, contributed a total of about $350,000 for the memorial.  In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt dedicated the cornerstone.  President William Howard Taft dedicated the memorial for the nation two years later.  In his remarks, he said that it would be a reminder of “the unexplained and unexplainable growth and development, from the humblest and homeliest soil, of Lincolns’ genius, intellect, heart, and character.”  The small, simple cabin represents the simplicity of Lincoln’s early years. While the gleaming granite and marble Memorial Building that houses the cabin, which the young John Russell Pope designed in the Neoclassical style, is an appropriate symbol of the honored position Lincoln holds in American memory.  The Knob Creek Farm property became part of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site in 2001.

The Birthplace unit consists of the Memorial Building and 116 acres of Thomas Lincoln's Sinking Spring Farm. Walking trails trace the paths of Lincoln’s earliest days, past the famous Sinking Spring, and the site of the boundary marker oak tree. The trails at the Knob Creek Farm unit trace the creek where young Abraham and friends used to work and play.

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, located at 2995 Lincoln Farm Rd. off of U.S. 31E, near Louisville, KY, consists of two units of the National Park System.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos.  The Birthplace Unit is open daily Labor Day through Memorial Day from 8:00am to 4:45pm and Memorial Day through Labor Day from 8:00am to 6:45pm. A visitor center at the Birthplace Unit houses exhibits on Lincoln and pioneer life and offers an audiovisual program.

The Boyhood Home Unit at Knob Creek is open daily year round. Interpretive staff are available on Saturday and Sunday from April 1st until Memorial Day from 8:30am to 4:30pm and daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day 8:30am to 4:30pm. Several walking trails and picnic areas are available at both units. For more information including directions, visit the National Park Service Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site website or call 270-358-3137.  The Kentucky Department of Tourism website also offers useful visitor information related to the historic sites of Lincoln and his family.

The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace has both been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.


Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, Indiana

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, lived on this land in southern Indiana for 14 years, growing from a boy to a young man.  He used his hands and his back to help carve a farm and home out of the frontier forests.  He used his mind to enter and explore the world of books and knowledge.  He found adventure, but also knew deep personal loss with the death of his mother in 1818 and his sister ten years later.  These experiences helped shape the character of the man who became one of America’s most revered leaders.  The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial preserves the site of the farm where Abraham Lincoln lived during his adolescence and the traditional gravesite of his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. An impressive memorial building commemorates Lincoln’s Indiana years, and a recreated living history farm helps visitors to experience frontier life.

In the winter of 1816, the Lincolns moved from Kentucky to a tiny settlement along Little Pigeon Creek. They spent the first, hard winter in a temporary shelter. The harvest was already over, so they lived off wild game, corn, and pork bartered from nearby settlers.  The next year, aided by neighbors, Thomas Lincoln built a more suitable log house for the family of four: his wife Nancy, and their children, Sarah, nine, and Abe, seven.  The slow and painstaking task of converting the surrounding forest to farmland soon changed from hopeful to tragic.  In October of 1818, Nancy Hanks Lincoln fell ill with milk sickness and died within a few days. Milk sickness was a common and often fatal illness brought on by consuming milk or meat from an animal that had eaten snakeroot, a poisonous plant that thrived in the harsh environment. They buried her on a gentle knoll between a quarter and a half-mile from the home.

A year later, Thomas Lincoln married the widow Sarah Bush Johnson and brought his new wife and her three children to the home on Little Pigeon Creek.  Sarah Lincoln proved to be a kind and loving stepmother, making the two families into one. She brought with her many books, feeding Abe’s greatest pleasure. In his later years, he remembered her fondly. He grew tall and strong, eventually reaching 6’4”.  He helped his father farm their land and did odd jobs for neighbors.  He gained a reputation for his superb skill with an ax.  He soon showed a driving ambition to better himself and to escape the hardships of frontier life.  Although he received limited formal schooling, perhaps totaling one year in his entire youth, young Abraham devoured as many books as he could find.  With his ready wit, inquiring mind, and gift for oratory, he became a master of crossroads’ debate. His neighbors reported that his two favorite tools were a book and an axe.

Abraham Lincoln described his years in Indiana in the following words, “We reached our new home about the time the State came into the Union. It was a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods. There I grew up. There were some schools, so called; but no qualification was ever required of a teacher, beyond ‘readin, writin, and cipherin,’ to the Rule of Three."

Lincoln spent his happiest hours operating Taylor's ferry across the river, during which time he conversed with passengers from all walks of life, who came from across the United States. Occasionally, he visited neighboring counties on family business, and between 1828 and 1829 worked on a flatboat that journeyed down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, where he saw a slave auction. Witnessing this event irrevocably affected Lincoln, shaping his position on the decisive slavery issue.  On the other hand, living in Southern Indiana, a region more akin to slave-holding Kentucky than to the free States of the North gave Lincoln an understanding of and sympathy for the South that helped him meet the challenge of the Civil War with compassion and insight.  During these years, he also became interested in law, probably began its study, and attended court sessions in neighboring county courthouses whenever possible.  In 1830, when the Lincolns left Indiana for Illinois, the 21-year-old Abraham was ready to embark on a new chapter of his life.

With the passage of time, the sites in Indiana associated with Lincoln began to disappear. In 1879, Peter E. Studebaker placed a headstone to mark the probable site of the grave of Nancy Hanks Lincoln.  The landowners donated the site to the county. Subsequently, the State of Indiana, aided by the Indiana Lincoln Union and other patriotic groups, acquired the gravesite; purchased additional acreage, including part of Thomas Lincoln's landholdings; and marked the approximate location of the Lincoln cabin.  The State soon opened the Nancy Hanks Lincoln Memorial to the public.

In the 1930s, Indiana also developed the adjacent Lincoln State Park as a recreation and scenic area. Between 1940 and 1944, the State constructed a handsome stone memorial building in the park, with landscaping by noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.  In the 1960s, the State donated 100 acres of the park to the newly created Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.  This part of the memorial includes the memorial building and a reconstructed pioneer farm.

Today, the visitor center is located at the memorial building.  The farm consists of a log cabin and outbuildings, garden, orchard, cultivated fields, and livestock. The staff of the Lincoln Living Historical Farm dresses in period clothing to demonstrate the daily activities at the farm.  Also located on the farm is the Lincoln Cabin Site Memorial that the State of Indiana and the Indiana Lincoln Union erected on the traditional site of one of the Lincoln cabins. It consists of a bronze casting of cabin sill logs and fireplace with a surrounding stone retaining wall.

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, a unit of the National Park System, is located on Indiana Hwy. 162, two miles east of Gentryville, IN.  It has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.  The park is open daily December-February from 8:00am to 4:30pm. From March-November, the park is open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm.  The park is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. An admission fee is charged.  Start your journey at the Memorial Visitor Center with the 15-minute orientation film and walk through the newly renovated museum.  For more information visit the National Park Service Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial website or call 812-937-4541. 

The memorial is the subject of an online lesson plan, Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial: Forging Greatness during Lincoln's Youth. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.


Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Illinois

"To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything. Here I have lived a quarter of a century and have passed from a young to an old man. Here my children have been born and one is buried."-Lincoln's farewell address to the people of Springfield on his departure for Washington in 1861

For 17 years, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, called this simple comfortable house at the corner of 8th and Jackson Streets home, from the time he purchased it in 1844 until he left Springfield in 1861 to face the ordeals of secession and civil war in Washington, DC.  The only house he ever owned, it saw his transformation from a small town lawyer to a figure of national importance, and witnessed some of the most important events in his life prior to his inauguration as president.

Lincoln came to Illinois with his family in 1830. He moved to New Salem a year later, pursuing various attempts as a merchant, beginning his legal studies in earnest, and involving himself in local politics.  In 1832, he ran unsuccessfully for the State legislature as a Whig.  He was more successful two years later winning the seat he held until 1841.  By March 1837, he gained admission to the Illinois Bar and soon moved to Springfield, with all his possessions in two saddlebags. Springfield became the Illinois State capital in 1839, and Lincoln’s career as a legislator and attorney prospered.  In 1842, the year he left the legislature, he began to court socially prominent Mary Todd. Her family opposed the young couple's match until the day of their wedding, November 4, 1842.

For the first year and half, the newlyweds lived in rented rooms, where their first son Robert Todd was born. In 1844, Lincoln purchased the only home he ever owned for $1,500.  Built in 1839, the house was originally a one-story cottage with two attic rooms.  Here Mrs. Lincoln gave birth to three more sons, Edward, William, and Thomas.  Edward died in the back parlor in 1850; Robert Todd Lincoln was the only son who lived to adulthood.   Between 1846 and 1855, Lincoln enlarged the house to 12 rooms and two full stories.

Retired from the State legislature and with a thriving law practice, Lincoln achieved his first major political triumph when he won election to the United States House of Representatives in 1846. By the time he returned to Springfield the following October, between sessions of Congress, he had already decided not to make a bid for reelection.  At the end of his term in the spring of 1849, discouraged with politics, he came back to Springfield and turned his attention to the law.

In 1854, the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which reopened the whole divisive question of the expansion of slavery into the territories, brought Lincoln back into the political forum. In 1855, he ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate as a Whig.  His decision to join the newly formed Republican Party in 1856 marked a turning point in his career.  Lincoln rapidly rose to a position of leadership in the party.  In 1858, the Illinois Republicans named him their candidate for the United States Senate, running against Stephen A. Douglas, the author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.  Lincoln’s acceptance speech, with its ringing prediction that “a house divided cannot stand,” set the tone of the campaign.  Lincoln’s logic, moral fervor, elegant language, and skillful debating techniques gained him national attention.  Douglas won the election, but Lincoln’s status as a Westerner, an eloquent speaker, a skilled debater, and a moderate anti-slavery man won him the Republican nomination for president in 1860.

On May 17, 1860, Lincoln received a committee from the Republican Nominating Convention in the parlor of his house.  They informed him of his nomination as the party's presidential candidate. He conducted the campaign from his residence.  He entertained numerous visitors, but left the majority of traveling, speechmaking, and writing to others.  Running against three opponents, he received a clear majority of the electoral votes, but only about 40 percent of the popular vote. Not a single Southern state voted for Lincoln, and within six weeks of his election, South Carolina seceded.

On February 6, 1861, about 700 friends, neighbors, and well-wishers came to a grand reception in the home. At the train station on the morning of February 11, Lincoln bade an emotional farewell to Springfield and asked the support of his friends and neighbors in the coming crisis. It was the last time he would set eyes on Springfield.

Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 caused a national outpouring of grief, and his home became the focus for mourners.  Overcome with grief, Mary Todd Lincoln could not bear to return to the home she had shared with her husband. In 1882, her only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, inherited the residence; he gave it to the State of Illinois as a public museum five years later. By the late 19th century, Lincoln's home became a popular scene for rallies, ceremonies, and celebrations.

The National Park Service has restored the house to its 1860 appearance.  The project touched every aspect of the home, from its foundations to the replacement lightning rods that replicate those Abraham Lincoln had installed to calm Mary's fear of lightning. When Lincoln and his family left for Washington in 1861, Lucian A. Tilton, president of the Great Western Railroad, leased the house.  He also bought much of the furniture, which was subsequently lost in the Chicago Fire of 1871.  Most of the furnishings now in the house are period pieces, though some were associated with Lincoln. The restored house provides insight into the life of Lincoln and his roles of husband, father, and politician.

The Abraham Lincoln Home has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is a unit of the National Park System.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.

Begin your visit at the Lincoln Home Visitor Center, located at 426 South Seventh St., Springfield, IL.  It is open from 8:30am to 5pm daily except New Years Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.  The only entry into the Lincoln Home is by a guided tour for a specific time.  See the ranger at the Visitor Center desk to obtain a free ticket for a guided tour. School groups, charter tours, or other large groups must reserve Lincoln Home tours in advance by contacting the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-545-7300 or visit the website. For more information, visit the National Park Service Lincoln Home National Historic Site website or call 217-492-4241. In addition to visitor information, the website provides extensive essays, family accounts, photographs, and quotes from Lincoln and his family.

The Lincoln Home National Historic Site includes the four blocks surrounding the house. The National Park Service is restoring this neighborhood so it will appear much as Lincoln would have remembered it. A number of historic buildings in the area related to the Lincoln era are open to the public. The Ninian W. Edwards House, a privately owned reconstruction of the dwelling where Lincoln courted and married Mary Todd, stands on the southeastern corner of Eighth St. and Capitol Ave. A museum, it contains historical exhibits, period costumes, and a series of dioramas depicting events in Lincoln's life. Another privately owned museum containing similar exhibits, the Abraham Lincoln Museum, is in a 19th-century building across the street from the Lincoln home. The First Presbyterian Church, on the northwestern corner of Seventh Street and Capitol Avenue, preserves a pew once used by the Lincoln family in a church that no longer exists. The Lincoln Tomb, in Oak Ridge Cemetery is about 4 miles northwest of the Lincoln Home.

The Lincoln Home is the subject of an online lesson plan, Lincoln Home National Historic Site: A Place of Growth and Memory.  The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page. The Lincoln Home and several other buildings in the historic district have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey (search for Lincoln Home). Visit the National Park Service Virtual Museum Exhibit on the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.


President Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldiers' Home (U.S. Military Asylum; The Old Soldiers' Home), Washington, DC

Four presidents of the United States escaped the heat and humidity of summer in Washington, DC at The Old Soldiers' Home on a hill three miles from the White House.  During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln spent June to November, 1862-1864 in a 34-room Gothic Revival "cottage" there.  He reportedly made his last visit to the house, on April 13, 1865, the day before his assassination.  He found cool breezes and quiet, but he brought his wartime responsibilities with him.  Lincoln was staying in this house when he wrote the final draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862.  Frederick Douglass, the famous African American abolitionist and writer, called the proclamation “the immortal paper, making slavery forever impossible in the United States."

Wealthy Washington, DC banker George Riggs completed the “Corn Rigs” cottage at his 250-acre summer retreat in 1842.  The irregular shape of the house, its many gables, latticed windows, and elaborate gingerbread trim mark it as Gothic Revival, a style considered particularly appropriate for country “cottages.”  In 1851, Riggs offered to sell his property to the United States Government, which was looking for a place to create a home for retired and disabled veterans of the United States Army.

Originally proposed in 1827, plans for a military asylum stalled until General Winfield Scott designated part of the money Mexico City paid to avoid invasion during the Mexican War for that purpose.  An army committee purchased the Corn Rigs estate in 1851 and opened the house to its new residents the same year.  By 1857, the retired soldiers moved into a large new stone Gothic building near the cottage.  The Old Soldiers' Home invited President Buchanan to make his summer residence on the grounds of the United States Military Asylum, and Buchanan spent a few weeks out of at least two summers there during his presidency.  By the beginning of the Civil War, there were four buildings on the grounds.

President Lincoln visited the Old Soldiers' Home three days after his first inauguration, presumably on the recommendation of President Buchanan.  He and his family occupied the house from between June and November in 1862, 1863, and 1864.  Each summer the White House staff transported some 19 cartloads of the Lincoln family's belongings to the cottage, though there is no record of exactly what they brought.  Located on one of the highest hills in the District of Columbia, the grounds offered solitude and respite from the swampy heat and wartime congestion of the capital.  In July 1862, Mary Lincoln wrote a friend, “We are truly delighted with this retreat . . . the drives and walks around here are delightful."

Lincoln did not escape the Civil War and his burden of leadership.  Every morning he rode to the White House to carry out official business, returning to the Old Soldiers' Home every evening.  The cavalry units that accompanied him with drawn swords and the hospitals, cemeteries, and camps for former slaves he passed on his route served as constant reminders of the war.  When Confederate General Jubal Early attacked Fort Stevens, on July 12, 1864, Lincoln brashly went to observe the battle, even though his family had been evacuated from the Old Soldiers' Home (about one mile from the battle) to the White House for the four days of the battle.  He became the only president ever to come under hostile fire while in office.  That same summer, one of John Wilkes Booth’s plots proposed kidnapping Lincoln along his commute, and a sniper attempted to assassinate him on his way to the cottage. 

Lincoln conducted the business of the war even at his retreat.  He met with political friends and enemies and discussed military strategy.  During his first summer at the cottage, he also formulated his thoughts about emancipation.  He prepared a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves in the Confederacy while living there.  Most of the war news during the summer of 1862 was bad, and he wanted to wait to make the announcement until after a Union victory.  On September 17, Union forces turned back a Confederate invasion of the North at the decisive and bloody battle of Antietam.  On September 22, while still living at the cottage, Lincoln published the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, announcing his intention of freeing all the slaves in the rebel states on January 1, 1863.

Lincoln was not the last president to take advantage of the healthy breezes at the cottage.  President Hayes spent the summers of 1877 to 1880 at the house. President Chester A. Arthur stayed there during renovations at the White House in the winter of 1882 and spent summers there as well.

The significance of President Lincoln’s cottage faded from memory after the mid-20th century, while the Old Soldier's Home continued to adapt the house for new uses.  In 2001, the Soldiers’ Home officially became the Washington Unit of the Armed Forces Retirement Home.  It is the nation’s only retirement community for Regular Army and Air Force enlisted personnel, warrant officers, and disabled soldiers and airmen.  The Secretary of the Interior designated the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home, consisting of the cottage and the other three buildings constructed before the Civil War, as a National Historic Landmark in 1973.  President Clinton declared the President Lincoln and Soldiers’ Home (the cottage and 2.3 surrounding acres) a National Monument in 2000.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation began a thorough restoration of the cottage in 2001 and opened President Lincoln's Cottage to the public for the first time in history on President's Day in 2008.

President Lincoln's Cottage, a part of the U.S. Military Asylum; The Old Soldiers’ Home (now called the Armed Forces Retirement Home), located at the intersection of Upshur Street and Rock Creek Church Road NW, Washington, DC, has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation operates President Lincoln’s Cottage as a historic house museum.  For more information, visit the President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home website or call 202-829-0436, Ext. 31231. Tickets are required and advance purchase is strongly recommended.  An admission fee is charged.  Tours are offered daily, year round. All tours begin at the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center, adjacent to the cottage, which features related exhibits and media presentations. The site is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. In order to protect the privacy of the 1,200 residents of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, access to President Lincoln's Cottage and its immediate grounds is by guided tour only.

President Lincoln's Cottage is the subject of an online lesson plan, President Lincoln's Cottage: A Retreat. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

The U.S. Soldiers Home, Corn Rigs (President Lincoln’s Cottage) has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.


Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, Washington, DC

This national historic site consists of two units: Ford's Theatre, the scene of one of the most tragic events in American history—the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States; and the Petersen House, the house where Lincoln died.  President Lincoln, on the verge of winning a bloody civil war to preserve the Union, was the first president to be assassinated.  The news of Lincoln's death replaced northern euphoria at the war's end with grief and anger.

The Civil War began five weeks after Lincoln’s inauguration in March 1861, with the shelling of the Federal garrison at Fort Sumter by the newly formed Confederacy.  Blending principles and political skill, Lincoln provided strong wartime leadership for the North and assumed unprecedented presidential power.  One of his first tasks was keeping several border States from seceding.  Some people denounced the measures he took to silence critics of the war and Confederate sympathizers as unconstitutional, but he took the position that the national emergency justified his actions.  Until he finally found an effective general in Ulysses S. Grant, he often participated directly in military decision making.  He and his secretary of state succeeded in preventing international recognition for the Confederacy.  His primary war aim was always the preservation of the Union.  His issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, freeing the slaves in the Confederacy, and his support for the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, outlawing slavery, earned him the undying gratitude of African Americans. 

The tragedy of the conflict weighed heavily on Lincoln as the war raged on and the lists of casualties grew. He won reelection to a second term in 1864, as Union army victories suggested that the war might be nearing its end.  Lincoln was already seeking ways to reconcile the North and South.  His Second Inaugural Address looked forward to a moderate Reconstruction program, guided by the principle of “malice toward none, with charity for all.”  Lincoln did not live to put these policies into effect.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865, effectively ending four years of devastating warfare.  President Lincoln proclaimed April 14 as a day of thanksgiving. To celebrate, he decided to attend a performance of a lighthearted comedy, Our American Cousin, at Ford’s Theatre.

In 1865, Ford's Theatre, an imposing brick building three stories high with five arched doorways at street level, was one of the finest and most modern in the nation. The management made elaborate preparations for the presidential visit. Stagehands created a large new box at the south side of the stage, decorated it with American flags, and furnished it with comfortable chairs.  About 8:30pm, the presidential party arrived at the theatre. A full house greeted Lincoln with a standing ovation.

At approximately 10:15pm, John Wilkes Booth slipped silently through the unguarded door at the rear of the box and fired a derringer into the back of Lincoln's head at close range. One of Lincoln’s companions, Major Rathbone, grappled with the assassin, but Booth managed to break free. Booth vaulted over the box balustrade and managed to escape through the back entrance of the theatre.  Stunned, the audience reacted slowly, but pandemonium followed with the dawning realization of what had happened. Doctors who had rushed to the presidential box ordered that Lincoln be carried to the nearest bed, which turned out to be in the back parlor of William Petersen’s boarding house, across the street.

Doctors watched over the dying president throughout the night.  A continuous stream of Cabinet members, Congressmen, Army officers, and friends came to pay their respects at the bedside. Mary Todd Lincoln remained in the front parlor, distraught.  Lincoln died early the next morning without regaining consciousness.

John Wilkes Booth was a member of a famous theatrical family.  During the Civil War, his hatred of the North and fanatical commitment to the South became an obsession, and he hatched several plans to kidnap or assassinate Lincoln and members of his Cabinet.  Lincoln’s assassination was part of a more complicated conspiracy, the only part that succeeded.  Booth fled Washington, DC on horseback and headed for southern Maryland with David Herold, one of the conspirators. On April 26, 12 days after President Lincoln’s death, Union cavalry surrounded the tobacco shed in Port Royal, Virginia, where Booth and Herold were in hiding. When the troops set fire to the shed, Herold surrendered, but Booth held out.  He died of a gunshot wound as the shed burned down around him.

After a highly irregular military trial, four of the conspirators were found guilty and hanged; the sentences for the other four ranged from six years hard labor to life in prison. President Andrew Johnson pardoned the surviving conspirators in 1869.

The War Department placed guards outside Ford’s Theatre after the assassination and cancelled all future productions. John T. Ford, the theatre's owner, planned to reopen it later in the year, but public opinion prevented him from doing so.  In 1866, he sold the theatre to the Federal Government, which fireproofed it by removing the woodwork and converted it into an office building. For many years, the building housed the Army Medical Museum and the records and pension office of the War Department. Tragedy struck once again on June 9, 1893, when a section of the third floor collapsed, killing 22 people and injuring 65 others.

In 1933, the National Park Service took over Ford’s Theatre, which was by then the Lincoln Museum.  The National Park Service rebuilt the interior of the theatre to approximate its appearance on the night of April 14, 1865. The reconstruction design used historic photographs, drawings, woodcuts, and contemporary accounts to achieve accuracy of interior furnishings and decorations.  Since 1968, Ford’s Theatre has included a live working theatre. The National Park Service has administered the Petersen House, a substantial three-story brick row house built in 1849, since the 1930s.  It was rehabilitated in the late 1950s.

Ford's Theatre National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located at 511 10th St. NW, Washington, DC. The Petersen House is across the street at 516 10th St. NW. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. Ford's Theatre National Historic Site is open for tours from 9am to 5pm. The Box Office is open from 8:30am to 5pm. In the event of evening performances, the Box Office will remain open until 8pm. In the evnt of an evening History on Foot walking tour, the Box Office will remain open until the tour begins. The Petersen House is open 9:30am to 5:30pm. Admission into Ford's Theatre National Historic Site is free, but a ticket is required.  For more information, visit the National Park Service Ford's Theatre National Historic Site website or call 202-426-6841.

Both Ford’s Theatre and the Petersen House have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.  Ford's Theatre National Historic Site is also featured in the National Park Service Washington, DC Travel Itinerary.


Lincoln Memorial National Memorial, Washington, DC   

In This Temple
As In the Hearts of The People
For Whom He saved the Union
The Memory of Abraham Lincoln
Is Enshrined Forever

         Inscription in Statuary Chamber, Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial National Memorial honors the 16th and perhaps greatest president of the United States, and symbolizes his belief in the freedom and dignity of all people.  Lincoln saved the Union, but in doing so, he also preserved America’s high ideals.  The Lincoln Memorial stands on the National Mall in a position of honor, at the west end of a line extending from the United States Capitol and the Washington Monument.  The memorial is one of the country’s beloved shrines.  In the 20th century, it became a powerful symbol of the continuing struggle to extend one of the nation’s founding principles:  “All men are created equal.”

For the men and women of the North, Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865 almost immediately transformed this outstanding, if embattled, wartime leader into a sainted martyr.  By 1867, two groups were making plans to commemorate his memory in the nation’s capital.  One, led by a black woman born in bondage, began to collect money to honor the author of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Contributions from freed slaves, primarily Union army veterans, erected a statue of Lincoln striking the chains from a kneeling slave in 1876.  It took much longer to build the Lincoln Memorial.

Congress passed the first of many bills to create a memorial to Lincoln in 1867, but nothing happened until 1911, when Congress created a new Lincoln Memorial Commission.  Plans proceeded rapidly, though not without controversy.  Although the Senate Park Commission (usually called the McMillan Commission) recommended the present site as the location for a major memorial, many people opposed the proposed location.  Work on reclaiming the west end of the National Mall from the Potomac River was still going on, and the area was still, as the critics suggested, “a swamp.”

The Lincoln Memorial Commission selected architect Henry Bacon to design the memorial and Daniel Chester French to create the statue of Lincoln.  The groundbreaking ceremony took place in 1914.  Lincoln Memorial Commission president William Howard Taft presented the completed memorial to the nation on Memorial Day, 1922.  Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s only surviving son, was present at the dedication.  The principal speaker that day was Dr. Robert Moton, president of the Tuskegee Institute, but he addressed a largely segregated audience.

Constructed of granite, marble, and limestone, the memorial is an outstanding example of Neoclassical design, based on the Parthenon, in Athens, Greece. It consists of a main level on a high raised basement with a recessed attic story above.  The building stands in splendid isolation in a landscaped circle at the west end of the National Mall.  A colonnade of 36 Doric columns, representing the number of States in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death, surrounds the memorial chamber.  Many symbols representing death and military triumph decorate the exterior, but the primary impression is of dignified, imposing simplicity.  The columns and all other exterior elements tilt slightly inward, to keep the enormous building from looking top-heavy.

Visitors climb a long monumental staircase to reach the imposing main entrance.  Rows of Ionic columns divide the interior into three sections. Daniel Chester French’s Lincoln dominates the central memorial chamber.  The seated figure, apparently lost in thought, faces the Washington Monument across the length of the Reflecting Pool.  A recessed lighting system ensures that the expressive features are visible in all light conditions.  French originally planned a 10-foot tall statue, but soon realized that it would be much too small for the enormous space.  He finally decided on the present size, 19 feet, but feared that it might be too large.  He need not have worried.

Lincoln's powerful rhetoric defined the issues of the war for the nation and the world; his words continue to provide inspiration for posterity.  The chambers on either side of the central chamber enshrine two of his great speeches.  The north chamber contains an inscription of his Second Inaugural Address; the Gettysburg Address adorns the wall of the south chamber. Murals above the inscriptions represent Lincoln’s guiding principles.

Within a short time of its dedication, millions of people were visiting the Lincoln Memorial every year, some out of curiosity, some looking for peace and strength.  On Easter Sunday 1939, the great mezzo-soprano, Marian Anderson, sang here for a throng of 75,000 people, after being refused the use of a nearby auditorium because of her race.  On a beautiful day in August 1963, 200,000 participants in the March on Washington, heard the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the memorial.  For millions of people, Americans and others, this memorial is an enduring symbol of freedom.

The Lincoln Memorial National Memorial, a unit of the National Park System, stands in the center of Lincoln Memorial Circle, where 23rd St. NW meets Constitution and Independence Avenues in West Potomac Park in Washington, DC.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos.  The Lincoln Memorial is open to the public 24 hours a day. Rangers are on duty to answer questions from 9:30am to 11:30pm daily.  For more information visit the National Park Service Lincoln Memorial National Memorial or call 202-426-6841.  Free interpretive Ranger talks are available via your telephone. Call 202-747-3420 to hear new thematic programs, including “The Gettysburg Address,” “Debunking the Myths of the Lincoln Memorial,” and the “Life and Times of Lincoln the Man".

The Lincoln Memorial has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.  The Lincoln Memorial is featured in the National Park Service Washington, DC Travel Itinerary.



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Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Tennessee

The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site consists of four units: the Visitor Center Complex, which includes a museum and the Tailor Shop; an early Johnson home; the Andrew Johnson Homestead; and the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery. Together they represent the life of Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States, from the beginnings of his political career to his death.  Johnson was a slaveholder who believed in States’ rights, but was also a committed Unionist before the Civil War.  When he succeeded to the presidency following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, he tried to follow what Lincoln’s policies would have been toward “reconstructing” the defeated Confederacy.  In doing so, he collided with the harsher policies advocated by the more radical Republicans in Congress.  Impeached by the House of Representatives, he escaped removal from office by only one vote in the Senate.

Born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1808, Johnson grew up in poverty with no formal education.  He arrived in Greeneville, Tennessee, in the fall of 1826 as an almost illiterate tailor’s apprentice.  He opened his own tailor shop there later that year.  In 1827, he married Eliza McCardle.  The future president studied diligently under his wife's tutelage and paid people to read to him while he worked.  In about 1830, he moved his family to a two-story brick house at the corner of Water and Main Cross Streets.  In 1830, he also relocated his thriving tailoring business to a small building that he bought and moved to a lot across the street from his home.

The shop soon became a gathering place for political discussion and debate.  By this time, Johnson had embarked on his political career.  The town of Greeneville elected him alderman in 1829 and mayor the next year.  Elected to the Tennessee Legislature in 1835, Johnson continued his transition from tailor to politician.  By the 1840s, he owned a 350-acre farm outside of town, flour mills, and a number of town lots.  After he won election to the United States House of Representatives in 1843, he sold the tailoring business but retained the property.

The Tailor Shop and the Andrew Johnson Early Home represent these early years at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.  The Tailor Shop is a small (14 by 21 feet) one-room frame building.   The Andrew Johnson Early Home, where he lived from the 1830s until 1851, stands across the street.  It is a small two-story brick building with a one-story ell in the rear.  The well-preserved interior woodwork is a good example of early 19th-century pre-Greek Revival styling.

The Andrew Johnson Homestead is associated with his later career.  In 1851, Johnson moved his growing family a block and a half away to a substantial two-story brick Greek Revival house with a one and one-half story ell in the back.  This would be his home for the rest of his life, although his rising political career often took him away.  He was a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1843 to 1853.  A committed Jacksonian Democrat, he consistently favored the interests of the common man over those of the eastern aristocracy.  While serving in the House, Johnson fathered the Homestead Act.  This important piece of legislation, passed in 1862, opened public lands in the West to anyone who would farm 160 acres of land for five years.

As a senator, Johnson faced an agonizing decision when the southern States began to secede after the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860.  Although he owned slaves himself and believed in States’ rights, he was also a strong Unionist.  Immediately after President Lincoln’s inauguration, Johnson desperately tried to persuade his home State not to secede. At great personal risk, he traveled back to Tennessee, narrowly escaping a lynch mob in Virginia.  Tennessee seceded in June 1861.  Johnson was the only senator from the South who stayed in his seat, infuriating the South and making him a hero in the North.  In 1862, after Union forces captured much of the State, President Lincoln appointed Johnson military governor of Tennessee.  The National Union Party, the name the Republican Party assumed during the war, nominated Johnson as Lincoln’s vice president in 1864.  The party thought having Johnson on the ticket would appeal to other pro-war Democrats.

Johnson became president on April 15, 1865, following Lincoln’s assassination.  He entered office faced with the enormous challenge of “reconstructing” the States of the former Confederacy.  Johnson based his reconstruction programs on what he believed Lincoln would have done.  His primary objective was to restore the Union by bringing the seceded States back as quickly as possible, on condition that they forswear secession and ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery.  His policies also included pardoning all ex-Confederates who would take an oath of allegiance to the Union, except for former leaders and wealthy men, who could be pardoned only by the president.

Johnson’s stance placed him on a collision course with the radical Republicans who controlled Congress and were committed to punishing the South and securing full suffrage and legal equality for the freedmen.  In 1866, Johnson vetoed the Civil Rights Bill, which provided citizenship to all men born in America, because he thought it was unconstitutional.  Congress overrode his veto, the first time that happened to a piece of major legislation, and the House of Representatives made an unsuccessful attempt to impeach him.  In 1868, a second impeachment trial occurred based on accusations that Johnson violated the Tenure of Office Act when he tried to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.  Johnson maintained that the recently passed legislation, specifically intended to limit his power as president, was unconstitutional.  The Senate trial acquitted him by one vote.

The turmoil over Reconstruction overshadowed the foreign policy successes of the Johnson administration.  Chief among these was the purchase of Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.  Johnson did not gain the nomination for re-election in 1868 and returned to the homestead in Greeneville.  Johnson’s wife managed to escape to join her husband during the Civil War, but the Confederates confiscated Johnson’s land, and the house suffered from being used as a hospital.  When the family returned, they repaired the wartime damage to the house and remodeled it, adding a second-story to the ell and new furniture, wallpaper, and gifts received in Washington.

In January 1875, Tennessee elected Andrew Johnson to the Senate, the only former president ever to serve as a senator.  His colleagues greeted him with applause.  He served only briefly before he died in July, at the age of 66.  His grave is on a hilltop site that is now at the center of the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.  Johnson selected the location for his grave for its peaceful feeling and restful views of the distant mountains.  His body was wrapped in the American flag and his copy of the Constitution was buried with him.  His wife’s grave is next to his.

In 1878, the Johnson family placed the Andrew Johnson Memorial over the graves of Johnson and his wife to commemorate his life and political career.  The elaborate monument consists of a 21-foot high marble column resting on an open granite base spanning the two graves.  The base of the column features a hand resting on a Bible and a scroll representing Johnson’s beloved Constitution. An American flag drapes the top of the column and above that are a globe and an eagle poised for flight.  The graves of 18 other family members surround the monument. 

The first part of what is now the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site to be preserved was the family cemetery.  Made a national cemetery under the War Department in 1906, it was transferred to the National Park Service in 1942 and is still an active cemetery today.  In 1923, the State of Tennessee built a two room brick Memorial Building to protect and house the Tailor Shop, which the State purchased from the Johnson family two years before. The second room houses the museum with information and exhibits.  Three generations of Johnson descendents occupied the Homestead after the former President’s death in 1875.  Their careful preservation of numerous personal belongings that belonged to Johnson enabled a high degree of accuracy in the restoration of the house.  The Homestead today stands as it did between 1869 and 1875.  The public can tour nine rooms that contain original furnishings and belongings.  The National Park Service purchased the early Andrew Johnson Home in 1963; it is currently used for exhibits, which explain Johnson’s early life and his rise in politics.

The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park System and includes the Memorial Building/Visitor Center and early Andrew Johnson Home across the street, the nearby Homestead, and the National Cemetery.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos

The Andrew Johnson Visitor Center is located at the corner of College and Depot Sts. in historic downtown Greeneville, TN. There are no fees charged for the park. The park is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. Tours of the home are available at 9:30, 10:30, 11:30, 1:30, 2:30, 3:30, and 4:30. Visitors should sign up for the tour at the Visitor Center no later than 15 minutes prior to the time of the tour. Availability is on a first-come, first-served basis, and tour size is limited to 12. Groups should call 423-638-3551 for reservations. The National Cemetery is open every day of the year from 9:00am to 5:00pm and remains open until 7:00 pm on Memorial Day. Visit the National Park Service Andrew Johnson National Historic Site website or call 423-638-3551 for more information, especially regarding tours of the Homestead.

Andrew Johnson’s House has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.


Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (White Haven), Missouri

Ulysses S. Grant, the victorious Civil War general and 18th president of the United States, met his beloved wife, Julia Dent, at White Haven plantation in 1844.  He lived there with his growing family from 1854 to 1859 and hoped to spend a quiet retirement there when his military and political careers were over.  White Haven was the place that he and his family called home.  Grant, already famous throughout the North as the victorious hero of the Civil War, became president in 1869. Dedicated to ensuring that what had been won in war—freedom and union—would not be lost through politics, Grant faced numerous challenges as president. Successes in securing civil rights for African Americans and in foreign relations were overshadowed by scandals caused by several of his appointees who betrayed his and the nation’s trust. Even so, 12 years after his death, a grateful nation honored his patriotism and dedication by placing his body in the largest tomb in North America.

Born in 1822 in southern Ohio, Hiram Ulysses Grant worked with his farmer/tanner father during his youth and obtained his education at the local schools and nearby academies.  In 1839, he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.  A mistake in his appointment letter permanently changed his name to Ulysses S. Grant.  After his graduation in 1843, Second Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant moved to St. Louis, Missouri, assigned to Jefferson Barracks.  He soon paid a visit to his former roommate, Frederick Dent, at White Haven, the Dent family plantation.  There he met Fred's sister Julia, to whom he proposed in the spring of 1844, just before leaving for battle in the Mexican American War.

Ulysses and Julia Grant married four years later; their marriage, marked by love, trust, and respect, lasted 37 years.  The Army reassigned Grant often between 1848 and 1852.  His wife followed him when she could, but she could not accompany him to assignments on the West Coast.  Grant was frustrated in his career and lonely without his family, and rumors began to circulate that he was drinking too much.  He resigned from the Army in 1854 and returned to his family, living at White Haven.  The years the family were home at White Haven were difficult ones.  Grant tried his hand at farming, selling firewood, real estate, and bill collecting, all without success.  He also encountered within his own family some of the tensions that would soon split the country.  Grant grew up in the free State of Ohio, and his father was an outspoken opponent of slavery.  Julia was born on a plantation worked by 30 slaves.  Her father raised his children to believe that slavery was the proper relationship between whites and blacks.  The issue increasingly strained Grant's relationship with his father-in-law, leaving Julia caught in the middle.  In 1860, Grant moved his family to Galena, Illinois to work in a leather store owned by his family, but they continued to think of White Haven as home.

The main part of the frame of White Haven house dates to c. 1818.  A two-story porch runs along the front of the two-story main block.  On the interior, two front rooms are located on either side of a wide central hall.  The room to the right is said to be where Ulysses Grant proposed to Julia Dent.  The one story west wing contains another large room and the winter kitchen, with its large fireplace, is in the basement.  Decorative moldings ornament the doors and windows.

The coming of the Civil War was a tragedy for the nation, but an opportunity for Grant, whose strengths as a military leader became evident early in the war.  He rose quickly from commander of a company of Illinois volunteers to commanding general of the Union Army.  He succeeded through a remarkable combination of aggressiveness, incisiveness, strategic genius, and organizational skills. Grant's writings about his ride from Jefferson Barracks to White Haven to propose to Julia describes his military career equally well:  “One of my superstitions had always been when I started to go any where, or to do anything, not to turn back, or stop until the thing intended was accomplished.”  His first successes were in the Mississippi River Valley.  In March 1864, Lincoln put him in command of the entire Union Army.  He attacked the Confederate Army on all fronts.  In April 1865, Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to General Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, effectively ending the war.  The terms of surrender were humane and generous.

Grant won the title of General of the Army after the war and was extremely popular throughout the North.  Grateful citizens offered him homes and showered him with money.  Both parties considered him as their presidential nominee in 1868.  He remained neutral on most political issues, but when President Johnson tried to arrest General Lee for treason, contrary to the terms of Appomattox, Grant forced Johnson to back down.  This action aligned Grant with the radical Republicans and made him the logical Republican candidate for the 1868 election.

A grateful nation, exhausted from war and political machinations between Congress and President Johnson, elected Grant president in November 1868, and reelected him by a wide margin four years later. Reconstruction remained at the forefront of domestic affairs, and Grant supported numerous efforts to ensure justice and equality under the law for African Americans. Passage of the 15th Amendment guaranteeing voting rights to African American males, as well as enforcing legislation to curb violence by white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan won him the support of many, including Frederick Douglas. Always adhering to the law, Grant was less successful as Northerners tired of the continued strife, and white Southerners were able to regain control of state governments and eventually overturn legislation that protected newly freed African Americans.

In foreign relations, Grant ensured peaceful arbitration between the United States and England over boundaries and war claims, when others, such as the powerful Senator Charles Sumner, threatened a new war. Grant’s actions earned him the enmity of Sumner, who later blocked Grant’s attempt to annex Santo Domingo.

Grant’s presidency could not avoid the greed and corruption that characterized the “Gilded Age.”  Many of the scandals had started much earlier, but became more excessive during Grant’s presidency, and included some of his Cabinet members and friends.  Grant himself was an honest man and supported all efforts to end abuses and bring criminals to justice, although his trust in several individuals reflected poorly on his judgment occasionally. The loose political and business morality of the period fueled the Panic of 1873, which led to a serious depression.

Acting to curb the abuses of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Grant implemented a new Indian Peace Policy. He replaced corrupt agents with religious organizations and chose a Seneca Indian, Ely Parker, as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the first Native American to hold a Cabinet position. In an effort to end patronage, he instituted Civil Service reform in the Executive Branch, but Congress failed to enact legislation that would make the reforms permanent after he left office. In the mid-term elections of 1874, the Democrats took control of the House for the first time in almost 20 years. Grant left office in March of 1877; six weeks later, he embarked on a worldwide tour that would last for over two years.

In 1864, Grant told a friend that he was “looking forward longingly to the time when we can end this war and I can settle down on my St. Louis farm and raise horses.”  He spent much of the next decade reassembling the White Haven property, which had been split up among Julia Grant and her siblings.  By 1866, he owned approximately 750 acres and was actively involved in decisions about managing the property.  As an absentee landlord while in the White House, however, he could not make the farm profitable and by 1874 was talking about putting it up for sale.  Eventually he gave up his plan to retire to White Haven, choosing instead to live in New York City where he and Julia could be closer to their children, but retained ownership of the property until shortly before his death in 1885.  Julia Grant wrote, “When I signed this last deed, it well-nigh broke my heart."

White Haven was a private residence for most of the 20th century but is now administered by the National Park Service. Completed in 2005, the Visitor Center offers a film about the historic site. In 2007, a new interpretive museum opened in the Grant-period stable.  The Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site includes several historic structures in addition to the main house: a large horse stable built by Grant, a detached summer kitchen, an icehouse, and a chicken house--all restored to their 1875 appearance.  A walking trail surrounds the historic complex.

Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, located at 7400 Grant Rd., St. Louis, MO. White Haven, is also a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos, which includes interesting personal accounts of Grant’s time at White Haven.  The park is open daily, from 9:00am to 5:00pm. The site is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. Visits inside the Main House begin at 9:30am and are offered every half hour. The last visit to the Main House begins at 4:00pm.  For more information, visit the National Park Service Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site or call 314-842-3298.

White Haven has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey as well as several auxiliary buildings part of the historic site.


General Grant National Memorial, New York

Standing on a bluff high above the Hudson River in Manhattan, the imposing General Grant National Memorial commemorates the life and accomplishments of the victorious Union commander of the Civil War and 18th president of the United States.  Popularly known as “Grant’s Tomb,” it is the final resting place of both Ulysses S. Grant and his beloved wife, Julia.  One of the largest mausoleums in the world, the memorial contains representations of Grant’s entire life: his formative years, marriage, military life, civilian career, and death, especially his roles as Civil War leader and president.

His fellow countrymen revered Grant, and his magnificent tomb was built entirely with donations from the public. They recognized that his critical victory at Vicksburg in 1863 altered the course of the Civil War; his relentless pursuit of Lee's army yielded final victory after years of failure by Union generals; and as president his enforcement of voting rights for formerly enslaved men opened the first opportunity for African Americans to participate in the political process. Finally, while president, Grant authorized the collection, editing, and publication of the "Official Records of the War of the Rebellion" which was the first attempt ever to provide a documentary account of both the winning and losing sides of a war. All subsequent Civil War historians have relied on this immense work to separate fact from sometimes faulty memory.

Grant, his wife, and their youngest son embarked on a worldwide tour six weeks after the end of his second term as president.  He received royal treatment wherever he went and met many world leaders.  Upon returning to the United States, Grant used money that his friends and supporters had given him to buy a house in New York City.  He continued to travel, visiting the West Indies and Mexico.  He again sought the Republican nomination for president in 1880, but lost.  In 1882, he borrowed $100,000 to invest in a financial firm with which one of his sons was associated.  The enterprise ended in bankruptcy in 1884, but Grant felt personally responsible for repaying the debt.  He ended up selling everything he owned except the house in New York City where he lived.  In the same year, doctors told Grant that he had cancer of the throat.  In a desperate attempt to provide his penniless family with some kind of inheritance, he struggled to finish his memoirs.  Grant died on July 23, 1885 at a summer cottage in the Adirondack Mountains, only four days after completing the book.  Published by Mark Twain, the Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant earned his family almost half a million dollars in royalties over the next two years and has been hailed as a classic ever since.

By the time Grant died, most people had forgotten the scandals of his administration, and he had the respect of Americans in the North and South.  At his funeral in New York City on August 8, 1885, an estimated one million people gathered to watch the seven-mile long funeral procession, which took five hours to pass by.  The body rested first in a temporary tomb on land in Riverside Park on the bluffs overlooking the river near New York City.  It took 12 years to complete a tomb worthy of the national hero many Americans compared to Washington and Lincoln.  Approximately 90,000 people from around the country and the world donated a total of over $600,000 toward construction of the memorial, the largest public fundraising effort ever at that time.  Thousands of people, including President McKinley and Julia Grant, attended the grand military review and dedication ceremony on Grant Day, April 27, 1897, the 75th anniversary of his birth.

Local architect John Duncan won the competition to design the memorial.  His design included elements from the famous Mausoleum of King Maussollos at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and from the burial places of other great men.  The exterior of the building is grey granite and rises in three stages to a height of 150 feet.  The lowest stage is 72 feet high and square in plan.  A projecting portico of six heavy Doric columns marks the entrance; there are niches containing four columns each on the other three sides.  Supported by slender Corinthian columns, the second level is a tall circular drum. The final stage is a stepped dome with a five-ton capstone.  The finished building does not include many of the elaborate sculptural details in the original plan, although there are sculptures personifying Victory and Peace on either side of the Grant’s epitaph over the portico: “LET US HAVE PEACE.”

Massive bronze doors lead into the white marble interior, which centers around an open crypt on the lower level containing the red marble tombs of Ulysses and Julia Dent Grant.  Two trophy rooms display Union Army battle flags and mural maps of some of Grant’s most important battles.  Mosaics depict the battles of Vicksburg and Chattanooga and General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox.  Between the arches of the rotunda are allegorical figures representing Grant's youth, military service, civil life, and death.  In niches around the walls of the crypt are bronze busts of five of Grant's Civil War comrades-in-arms:  Generals William T. Sherman, Philip H. Sheridan, George H. Thomas, Edward O. C. Ord, and James B. McPherson.

General Grant National Memorial located at the intersection of Riverside Dr. and W. 122 St., in New York City, is a unit of the National Park System.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text.  The memorial and all programs and activities are free of charge.  General Grant National Memorial is open 10:00am to 5:00pm, Thursday through Monday. Site introductory talks are available on the hour from 10:00am to 4:00pm, and special interpretive programs are offered daily at 10:30am, 12:30pm, and 2:30pm. Free talks are also available to the public at the visitor center located across the street from the memorial, at 11:15 AM, 1:15 PM, and 3:15 PM Thursday through Monday.  The site is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.   Program themes change daily so please call 212-666-1640 for details. For more information on the many activities available, visit the National Park Service General Grant National Memorial or call 212-666-1640.

General Grant National Memorial has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.


Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
Spiegel Grove (Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center), Ohio

Rutherford B. Hayes became the 19th president of the United States in one of the most disputed elections in American history.  He was a champion of civil service reform, supported hard money policies, and worked to reconcile North and South by ending Reconstruction through withdrawl of Federal troops from the South Carolina and Louisiana statehouses.  His dignity and integrity helped revive the prestige of the presidency, which had been shaken by the Johnson impeachment and the corruption and scandal of the Grant administration.  Hayes’ most famous quote, "He serves his party best who serves his country best," is from his 1877 Inaugural Address.  Hayes moved to his Spiegel Grove estate in 1873 and immediately began to enlarge the house to accommodate his large family.  When he left office in 1881, he returned to the house, now totaling over 30 rooms, and lived there until his death in 1893.  He and his wife lie buried on the grounds.

Rutherford B. Hayes’ father died shortly before his birth on October 4, 1822, in Delaware, Ohio.  Sardis Birchard, his maternal uncle and a successful businessman, served as guardian and surrogate father to young Rutherford and his sister Fanny Arabella.  Hayes graduated from Kenyon College in 1842 and Harvard Law School in 1845.  He then took up practicing law in Lower Sandusky.  Active in local politics, Hayes headed up the committee that suggested that the community be renamed “Fremont,” after the dashing hero of the West, Colonel John C. Fremont. 

Hayes’s law practice and political career blossomed after he moved to Cincinnati in December 1849.  Opposing the expansion of slavery, he joined the Republican Party in the 1850s and played an increasingly important role in city politics.  In 1852, he married Lucy Ware Webb, the first wife of a president to be a college graduate. He soon came to share her deeply religious opposition to slavery. They had seven sons and one daughter. They lived in Cincinnati until the Civil War.  

Sardis Birchard, who acquired the land for Spiegel Grove c. 1846, built the earliest part of the existing house between 1859 and 1863 as a summer retreat for Hayes and his family.  He named the estate Spiegel Grove, because the pools of water that collected after rain reflected the towering trees like mirrors.  “Spiegel” is the German word for mirror.  The two and one-half-story brick house had an open veranda on three sides.  It contained a formal entrance hall, a large parlor, a bedroom, and kitchen quarters on the first floor.  Bedrooms and storage space occupied the second story.  Manning Force Hayes, the last of the Hayes children, was born at Spiegel Grove on August 1, 1873.

Hayes became a major general during the Civil War.  He sustained a severe wound at the Battle of South Mountain, near Antietam, Maryland--the only president ever wounded in action during the Civil War.  Nominated for a seat in Congress in 1864, Hayes refused to campaign and served with his regiment until the end of the war.  He took his seat in the House of Representatives when the session opened in December 1865. As a congressman, Hayes supported a Radical Reconstruction program. Reelected in 1866, Hayes resigned to run for governor of Ohio.

The first Ohio governor to serve three terms, 1868 to 1870, 1870 to 1872, and 1876 to 1877, Hayes was a competent leader.  In 1873, Hayes returned to live at Spiegel Grove, which remained the family residence until 1965.  Recognizing that the house was too small for his family of seven, he commenced plans for the construction of a frame addition to the west side of the original building for a new kitchen, woodhouse, and privy. 
 
Hayes used his position as governor to advance his candidacy for the presidential nomination at the Republican Convention of 1876 in Cincinnati.  His reputation for integrity, war record, party loyalty, and moderate liberalism made him an acceptable compromise candidate. He ran against Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, governor of New York, in November.  One of the most bitterly contested elections in American history kept the nation in turmoil until two days before the inauguration in March.  Tilden won the popular vote but lacked one electoral vote for victory.  The outcome depended upon contested electoral votes in three southern states:  Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida.  Tilden needed to win only one vote; Hayes needed all the disputed votes to win.

Congress finally created a special commission to settle the dispute in January 1877.  The 15-member commission consisted of five from each house of Congress and five from the Supreme Court, eight Republicans and seven Democrats.  The commission voted in favor of Hayes on strict party lines.  Hayes took the oath of office privately in the Red Room of the White House on March 3, becoming the first president sworn in at the White House.  A second, public swearing in took place later at the Capitol.

Controversy followed Hayes into office.  During the election dispute, the Republicans in Congress promised southern Democrats railroad subsidies, Federal patronage, at least one Cabinet post, and cessation of support of the Republican governors in South Carolina and Louisiana. Although Hayes may not have been personally involved in this deal, he did withdraw Federal troops from statehouses in South Carolina and Louisiana, effectively ending Reconstruction.  He also included an ex-Confederate in his Cabinet, while insisting that he made his appointments based on merit.  His actions helped reconcile the North and South, but outraged members of his own party. 

Hayes also had to deal with labor strife and immigration issues.  The first wave of great national strikes occurred during his administration. In the summer of 1877, the country was still suffering from the depression that began during the Grant administration.  When the railroads slashed wages for the third time in as many years, strikes and riots ensued.  Hayes sympathized with the plight of the workers but sent Federal troops to restore order in certain areas.  In 1879, as anti-Chinese agitation increased on the West Coast, he vetoed a popular immigration bill that would have prohibited all Chinese immigration, contending that it violated treaty obligations.  He later worked out a modification of the treaty that did restrict immigration.

President Hayes was the first president to focus on civil service reform.  He succeeded in removing some government jobs from partisan control.  In the most famous episode of his crusade, he removed Chester A. Arthur, future president, from the collectorship of customs at New York City.  Opposed by many members of his own party, Hayes was unable to create a Civil Service Commission.  He signed a bill in February 1879 allowing women attorneys to argue cases before the Supreme Court of the United States.  In 1878, Hayes began the annual Easter Egg Roll for children on the White House lawn, a tradition that still takes place on the Monday after Easter.

Hayes honored his pledge that he would only serve one term and retired to Spiegel Grove in 1881. He prepared for his retirement by building an addition to the house that more than doubled its size.  The addition included a library and drawing room on the first floor, with bedrooms above, and indoor plumbing. It also incorporated a number of interior changes and the construction of a fourth-floor cupola that Mrs. Hayes used as a greenhouse for her plants.  A spectacular four-story walnut and butternut staircase added during the renovation leads to a 360-degree view of Spiegel Grove.

In 1889, the Hayes commenced on alterations to their home once again, removing the frame addition of 1873 to add a larger addition for a dining room and new kitchen. Mrs. Hayes died before this addition was completed. The 1889 addition was the last major alteration to the house.  The parlor on the first floor, known as the Red Room, and Sardis Birchard's bedroom on the second were the only rooms of the original house that remained intact after all the alterations.

After his presidency, Hayes remained active with humanitarian causes such as prison reform, education, aid for black schools, veteran’s affairs, and local charities. He travelled frequently for speaking engagements. He wrote extensively on his beliefs on social reform and growing concern about the increasing disparity of economic classes. He died at his beloved Spiegel Grove in 1893.

In 1912, the president’s children gave the Spiegel Grove property to the State of Ohio, although the family continued to live in the house until 1965.  Today the Hayes Presidential Center manages the property in association with the Ohio Historical Society. Several family portraits and original furnishings adorn the house.  The library in particular contains numerous mementoes including two framed photographs of Lincoln.  Hayes, an avid reader, designed the room to display portraits of former political greats.  The graves of Lucy and Rutherford Hayes are on a small hill at the south end of the estate.

The State of Ohio constructed a museum and library building on the grounds of Spiegel Grove in 1916.  Two additions date from 1922 and 1969.  The research library has approximately 70,000 volumes, including the president's personal library. The exhibits in the museum focus on the life and times of Rutherford B. Hayes, his family, and Ohio history.  The first floor is primarily a biographical exhibit; it includes a lovely large breakfront, which displays Hayes’ White House china. A life-size diorama of Hayes in camp during the Civil War illustrates his active participation in that conflict.

The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Spiegel Grove, located at the corner of Hayes and Buckland Aves., Fremont, OH has been designated a National Historic Landmark. For mapping purposes only the address is Spiegel Grove. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.

The Rutherford B. Hayes home is also an Ohio Historical Society Site. The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center includes two major buildings – the Hayes Home and Hayes Museum. Daily tours of both are available year-round, Tuesday –Saturday 9:00am to 5:00pm and Sundays and Holidays 12:00pm to 5:00pm. The buildings are closed New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day. Visitors can opt to tour one building or both. Tours of the Hayes Home are guide led and take 45 minutes. The Hayes Museum is a self-guided tour, with docent-led tours available for groups of 15 or more by prior arrangement.  For more information visit, the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center website or call toll free 800-998-7737.  The website provides a wealth of information on the place and people of Spiegel Grove.


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James A. Garfield (1881- September 1881)
James A. Garfield National Historic Site (Lawnfield), Ohio

James A. Garfield, the 20th president of the United States, made his home at Lawnfield from 1876 until his death in 1881.  Here he conducted the first “front porch” presidential campaign, giving speeches from the verandah.  The many reporters camped out on the lawns around the house gave the property its name.  Garfield was a leader of the Radical Republicans in the House of Representatives when he received the nomination as a “dark horse” candidate for president in 1880.  He began his presidency with attacks on political patronage and corruption, but his assassination by a deranged office-seeker cut short what might have been a vigorous administration.  He was shot twice in the back on July 2, 1881, and endured two months in agony before dying on September 19.

Born in 1831 in a log cabin in Orange Township, Ohio, James A. Garfield surmounted poverty by hard work and study.  He attended the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute (later Hiram College) and graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts, with honors.  Strong interests in religion and education led Garfield to become a teacher, college principal, and lay preacher, all by the age of 28.  He married Lucretia Rudolph, a childhood friend, in 1858; they would have five sons and two daughters. The same year he won a seat in the Ohio Senate, running on an anti-slavery platform.  In 1861, he entered the United States army as a lieutenant colonel of volunteers. With no previous military experience, he advanced to brigadier-general by March 1862.  Garfield was elected to the United States House of Representatives in November, 1862, but stayed with his troops until December, 1863, when the 38th Congress convened.

Garfield served 17 years in the House of Representatives.  A leader of the Radical Republicans, he believed strongly in a stern Reconstruction and conservative hard money economic policies.  He was one of many members of Congress peripherally involved in the scandals of the Grant Administration but emerged relatively unscathed. He also served as one of the Republicans on the commission that awarded Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency after the contested presidential election of 1876.

Garfield purchased his farm in Mentor, Ohio in 1876, while he served in the House of Representatives. He wanted a place where he could, “put my boys at work and teach them farming” and “where I can touch the earth and get some strength from it.”  An enthusiastic farmer, he spent many hours conducting agricultural experiments.  He soon began to expand the original one and one-half-story frame house on the property to accommodate his large family.  Between 1877 and 1880, Garfield and his wife, Lucretia, enlarged their home from nine rooms to twenty, added a porch across the front, and refurnished the interior.

At the Republican Convention in June 1880, Garfield won the nomination for the presidency on the 36th ballot as a “dark horse” candidate.  He conducted much of his successful and precedent-setting "front porch” campaign at Lawnfield.  Garfield maintained an office in the main house, which Lucretia called his “Snuggery,” for private meetings and conversations. He converted a small building formerly used as his personal library into his campaign headquarters and equipped it with a temporary telegraph to send and receive messages, including the results of the election.  He entertained an endless procession of visitors. The Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad, whose tracks ran across the farm, routed special excursions to Mentor and set up a stop at Garfield Lane, the pathway leading to the house.

As president, Garfield hoped to reunite the Republican Party, which was split into two factions over personal differences and the distribution of political appointments.  Much like his predecessor Garfield supported inquiries into corruption even among his own cabinet members, winning high marks from reformers.  A scholar at heart, he sought to create a Federal department of education and served as a regent of the Smithsonian Institute.  He did not live to achieve his hopes of reforming the civil service and fighting inflation.  On July 2, 1881, only months after his inauguration, Charles Guiteau, a disgruntled office-seeker, shot Garfield twice in the back. After struggling for his life for two months, Garfield died on September 19

Using money donated by the American public in memory of the martyred president, Mrs. Garfield transformed Lawnfield into a memorial to her husband, as well as a country estate and a place to enjoy her children and grandchildren.  She added a new wing to the house that included a library and vault to protect her husband’s papers.  The family continued to own Lawnfield until 1936, when they donated it to the Western Reserve Historical Society.  The site today is managed by the National Park Service.

The first two floors have been restored to the period when the Garfields lived in the house.  First floor rooms include an entrance hall and a reception hall, James and Lucretia Garfield’s summer bedroom, a parlor, dining room, and Grandma Eliza Garfield’s bedroom.  A stairway from the hall leads up to the Memorial Library.  White oak and an ornate beamed ceiling make this an impressive room, commemorating James A. Garfield’s love of books.  Restored outbuildings include the library/campaign headquarters.

The James A. Garfield National Historic Site is located at 8095 Mentor Ave. in Mentor, OH. The estate has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.  It is open May-October, 10:00am to 5:00pm, Monday-Saturday and 12:00pm to 5:00pm, Sunday; November-April 12:00pm to 5:00pm Saturday and Sunday. The visitor center in the carriage house contains exhibits and an auditorium with a short film on Garfield’s life.  Tours of the main house run regularly but may be limited. Call for a schedule. An admission fee is charged.  For more information call 440-255-8722 or visit the National Park Service James A. Garfield National Historic Site website.

Lawnfield has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.


Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885)
Chester A. Arthur House, New York

In the early morning hours of September 20, 1881, Vice President Chester A. Arthur took the oath of office as the 21st president of the United States in a private ceremony at his New York City home.  The assassin’s bullet that wounded President James Garfield in July had claimed his life the day before.  Arthur lived in this handsome four-story brownstone townhouse on Lexington Avenue for most of his adult life.  Arthur was a spoils man and staunch supporter of Roscoe Conkling’s Republican machine in New York State as vice president.  As president, he became a champion of civil service reform, encouraging government appointments based on merit and creating the Civil Service Commission.  Although respected as president, he made too many enemies to win re-nomination and retired to his New York City home at the end of his single term.  He died there two years later.

Born in 1829, Chester A. Arthur was the eldest son of a Baptist minister.  The large family moved from church to church in the New York-Vermont border area when Arthur was growing up.  He worked his way through Union College in Schenectady, New York. After graduating with honors in 1848, he taught school and studied law in his free time.  In 1853, he moved to New York City, passed the bar, and joined a law firm managed by family friends.  At about this time, he moved into his Lexington Avenue residence.  His strong anti-slavery views soon led him to join the new Republican Party.  In 1859, Chester Arthur married Ellen Lewis Herndon. 

Arthur suspended his legal practice to serve in the Civil War.  He resumed his practice after the war and became more involved in Republican politics.  He steadily advanced in the ranks of Senator Roscoe Conkling's powerful political machine.  In 1871, President Grant rewarded Arthur’s political loyalty by appointing him to an important patronage job, collector of customs for the Port of New York.  Although he filled most positions on merit, he padded the rolls with unnecessary appointments and expected political appointees to support the party.  In 1878, Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes removed Arthur from office, in part to demonstrate his commitment to civil service reform, but also to pursue his ongoing feud with Conkling’s Stalwart faction of the Republican Party.  When Arthur became vice president under James A. Garfield, he continued to support the Stalwarts, even when that brought him into conflict with the president.

After President Garfield's death, Arthur privately took the oath of office in his New York home in the wee hours of the morning; he repeated the oath two days later at the United States Capitol.  Still grieving over his wife’s death the previous year, Arthur was the second vice president to become president because of an assassination.

As president, Arthur surprised everybody by rising above partisanship.  He turned against the Stalwarts and worked to unify his party, made many non-partisan appointments, and continued the work of Presidents Hayes and Garfield for civil service reform.  He supported the prosecution of a series of fraud cases in the Post Office Department.  In 1883, he signed the Pendleton Act, which removed some Federal jobs from the spoils list, forbade compulsory donations from office holders, and authorized the creation of a bi-partisan Civil Service Commission to enforce the law.  Patronage did not end in 1883, but the Pendleton Act was a landmark in creating a professional, non-partisan civil service.

Arthur tried, unsuccessfully, to lower tariffs.  He thought the budget surpluses they created encouraged Congress to approve unnecessary, politically motivated "pork-barrel" projects.  He managed to reduce the surplus somewhat by using some of it to pay off part of the national debt.  The protectionist Tariff Act that Congress passed over his opposition in 1883 cost the Republican Party the support of many western and southern farmers.  In 1882, Arthur vetoed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which suspended immigration from China for 10 years, but Congress overrode his veto.

In December 1884, Arthur marked the beginning of the age of electricity by turning on machinery at the North, Central and South American world’s fair in New Orleans by pushing a button at the White House.  Two months later, he dedicated the finally completed Washington Monument.

The Republicans refused to re-nominate Arthur in 1884.  He was a respected and popular president, but had alienated too many people in his own party.  In 1885, Chester Arthur retired to his residence in New York City.  That same year, he failed to win the Republican nomination for senator from New York.  He planned to resume his legal practice, but soon became ill and never recovered his strength.  He died at his home in November 1886.

Subsequent owners made many changes to the Lexington Avenue house after Arthur’s death.  They moved the original main entrance on the first floor down to what had been the basement level, converted the first two floors into commercial space, and divided the upper floors into apartments.  The front elevation has been stripped down to bare brick.  On January 16, 1964, the 81st anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Civil Service Act by President Arthur, the Native New Yorkers Historical Association and the New York Life Insurance Company recognized the historic significance of the house by placing a bronze plaque on the building.

The Chester A. Arthur House, at 123 Lexington Ave., New York City, NY is privately owned. Only the commercial space on the first floor is open to the public. The house has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text.

The State of Vermont operates the President Chester A. Arthur State Historic Site, featuring an interpretive center on Chester Arthur in a recreation of the second house in which he lived as an infant. Nearby is the North Fairfield Baptist Church, where his father was a minister.


Grover Cleveland (1885-1889 & 1893-1897)
Grover Cleveland Birthplace, New Jersey

Born in this modest house in Caldwell, New Jersey on March 18, 1837, Stephen Grover Cleveland was the 22nd and 24th president of the United States, the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.  The house was the residence of the minister at the local Presbyterian Church.  Built in 1832, the “Manse,” as it was known, consisted of a two-story frame main section with a one-story kitchen on the east side and a one-story lean-to at the rear.  Simple Federal and Greek Revival details add a touch of sophistication to a simple vernacular building.  The large Cleveland family lived here from 1834 to 1841.  Cleveland began his political career in western New York and rose quickly from mayor of Buffalo in 1881 to president of the United States in 1885.  Defeated by Republican Benjamin Harrison in 1888, he easily won reelection in 1892.  The Democrats did not re-nominate him in 1896; ultimately, he owed his defeat to the deep Depression of 1893.

In 1841, Cleveland’s father moved to a church in Fayetteville, New York, where young Grover (he rarely used his first name) received his schooling.  At the age of 13, he went to work to help family finances after his father became ill.  He abandoned his hopes of attending college when his father died in 1853.  He soon moved to Buffalo, where he worked briefly on his uncle’s farm before entering a local law firm as an apprentice clerk.  In 1859, he passed the bar and opened his own law practice.  He became a prominent lawyer and Democratic politician.  Elected mayor of Buffalo in 1881, he soon developed a reputation as a reformer because of his opposition to corruption and patronage.  As governor of New York from 1883 to 1884, he exhibited bipartisan independence.  He worked closely with Republican Assembly member Theodore Roosevelt to pass municipal reform legislation that gained him national recognition, but angered New York City's powerful Tammany Hall Democratic organization.

Cleveland managed to become the Democratic presidential nominee in 1884 without Tammany support. The campaign was contentious and close.  Cleveland won the popular vote by just one-quarter of one percent, but the electoral votes gave him a majority of 219–182.  A popular chief executive, President Cleveland failed at his first attempt at reelection in 1888, but succeeded four years later.

The Presbyterian Church Manse is one of the two oldest houses in Caldwell.  The church enlarged the house several times between 1848 and 1870.  Interest in preserving Cleveland’s birthplace began when he was governor of New York and grew as his political career continued. The birthplace house first opened to the public in 1913.  The State of New Jersey bought the house from the Cleveland Birthplace Memorial Association in 1934 and now operates it as a historic house museum. The Grover Cleveland Birthplace State Historic Site is the only house museum in the country dedicated to the interpretation of President Cleveland’s life. It is the nation’s leading repository of Cleveland artifacts and political memorabilia. Restored to their 1837 appearance when the Cleveland family lived in the house, the first floor rooms offer a glimpse at the modest beginnings of the future president.  Among the artifacts on display from Cleveland’s early years are his cradle and original family portraits.  An exhibition gallery reflects his later life.

The Grover Cleveland Birthplace is located at 207 Bloomfield Ave., Caldwell, NJ. The Grover Cleveland Birthplace State Historic Site is the only house museum in the country dedicated to the interpretation of President Cleveland’s life. It is the nation’s leading repository of Cleveland artifacts and political memorabilia. It is open to the public free of charge. The birthplace is open year round, Wednesday-Sunday from 10:00am to noon and from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. It is closed for all State and Federal holidays. For more information visit the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry Grover Cleveland Birthplace website or call 973-226-0001.

The Grover Cleveland Birthplace has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.


Grover Cleveland Home (Westland), New Jersey

Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th president of the United States, was the only president ever to serve two non-consecutive terms.  He was also the first Democratic president since the Civil War.  A man committed to honesty, fairness, and non-partisanship, Cleveland was a popular president but often offended members of his own party.  The public eagerly followed reports of his wedding to his 21 year-old ward in 1886 and the birth of their daughter Esther, both of which took place in the White House.  He won the popular vote in 1888, but lost in the Electoral College.  Reelected in 1892, Cleveland struggled in his second term with a long, deep economic depression, second in its severity only to the Great Depression of the 1930s.  After leaving the White House for a second time, Cleveland retired to this home in Princeton, New Jersey in 1897.  The elegant stone antebellum mansion was perfect for the active role the Clevelands played in Princeton society.  Although Cleveland never attended college himself, Princeton students frequently marched to the house to serenade him on his birthdays or to celebrate victorious football games. 


Cleveland and his wife decided to move to Princeton even before the end of his second term.  Mrs. Cleveland chose the house, and Cleveland named it “Westland” in honor of his close friend Andrew West, a professor at Princeton University.  Originally built in 1854 by a member of the prominent Stockton family, Westland resembles Morven, another Stockton house in Princeton.  Richard Stockton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, built Morven in the mid-18th century.  Westland, a two and one-half-story, stone building covered with stucco, had twin parlors on the first floor, spacious rooms, high ceilings, and handsome marble mantelpieces when the Clevelands bought it.  Cleveland soon added a two-story, flat-roofed wing containing a room for billiards (his favorite hobby) on the first floor and bedrooms on the second.

President Cleveland was uncompromising in his refusal to give special privileges to anybody.  Elected mayor of Buffalo in 1881, he worked to prevent unscrupulous city contracts.  His reputation for honesty carried him rapidly from governor of New York (1883) to president (1885).  His election as president required support from his own Democratic party and the reform wing of the Republicans.  In office, he vetoed a proposal to give pensions to veterans for disabilities not caused by military service, a proposal backed by the Grand Army of the Republic, an influential veterans group.  He offended the powerful railroads by his support for the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, the government’s first attempt at railroad regulation.  He also made the railroad return millions of acres of western land that he then opened to homesteaders.  He strongly supported the Civil Service Commission against the claims of Democratic office seekers.  When told that his opposition to a high protective tariff might make it harder for him to be reelected, he characteristically said, “What’s the use of being elected or reelected unless you stand for something?”  Business opposition to his tariff policies played a role in his loss to Republican Benjamin Harrison in 1888.

Cleveland went back to his law practice in 1889 and for the most part, he refrained from active participation in politics.  With the approach of the 1892 election, he began to speak out against President Harrison’s passage of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, which he saw as irresponsibly inflationary.  Easily reelected in 1892, he soon had to deal with the Panic of 1893, the nation’s worst and longest depression to date, with many bankruptcies, bank failures, foreclosures, and unprecedented unemployment.  Cleveland was firmly committed to basing the value of paper money in the United States on gold, which he saw as the only responsible measure to restore business confidence.

Cleveland also had to deal with serious conflicts between labor and industry, triggered by growing unemployment, falling wages, and long working hours.  When violence erupted in a strike led by Eugene V. Debs against Chicago’s Pullman Palace Car Company, Cleveland generated bitter controversy by sending Federal troops to restore order.  Eventually the government used claims of interference with interstate commerce and with delivery of the mail to end the strike and imprison Debs.  Cleveland's actions were popular with many people but turned many Democrats against him.

Because he was unable to end it, President Cleveland became the scapegoat for the prolonged depression.  William Jennings Bryan, a charismatic supporter of abandoning the gold standard, the “cross of gold” that he blamed for most of the nation’s problems, defeated Cleveland for the Democratic nomination in 1896, but lost to Republican William McKinley in the general election.

Cleveland was a bachelor when he first became president.  In 1886 at the age of 49, he married Frances Folsom in the White House.  The newspapers avidly followed every detail of the wedding, as they did the birth of “Baby Ruth” in 1891 and Esther, born at the White House in 1893.  Frances Cleveland was one of the most popular first ladies since Dolley Madison.  The Clevelands retired to an active life with their five young children in Princeton at the end of his second term.  He died there in 1908.

Cleveland’s house in Princeton remains a private residence.  Subsequent owners have made a number of changes to both the interior and exterior, but the front elevation is relatively intact.  The two-story façade is five bays wide, with five windows on the second floor and two windows on either side of a central doorway on the first.  A flat-roofed one-story portico covers the three central bays.  High-ceilings and spacious rooms characterize the interior.  The first floor of the addition no longer serves as a billiard room.  Cleveland built a long rear service wing on the back of the house.  The wing, no longer connected to the house, now functions as a separate dwelling.

The Grover Cleveland Home, which is privately owned and not open to the public, is located in Princeton, NJ. The home has been designated a National Historic Landmark.   Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.

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Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)
Benjamin Harrison Home, Indiana

Benjamin Harrison, 23rd president of the United States and grandson of William Henry Harrison, the ninth president, ran against Democrat Grover Cleveland twice.  In 1888, he conducted a successful “front porch” campaign from his home in Indianapolis, losing in the popular vote, but winning in the Electoral College.  Four years later, he lost the 1892 election. Harrison generally followed his party’s leadership in domestic matters, but his middle-of-the-road positions on the controversial issues of civil service reform, the tariff, and monetary policy pleased neither reformers nor party regulars.  He was more successful with foreign policy. When Harrison moved to his new 16-room house in Indianapolis in the 1870s, he was a prosperous lawyer.  The house was his permanent home until his death in 1901.  In 1888, he accepted the Republican nomination for president at the house, planned his strategy, and often spoke to crowds assembled on the tree-shaded lawn.  On one occasion, admirers celebrating his nomination carried off the picket fence surrounding the yard.

Born in 1833 at his grandfather’s estate in North Bend, Ohio, Benjamin Harrison was the great-grandson and namesake of a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Harrison graduated from Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, in 1852 with distinction. The next year, he married Caroline L. Scott.  In 1854, he moved to the growing town of Indianapolis, Indiana, to pursue a legal career.  He soon became involved in local politics as a Republican.  His law practice prospered, and he moved to a series of residences, each larger and more spacious than the last.  In 1867, Harrison purchased a double lot on North Delaware Street, then on the outskirts of the town.  In the 1870s, he built a two-story Italianate house with 16 rooms.  The large elegant home, a symbol of his success as a lawyer, would be his home for the rest of his life.

Harrison organized and commanded a regiment of volunteers during the Civil War.  After the war, he resumed his law practice in Indianapolis. He lost his bid for governor, but won election to the United States Senate in 1879, serving until 1887.  In 1888, Harrison lost the popular vote in his presidential campaign against incumbent Grover Cleveland by a narrow margin but became president by winning in the Electoral College.  Conducted from his Indianapolis home, his successful “front porch” campaign helped him win the key states of Indiana and New York.

President Harrison was able to get legislation he wanted passed by Congress and accomplished a number of things during his single term in office. He was proudest of his foreign policy achievements.  He presided over the first Pan-American Conference in Washington in 1889, which led to the formation of the Pan-American Union.  He helped negotiate international agreements over the status of Samoa and seal hunting in the Bering Sea.  He strongly exerted rights of the United States in a bitter dispute with Chile and received an official apology.

Harrison believed in civil service reform but made many patronage appointments, removing some of Cleveland’s reform guidelines to do so.  At the same time, he increased the number of jobs under the Civil Service Act and appointed a very active Theodore Roosevelt to the Civil Service Commission.

Intense disputes over monetary policy and tariffs dominated his administration.  In response to demands by farmers and other groups burdened by high debts, the Harrison administration passed the controversial Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, which allowed the Treasury to buy more silver.  Debtors hoped that issuing new silver coins would expand the money supply and make it easier for them to pay their debts.  In fact, restrictions enacted as part of the legislation prevented any substantial growth in the supply of money.

The McKinley Tariff, which raised duties on imports an average of 48 percent, led to a large Treasury surplus and the first billion dollar budget.  When critics attacked "the billion-dollar Congress," Speaker Thomas B. Reed replied, "This is a billion-dollar country."  Harrison signed substantial appropriation bills, using the money for veterans’ pensions, naval expansion, seacoast fortifications, and a variety of politically popular river and harbor improvements.  The high tariff was not popular among farmers and many westerners, who were already turning towards Populism.  It contributed to the Republican loss of control of Congress in the elections of 1890.

President Harrison also signed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act "to protect trade and commerce against unlawful restraints and monopolies," the first Federal act attempting to regulate trusts. Although created, partially in response to growing grievances of farmers and laborers, the Sherman Anti-Trust Act,  more often used against organized labor than against monopolies during this period, this law did little to protect the working class.

The Republicans nominated Harrison again in 1892, but Cleveland easily defeated him and the Populist Party candidate, James B. Weaver.  Harrison returned to his home in Indianapolis and resumed his law career. Widowed in 1892, only two weeks before the election, he married Mary Dimmick, his first wife’s niece, in 1896.  He renovated the house, installed electricity, added the present columned front porch, and redecorated the front parlor. He died in 1901 in the master bedroom on the second floor of the house. He lies buried in the city's Crown Hill Cemetery.

In 1937, Harrison's widow sold the house and most of its furnishings to the Arthur Jordan Foundation, which used it as a dormitory for their nearby music school.  When the music school moved to Butler University in 1951, the foundation restored the house and opened it to the public.  In 1966, it created the President Benjamin Harrison Foundation, which operates the house as a historic house museum.

Today visitors can see 10 of the original 16 rooms, restored and furnished with Harrison items and period pieces. Notable furnishings include cut-crystal chandeliers, an original Harrison settee, and an Agra rug from India c. 1870s used in the front parlor. Harrison's library, the room where he planned his 1888 campaign for the presidency, features his massive hand-carved bookcase and numerous other mementos. Furniture from his law office now occupies a third-floor room. The master bedroom contains a huge hand-carved bed, and an exercise machine. In the nursery is a cradle originally owned by William Henry Harrison, Benjamin's grandfather and ninth president of the United States. The original 1888 wallpaper patterns of the front parlor, back parlor, and library are currently being recreated.

The Benjamin Harrison Home located at 1230 North Delaware St., Indianapolis, IN is a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. The Benjamin Harrison Home is open Monday-Saturday from 10:00am to 3:30pm and on Sundays in June and July from 12:30pm to 3:30pm.  Tours are offered on the half hour and several exhibits are on display. The house is closed for all major holidays.  For more information visit President Benjamin Harrison Home website or call 317-631-1888.

The Benjamin Harrison Home has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. The Benjamin Harrison Home is also featured in the National Park Service Indianapolis Travel Itinerary as part of the Northside Historic District.


William McKinley (1897-1901)
William McKinley Tomb, Ohio

This large circular, domed mausoleum is the final resting place of William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States.  McKinley was born in Niles, Ohio but he called Canton home throughout his adult life. He began his career in this city, met his beloved wife, and ran for the highest office of the nation here.  His election in 1896 launched an era of Republican dominance that continued until 1910.  McKinley governed during a period of intense American expansionism.  Domestically, he supported policies that benefitted American business, including high protective tariffs and deflationary fiscal policies.

The seventh of nine children of an iron maker, McKinley received his education at local schools in Ohio. He attended college briefly but withdrew because of illness and financial troubles.  In 1861, McKinley enlisted as a private in an Ohio infantry regiment and participated in several battles.  He was the last Civil War veteran elected president.  He studied the law after the war, first in Ohio and then in Albany, New York.  He returned to Ohio in 1867.  Admitted to the bar later that year, he established his law practice in Canton.  In 1871, he married Ida Saxton, daughter of a local banker.  It was a long and loving marriage, but following the early deaths of two daughters, Ida, who suffered from epilepsy after 1873, became a semi-invalid and remained so for the rest of her life.

From 1871 to 1875, McKinley practiced law and worked for the Republican Party.  He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1877 to 1884 and again from 1885 to 1891.  He eventually rose to the leadership of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, where he worked to pass the McKinley Tariff of 1890.  At the Republican National Convention in 1888, McKinley met Marcus A. Hanna, a wealthy Cleveland businessman, who would become his lifelong friend, political mentor, and manager. McKinley lost his seat in the House in 1890, but won election as governor of Ohio in 1892.  He served two terms.

In 1896, McKinley easily gained the Republican nomination. He addressed selected delegations at his home in Canton in a "front porch" campaign. Mark Hanna capably handled the national campaign.  Running against Democrat William Jennings Bryan, whose platform called for inflationary coinage of silver, McKinley defended the gold standard.  The Democratic Party split on the silver issue, and many anti-silver Democrats, including retiring President Cleveland, refused to support Bryan.  Bryan lost, in spite of his strength in the West and the South. McKinley’s majority in the popular vote was the first of such presidential wins, since President Grant’s second term in 1872.

McKinley called Congress into special session to pass the Dingley Tariff Act of 1897 as one his first actions as president.  The Dingley Tariff raised import duties even higher than the already highly protectionist McKinley Tariff.  In 1900, he approved the fiscally conservative Gold Standard Act, which based the currency firmly on gold.  Although he personally disapproved of trusts, he did little to restrict their formation.  The number of these monopolistic business conglomerates increased markedly during his presidency.

Foreign policy dominated McKinley’s administration.  In 1895, Cuba revolted against Spanish repression.  Fueled by sensationalized reporting and the still-unexplained explosion of the American battleship Maine in Havana Harbor, public outcry against Spain created irresistible pressure to liberate Cuba.  McKinley tried to reach a peaceful resolution, but in April 1898, Congress declared war.  During the course of the 100-day Spanish American War, the United States destroyed the Spanish fleet, won the Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines, and occupied Puerto Rico.  Cuba gained her independence, but with her sovereignty restricted by an American right of intervention.  The United States took possession of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.  McKinley justified these controversial actions with economic, military, and humanitarian arguments.

In 1898, the United States annexed Hawaii and extended the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prevented Chinese immigration to the United States mainland. The following year America and Germany partitioned the Samoan Islands in the Pacific.  Secretary of State John Hay gained an “Open Door” trading policy with China, but in 1900 McKinley sent 5,000 American troops to China to help put down the nationalistic Boxer Rebellion.

In the 1900 election, McKinley beat Bryan by an even larger margin.  He began his second term by encouraging Secretary of State Hay's negotiations with Great Britain to modify the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty to permit construction of a canal in Central America.  On September 6, 1901, an anarchist shot McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.  He died eight days later.


After lying in state at the United States Capitol, McKinley’s body returned to Canton.  Mark Hanna and some of McKinley’s friends immediately began planning a suitable memorial.  They chose a site in Canton’s Westlawn Cemetery that McKinley once suggested would be an appropriate location for a soldiers’ and sailors’ memorial.  The McKinley National Memorial Association, organized in 1901, purchased the site, and appealed to the public for the $600,000 needed to create the memorial.  Construction began in 1905.  Nine different States donated materials used in the memorial, completed in 1907.  Ida McKinley died that year; she lies next to her husband in the memorial chamber. William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, a private nonprofit organization under the umbrella of the Stark County Historical Society, administers the memorial and its grounds.

The McKinley Memorial that contains the tomb stands on a grass-covered hill overlooking the city of Canton.  Designed by architect H. Van Buren Magonigle, the circular, domed pink granite building rises 96 feet above ground and measures 79 feet in diameter.  The double bronze doors of the entrance were the largest in the nation at the time of installation.  Originally a long, narrow reflecting pool stretched out from the base of the hill in front of the memorial. This feature, together with the 108 stone steps that lead up to the mausoleum, symbolized the President's sword in time of war.  In 1951, a depressed lawn replaced the pool, but the sword effect remains. Midway up the steps is a large bronze statue by Charles Henry Niehaus of President McKinley delivering his last speech in Buffalo.

Colored marble laid in a cross pattern forms the floor of the mausoleum.  The bodies of McKinley and his wife lie side by side in two polished, dark-green, granite sarcophagi, resting atop a ten-foot-square of polished dark maroon granite in the center of the space. Their two young daughters are also laid to rest here.   Three semi-circular arched bays encircle the central chamber.  The entablature and frieze extending around the bottom of the dome contain words from McKinley's last speech.

The William McKinley Tomb is located at 800 McKinley Monument Dr. NW, Canton, OH and can be viewed Monday-Saturday, 9:00am to 4:00pm; Sundays, 12:00pm to 4:00pm; closed major holidays. The monument may be closed December 1-April.  It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. The McKinley Presidential Library and Museum is located near the McKinley Tomb at 800 McKinley Monument Dr. NW and administers the memorial. The museum is open 9:00am to 4:00pm Monday-Saturday, and 12:00pm to 4:00pm Sunday. An admission fee is charged. For more information, visit the William McKinley Presidential Library &  Museum website or call 330-455-7043.

Visitors to the memorial may also be interested in the First Ladies National Historic Site, which is located in the Saxton House, where William McKinley and his wife, Ida Saxton McKinley, spent many years of their married lives.  The Saxton House is located at 331 S.Market Ave. in Canton, OH.

The William McKinley Tomb is featured in the National Park Service Ohio and Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor Travel Itinerary.


Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, New York

Theodore Roosevelt, the sickly child who became the energetic 26th president of the United States, was born on this site in 1858 and lived here until he was 14.  The original birthplace was a typical New York brownstone located on a quiet tree-lined street in the city’s most fashionable neighborhood.  After Roosevelt’s death in 1919, some of his friends and followers formed the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association to reconstruct the original house.  Roosevelt’s sisters and his wife guided the decoration of the five period rooms on the first and second floors and donated much of the original furniture.

Roosevelt’s parents moved into the original house on 20th Street in 1854.  The Roosevelts were members of one of the oldest and most socially prominent families in New York.  Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. was a wealthy glass importer, merchant, and banker. His wife, the former Martha Bulloch, was an aristocrat from Savannah, Georgia.  Theodore Roosevelt was the second of their four children and their first son.  Asthmatic, nearsighted, and frequently ill, Theodore received most of his education at home through private tutoring.  He learned to read at an early age, devouring books on adventure, history, and the out-of-doors.  He studied taxidermy and established what he called the “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History” in the house.  These early interests continued throughout his life.

The young Roosevelt’s health began to improve around the age of 12.  His father gave him a warning and a challenge: “You have the mind, but you haven’t got the body.  To do all you can with your mind, you must make your body match it.”  “Teedie,” as his family called him, responded with his usual determination.  When his father installed a gymnasium on the back piazza, Roosevelt, often accompanied by neighborhood friends, would crawl through the nursery windows every day to play and exercise.  The frail boy soon grew healthy, and his asthma ceased to bother him.

The family lived on 20th Street until the fall of 1872, when Theodore was 14 years old.  The neighborhood changed from residential to commercial in subsequent years.  Businesses took over the house.  In 1916, it was completely demolished to make way for a two-story commercial building.  The Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association purchased the site, demolished the existing commercial building, and reconstructed the birthplace house in the early 1920s.  They also built a museum and galleries on the adjoining lot, where a house belonging to Roosevelt’s uncle once stood.  They opened the reconstructed birthplace to the public in 1923.  The Women’s Association merged with the Theodore Roosevelt Association in 1953, and that group donated the house to the National Park Service in 1963.

Roosevelt remembered his old home well.  The drawing room, much as it is today, with its high ceiling, magnificent mirrors, crystal chandelier, and blue satin hangings, was “a room of much splendor . . . open for general use only on Sunday evening or on rare occasions when there were parties.” The horsehair-covered chairs in the dining room scratched his legs.  The library was a place of “gloomy respectability” for a child, even one who loved reading.  On the other hand, the front bedroom on the second floor, today furnished with its original elaborate Victorian furniture, was a place where he and his siblings would watch their father dressing and “stay as long as we were permitted, eagerly examining everything which came out of his pockets.”  The nursery windows still open onto the upstairs porch where the gymnasium was located.

The Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located at 28 E. 20th St, New York City.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos.  Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace NHS is open Tuesday-Saturday, 9:00am to 5:00pm. A small entrance fee is charged.  Please allow one hour for a tour of the museum and period rooms and 30 minutes for viewing a film. For more information visit the National Park Service Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site website or call 212-260-1616.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

"I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota." -Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, came to the Badlands of what is now North Dakota for the first time in 1883.  Excited about the prospects for an open-range cattle industry, he invested in a ranch along the Little Missouri River near Medora before returning to New York.  The following year he returned, seeking solace after the deaths of his mother and his young wife on the same terrible day in February. He later recalled that “the romance of my life” began in this rugged country.  His admiration for the rough virtues and the rugged integrity of the men with whom he worked in the Dakotas “took the snob out of him” and inspired him to organize the Rough Riders, which brought him national fame during the Spanish-American War.  His love for “the great free ranches, with their barbarous, picturesque, and curiously fascinating surroundings,” helped create his deep commitment to the conservation of America’s natural resources.  If Roosevelt were to return to the park that bears his name, he would find the topography, plants, and wildlife essentially unchanged from what he knew.

In the fall of 1883, Roosevelt, a young New York legislator, made his first trip to the Badlands of the Dakota Territory to hunt buffalo and other game. By the end of his 15-day hunting trip, his enthusiasm for the prospects of the cattle industry led him to invest in the Maltese Cross Ranch, near the town of Medora.  At Roosevelt's request, ranch managers built a one and one-half story cabin complete with a shingle roof and cellar. Constructed of durable ponderosa pine logs cut and floated down the Little Missouri River, the cabin was quite luxurious for the Dakota frontier, with wooden floors and three separate rooms (kitchen, living room and bedroom).  A prolific writer, Roosevelt spent many lamp-lit hours at the desk in the living room. The steeply pitched roof created a sleeping loft for the ranch hands.

Roosevelt returned to New York, winning reelection to his last term in the State legislature in November. In February 1884, Roosevelt's young wife died, two days after the birth of their daughter, Alice, and only hours after his mother's death in the same house. After leading the New York delegation to the 1884 Republican Convention in June, Roosevelt left for the Dakota Territory.

He found a ranching boom in progress in the Little Missouri River Valley. Encouraged by the success of his Maltese Cross Ranch, he purchased 1,000 head of cattle and selected a site for a second ranch.  Elkhorn Ranch, about 35 miles north of Medora, became headquarters for Roosevelt's cattle operations. Completed by the spring of 1885, the 30’ by 60’ Elkhorn Ranch house was one of the finest in the Badlands, with eight rooms and a porch on the east elevation.

Roosevelt’s ranching business reached a peak in 1885 and 1886, but disaster struck during the winter of 1886 and 1887.  More cattle already were grazing on the open range than it could support by the fall of 1886.  Winter brought heavy snows, partial thawing, and subzero temperatures that created a crust over the snow that the cattle could not break through.  When Roosevelt returned in the spring of 1887, he learned that he had lost over half his herd.  By the early 1890s, he had abandoned his Elkhorn Ranch and returned to the Maltese Cross Ranch.  He came back periodically to the area until 1898, but felt that open-range ranching in Dakota Territory was “doomed, and can hardly outlast the century.”  He sold the last of his stock in 1898.  Roosevelt lost much of his fortune in the Badlands but never regretted the time he spent there. Among other things, his years in Dakota Territory helped inspire his romanticized, multivolume The Winning of the West. Roosevelt visited Medora in 1903 on a presidential tour of the West.  Practically the entire population of the Badlands turned out to greet him.  Efforts to create a national park commemorating his life in the Badlands began shortly after his death in 1919.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park consists of three units along the Little Missouri River.  The South Unit, near Medora, includes a Visitor Center and the restored Maltese Cross Cabin, the only surviving building from either of Roosevelt’s ranches.  Dismantled in 1904, the cabin traveled to fairs in Portland, Oregon and St. Louis. For several years in the 1950s, it stood on the State capitol grounds in Bismarck.  The National Park Service relocated it to its present site in 1959 and restored it to its original appearance.  The cabin contains a number of items that belonged to Roosevelt, as well as other typical furnishings of the day.  The Elkhorn Ranch Unit is located 35 miles north of the South Unit Visitor Center. The ranch buildings no longer exist, but interpretive signs tell where the house and outbuildings were. The North Unit features a Visitor Center, a 14-mile scenic road, and a number of trails.  Cattle no longer graze on the 110 square miles that make up the park; today, this stark but beautiful landscape again supports herds of bison and mule deer.

The South Unit also includes the Peaceful Valley Ranch house.  Built between 1883 and 1890, it is contemporary with Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch house and is one of only a few surviving dwellings associated with open-range ranching in North Dakota that have not been moved from their original locations.

The Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a unit of the National Park System, consists of three units located between Watford City, ND, on the north, and Medora on the south. The Elkhorn Ranch Unit, which was the location of Roosevelt's principal home in the badlands, is located 35 miles north of the South Unit Visitor Center. The Visitor Center and park headquarters are at Medora.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos for the Peaceful Valley Ranch in the South Unit of the park.  The park is open year round 24 hours a day.  Portions of the South Unit Scenic Loop Drive and North Unit Scenic Road may be closed occasionally in winter due to snow and ice.  Numerous activities are available in the park including: backcountry camping, bicycling, bird watching, canoeing/kayaking, snowshoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and guided tours.  For more information, including visitor center hours and detailed driving directions, visit the National Park Service Theodore Roosevelt National Park or call 701-623-4466.

Theodore Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross-Ranch Cabin was documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey prior to restoration, when it was still on the capitol grounds in Bismarck.


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Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, New York

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, bought 155 acres on the fashionable north shore of Long Island in 1880, with Alice Hathaway Lee, the woman he would marry later in the year.  She helped plan the house, with its many rooms, wide verandahs, and sweeping views of Long Island Sound, but did not live to enjoy it. After her death on February 14, 1884, Roosevelt’s sister Anna convinced him that he would need a home for his baby daughter and he went ahead with the construction of the home.  In 1887, he married Edith Carow, a childhood friend, and together they raised six children at Sagamore Hill.

Sagamore Hill was the center of Roosevelt’s political life as well as his family’s home.  The official notification of his nomination for governor of New York took place here in 1898.  In 1900, Republican leaders gathered at the house to hear Roosevelt accept his nomination for vice president as William McKinley’s running mate.  During the presidential years, Sagamore Hill was the summer White House. It became his unofficial campaign headquarters in 1904, when current custom prevented sitting presidents from active campaigning and in 1912 when he ran as a third party, “Bull Moose” candidate for president. On the day before he died there, on January 6, 1919, Roosevelt asked Edith, “I wonder if you will ever know how I love Sagamore Hill.”

An intellectual and a man of action, energetic, positive, and supremely confident, Roosevelt was one of the most popular presidents ever to fill that office.  He had a clear understanding of how politics worked and strong opinions on the role the United States should play in the world.  He pressed for construction of the Panama Canal.  He earned a Nobel Peace prize for bringing about the peace treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War of 1905—he met separately with the Japanese and Russian envoys on the presidential yacht “Mayflower” on Oyster Bay before their face-to-face negotiations in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  He changed the relationships among industry, labor, and the government. He made the conservation of the country’s natural resources a headline issue of the day. He considered himself the “steward of the people;” the people knew him as “Teddy,” the “trust buster,” and the man with the “big stick.”  He pioneered new ways of gaining popular support, granting or denying access to Sagamore Hill to ensure that the press would give his policies favorable treatment.  For Roosevelt, the law and the Constitution were the only limits to his power as president.  “I did not usurp power, but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power.”  In many ways, Theodore Roosevelt was the first modern president.

When Roosevelt bought the land in 1880, he already had fond memories of childhood summers spent at Oyster Bay.  He commissioned New York architects, Lamb and Rich, to design his new house, making sure that the interior would incorporate many of his own ideas.  Built between 1884 and 1885, the house is a large, rambling, two and one-half story building combining the asymmetrical plan and many textured finishes of the Queen Anne style with the horizontal lines and smooth wall surfaces of the Shingle Style.  The house features prominent gables, dormers, verandahs, and a porte-cochere. The 23 rooms adorned with family heirlooms, hunting trophies and souvenirs from his travels, hosted domestic and international dignitaries. Roosevelt called his new home Sagamore Hill, after Sagamore (Chief) Mohannis, whose tribe once lived on the land.

Roosevelt’s political career began when he won a seat in the State legislature in 1882. His independence and zeal for industrial and governmental reform annoyed old-guard politicians, but attracted the attention of reporters. His last year of service in the legislature came in 1884, the same year his wife died from complications of childbirth and his mother died of typhoid on the same day. Roosevelt spent much of the next two years ranching in the rugged Dakota Territory

When Roosevelt completed the house on Sagamore Hill in 1885, his sister Anna moved in to care for his infant daughter, Alice.  In 1886, he married Edith Kermit Carow, a childhood friend, who would bear him four sons and another daughter. The family established its permanent home at Sagamore Hill. The grounds and the woods there were the setting for the rambles and outdoor activities that his children, nephews, and nieces loved, particularly when they could persuade him to drop the affairs of state to join them.

The leaders of the New York Republican Party chose Roosevelt as their candidate for the governorship in 1898, but did not trust his reform policies.  In 1900, they managed to maneuver him into accepting nomination to the relatively powerless job of vice-president. A year later, he became president after President McKinley’s assassination.

Roosevelt was a very active president.  He backed labor unions and initiated numerous suits against trusts.  He was instrumental in enactment of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, signed legislation for the inspection of stockyards and packinghouses, and expanded the Interstate Commerce Commission control over the railroads.  Roosevelt used his powerful influence to pressure mine owners into arbitration with the miners during a coal strike in 1902. In 1903, he convinced Congress to establish the Departments of Commerce and Labor. Roosevelt shocked many people North and South by issuing an unprecedented invitation to an African American, Booker T. Washington, to a dinner at the White House.

In international affairs, Roosevelt’s policy was "speak softly and carry a big stick." He sent the “Great White Fleet” to impress the world with the strength of the United States Navy. He helped create the Republic of Panama and began construction of the Panama Canal.  He became the first American recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for his role in ending the Russo-Japanese War. He convinced a San Francisco school board to abandon its policy of segregating Asian children in 1907, but a year later negotiated a “gentlemen’s agreement” with the Japanese government to limit immigration.

Overwhelmingly elected to a full term in his own right in 1904, Roosevelt vowed not to run for a second term.  He backed William Howard Taft as his successor in 1908, but later became dissatisfied with his conservative policies.  He ran as the nominee of the new Progressive Party in 1912, but his third party candidacy helped insure the victory of Democrat Woodrow Wilson. He died in his sleep at Sagamore Hill in 1919.

Edith Roosevelt lived at the house until her death in 1948. In 1950, the Theodore Roosevelt Association acquired the Sagamore Hill property along with the furnishings and belongings accumulated by the Roosevelt family through the years.  The Association opened the house to the public in 1953 and donated it to the National Park Service ten years later, along with a substantial endowment. The mementos, gifts, hunting trophies, furniture, and furnishings of the Sagamore Hill house are inextricably associated with the outsized personality of Theodore Roosevelt. The carefully preserved house, with its contents and setting, gives visitors a fascinating and intimate insight into a truly singular life.

Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located 12 Sagamore Hill Rd., Oyster Bay, NY.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. The site is open seven days a week during the summer and from Wednesday through Sunday between Labor Day and Memorial Day. The Roosevelt Home can be viewed only by guided tour from10:00am to 4:00pm.  Tours are given on the hour and tickets are available at the Visitor Center on a first come first served basis. Because tours often sell out during weekend and holiday afternoons, visitors should arrive early on these days.  The National Historic Site also includes the Roosevelt Museum at Old Orchard, which is open Wednesday-Sunday from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Admission to this building is free, and visitors can view movies and exhibits at their own pace. For more information visit the National Park Service Sagamore Hill website or call 516-922-4788.

Sagamore Hill has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. The National Park Service Museum Management Program is working to develop a new web-based exhibit entitled "Theodore Roosevelt: American Visionary." This exhibit allows people interested in seeing many artifacts owned and used by Roosevelt to do so via their home computers. Check the Museum Management Program website for updates.


Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, New York

On September 14, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office as the 26th and youngest president of the United States in the library of Ansley Wilcox’s fine house in Buffalo.  Only 42 years old, he succeeded President William McKinley, who had succumbed to an assassin’s bullet earlier that day.  For Roosevelt, who had hoped to rise to the presidency some day, it was "a dreadful thing to come into the Presidency in this way.”  In typical Roosevelt fashion, however, he continued, “Here is the task, and I have got to do it to the best of my ability." Three years later, he was elected to a full term in his own right.  Roosevelt had a lasting impact on the nation, expanding the powers of the presidency, advocating consumer protection laws and regulation of big business, supporting conservation, and asserting America's authority abroad.

President McKinley was visiting the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901, when an assassin shot him twice in the stomach.  By September 10, doctors in Buffalo thought he was recovering.  They encouraged Vice President Roosevelt to reassure the country by continuing with a planned family outing in the Adirondack Mountains.  Before leaving, he gave a copy of his itinerary to his friend Ansley Wilcox, at whose house he had been staying.  Three days later, returning from climbing the highest peak in the Adirondacks, he met a messenger bearing the fateful telegram summoning him to return. A hired wagon carried him 35 miles through the dark night over rough “ordinary wilderness roads” to reach the nearest station.  At dawn, he boarded a special train that took him to Buffalo.  The country had been without a president for about 12 hours when Roosevelt arrived, and everyone was anxious that the inauguration take place as quickly as possible.

After paying his respects to McKinley’s widow, Roosevelt rushed to the Wilcox house. He had no formal attire with him, but managed to borrow a long frock coat, trousers, waistcoat, four-in-hand tie, and patent leather shoes.  Judge John R. Hazel administered the oath of office in a ceremony that was brief, private, and solemn.  Ansley Wilcox later wrote, “It takes less in the way of ceremony to make a president in this country, than it does to make a King in England or any monarchy, but the significance of the event is no less great.”

Buffalo was the eighth largest city in the United States in 1901—a major flour milling center, an important port on Lake Erie, and the western terminus of the Erie Canal.  Dexter P. Rumsey, a wealthy Buffalo manufacturer, purchased a house in 1883 as a wedding gift for his daughter, Mary Grace, and her husband, Ansley Wilcox, a prominent Buffalo lawyer. Originally built in the 1830s as part of a military barracks, the house was not a large one.  Wilcox tripled its size and transformed it into a stately mansion.  A noteworthy change that Wilcox made to the interior was to combine two first-floor parlors to form the large library where Roosevelt later took the oath.

Mary Grace and Ansley Wilcox lived here until their deaths in the 1930s, after which the house changed hands several times. In the 1960s, local citizens raised funds to save the house from possible demolition.  The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site Foundation, Inc., the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, the Junior League of Erie County, the State of New York, and the National Park Service worked together to restore the house.  It opened to the public on September 14, 1971, the 70th anniversary of Roosevelt’s inauguration.

The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site, located at 641 Delaware Ave. in Buffalo, NY, is a unit of the National Park System.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. The site is open to the public. Tours are available from 9:30am to 3:30pm Monday-Friday and 12:30pm to 3:30pm on weekends.  For more information, visit the National Park Service website or call 716-884-0095.

The home is the subject of an online lesson plan, Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site: Birthplace of the Modern Presidency. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page. The Ansley Wilcox house has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.


Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial, Washington, DC

The only memorial to the 26th president of the United States in the nation’s capital is a small island in the Potomac River.  An architectural memorial and the restored natural landscape surrounding it together form a living memorial to the man known as the “Great Conservationist.”  Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to make conservation of America’s natural resources a centerpiece of his domestic policy.  For him, wise stewardship of land and wildlife made present and future growth possible.  Almost 230 million acres of land came under the protection of the Federal Government during his term in office.  Architect Eric Gugler and sculptor Paul Manship created the architectural memorial, with its open plaza and larger than life sized statue.  Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., and his associate Henry Hubbard, created the plan that still guides maintenance of the memorial landscape.

Located opposite the busy colonial port of Georgetown, the island itself has a long history.  For more than a century, it was "Mason's Island," the home of John Mason, grandson of George Mason of Gunston Hall, and one of the finest farming estates in the region. Stagnant water began to create unhealthy conditions after construction of a causeway to the Virginia shore in 1805, and the Masons departed about 1832.  The island changed hands a number of times before the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association bought it in 1931. The association transferred it to the Federal Government the following year to serve as a national memorial to President Theodore Roosevelt.

The Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Association hired the famous landscape firm of Olmsted Brothers to prepare plans for the memorial in May 1932. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., assumed primary responsibility for the creation of the plan but received important help from his associate Henry V. Hubbard. The overall goal of the Olmsted plan was the creation of a restored woodland as a living memorial to Theodore Roosevelt.  The woodland was to be “a real forest closely similar in character to the natural primeval forests which once covered this and other of the Potomac islands.” From 1934 to 1937, Olmsted directed the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps in clearing the island of most non-native vegetation and planting about 20,000 native hardwood trees and shrubs.  Work came to a halt in the late 1930s and did not resume until after World War II.

The Olmsted design included a site for an architectural memorial.  This memorial was to be located on a terraced hillside at the south end of the island.  The location was the highest point on the low-lying island and had a good view of the Lincoln Memorial and other monumental structures in Washington, DC.  The controversial decision to build a new highway bridge over the southern tip of the island caused the abandonment of plans for this Outlook Plateau in the late 1950s.

Constructed between 1963 and 1967, the present memorial is a large plaza set in a clearing on the northern part of the island. Designed by architect Eric Gugler, it consists of an open granite-paved oval plaza flanked by two pools with fountains.  A water-filled moat spanned by footbridges surrounds the whole area.  Four 21-foot-high granite tablets inscribed with quotations from his writings surround a 17-foot-high bronze statue of Roosevelt.  Executed by sculptor Paul Manship, the statue shows Roosevelt with one armed raised in “characteristic speaking pose.”

The 88-acre natural area of Theodore Roosevelt Island has great diversity, representing three major ecological zones:  upland forest, swamp, and tidal marsh.  Theodore Roosevelt Island is part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  The National Park Service still follows the guidelines set forth by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. in maintaining the landscape and many of the two and a half-miles of trails are shown on his original plans.

Theodore Roosevelt Island, located in the Potomac River between VA and the DC, is a unit of the National Park System.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. Theodore Roosevelt Island is open every day from dawn until dusk. The island is accessible only from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The entrance to the parking lot is just north of the Roosevelt Bridge. A pedestrian footbridge leads from the parking lot to the island.  The closest Metro station is Rosslyn.  For more information visit the National Park Service Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial website or call 703-289-2500.

William Howard Taft (1909-1913)
William Howard Taft National Historic Site, Ohio

William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, lived in this comfortable house from his birth in 1857 until he went away to college in 1874.  During the years he lived here, he learned to love the law, his first passion, and absorbed the family commitment to the Republican Party and to public service.  President Taft’s single term in office was not a pleasant one.  Progressive Republicans, including his mentor, Theodore Roosevelt, assailed him as too conservative; Old Guard Republicans saw him as too liberal.  Defeated by Woodrow Wilson in 1912, Taft happily returned to practicing law.  In 1921, he achieved his life-long dream, when President Harding named him chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.  Taft is the only American to have served both as president and as chief justice.  It was about this time that he remarked, “I don’t remember that I was ever president.”

Alphonso Taft, father of the future president, was already a prominent lawyer when he moved his growing family to fashionable Mount Auburn in 1851.  The house he bought was a “beautiful, high, airy space,” with a view of the bustling city of Cincinnati and the Ohio River below. He quickly set about modernizing the ten-year old, two-story, Greek Revival, brick building, adding plumbing and a large addition in the rear.  After the death of his first wife in 1852, he married Louise Torrey, who became stepmother to the two oldest Taft boys and bore four children of her own, including William Howard.  The Taft household was a lively one, full of social activity and intellectual discussion ranging from Dickens to Darwin and from anti-slavery legislation to women’s suffrage.  The children grew up with the family traditions of hard work, fair play, and public service.  William Howard Taft lived at home until he left to study at Yale College in 1874; four years later, he graduated, second in his class.

Alphonso Taft’s tireless work for the Republican Party paid off in political appointments that took him and his family away from Cincinnati. They lived in Washington, DC between 1876 and 1877, while he served on President Grant’s Cabinet. In 1877, a fire destroyed much of the second floor and roof of the main house. Changes made during the rebuilding included raising the height of the second floor, installing a new roof and cornice, and making substantial alterations to the interior. In the 1880s, Alphonso Taft served as minister to Austria-Hungary and Russia.  He rented out the Auburn Avenue house during these years, when his grown children were not there.

William Howard Taft began his studies of law at the Cincinnati Law School in 1878, passing the bar examination two years later. He practiced law in Cincinnati from late 1883 to 1887 and, like his father, became active in Republican politics.  His first political appointment was as assistant county prosecutor in 1881.  The following year, President Arthur named him district collector of internal revenue.  Appointed to a vacancy on the Ohio Superior Court in 1887, Taft retained his seat the following year in the only election he ever ran in, except his election to the presidency ten years later. He held the judgeship until 1890.

Taft served in President Benjamin Harrison’s Justice Department in Washington, DC from 1890 to 1892; during this period, he also got to know Civil Service Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt. He returned to Cincinnati in 1892 as Federal circuit judge.  President McKinley promised him the next appointment to the Supreme Court but in 1900 asked him to be chief civil administrator in the Philippines, which the United States acquired in the Spanish-American War.  Sympathetic toward the Filipinos, he improved the economy, built roads and schools, and gave the people at least some participation in government.  While Taft was in the Philippines, he reluctantly turned down an appointment as Supreme Court justice, because he felt that duty required him to complete the work he had begun in the Philippines.

President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Taft secretary of war early in 1904, though he also asked him to handle many special assignments. Again, an appointment to the Supreme Court arose and again Taft deferred to his current responsibilities.  In 1908, his family and Roosevelt persuaded him to accept the Republican nomination for president. Taft disliked campaigning, but his conservative judicial style appealed to many voters, and he defeated William Jennings Bryan by more than a million votes.

As he had pledged during the election, Taft continued many progressive policies.  He initiated more antitrust suits than did Roosevelt. He was active in conservation, helping save millions of acres of Federal land from public sale.  Taft extended the Interstate Commerce Commission’s power to set railroad rates, advocated economy in government, signed campaign reform legislation, reduced patronage appointments, and improved the postal system.  His support for the Payne-Aldrich Tariff, which kept tariffs on imports high, and his unwillingness to stretch his powers as president, alienated Roosevelt and the progressive wing of his own party, however.  When Roosevelt chose to run against him as the candidate of the short-lived Progressive Party, this schism assured the election of Woodrow Wilson.

After he left office in 1913, Taft returned to Yale as a professor of law. In 1921, President Harding named him chief justice of the Supreme Court, which fulfilled his long-cherished ambition.  Taft held that position until 1930 and died in Washington, DC a month after he retired.

William Howard Taft National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located at 2038 Auburn Ave., Cincinnati, OH. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos.  The site is open seven days a week from 8:00am to 4:00pm. It is closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. Guided tours of the Taft house last 30 minutes and start on the hour and the half hour. The last guided tour of the day is at 3:30pm. Visit the National Park Service William H. Taft National Historic Site website or call 513- 684-3262 ext. 201 for more information.  Visitors to the home may also wish to visit the Taft Museum of Art, in the downtown area at 316 Pike St., which has some associations with President Taft but was designated a National Historic Landmark primarily for its architectural significance. The Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts operates it.

Taft’s boyhood home is the subject of an online lesson plan, Growing into Public Service: William Howard Taft's Boyhood Home. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.


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Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
Woodrow Wilson House, Washington, DC

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, served two very different terms of office.  Elected as a reformer in 1913, he enacted many reforms that are still part of the American political system.  Reelected in 1916, in part on his “He Kept Us Out of War” slogan, Wilson saw World War I take over his second term.  In 1917, he reluctantly called the nation to join in the struggle to “make the world safe for democracy” and directed the American support essential to Allied victory.  He played a central role in creating the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I.  When Wilson returned from Versailles, however, he discovered that the country’s mood had changed.  Support for the League of Nations, which Wilson saw as an essential part of the peace treaty, had sharply declined.  During an intense and exhausting speaking tour, he suffered a debilitating stroke, and the League went down to defeat.  A broken man, he retired at the end of his term to spend the last three years of his life at what is now the Woodrow Wilson House.  His second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, selected the handsome Georgian mansion near Embassy Row in Washington, DC as an appropriate residence for a former president.  The Wilsons moved into their new home on March 4, 1921, the day of Warren G. Harding’s inauguration. A few hundred people gathered outside to honor the ex-President, and they gathered again on Armistice Day and Wilson's birthday every year until his death in 1924.

Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia in 1856.  His father was a Presbyterian minister.  The family lived in the South through the Civil War and Reconstruction. Wilson graduated from Princeton in 1879.  He got a law degree from Johns Hopkins and practiced briefly but soon gave that up.  He returned to Johns Hopkins in 1883 and completed his Ph.D. in 1886.  He married Ellen Axson, also the child of a Presbyterian minister, in 1885.  Wilson was teaching political science at Princeton in 1902, when the college trustees unanimously elected him president.  During his nine years as president, he set out to reform the institution, against opposition from many faculty and alumni.  His work as a reformer attracted the attention of the New Jersey Democratic Party.  In 1910, Wilson resigned from Princeton to run for governor of New Jersey, on a platform of moderate progressive reform and opposition to trusts and high tariffs.  Winning by a wide margin, he enacted many reforms.

By 1911, Wilson was already seeking the presidential nomination, but the Democratic National Convention did not nominate him until the 46th ballot.  He campaigned on a program of “New Freedom,” to return the government to the people and control special privileges.  Running against Republican William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, the candidate of the Progressive Party, Wilson won with only 42 percent of the popular vote.

Wilson saw the president as the personal representative of all the people.  During his first term, he succeeded in getting many reform initiatives through Congress.  The Underwood Act lowered tariffs and introduced the first graduated income tax.  The Federal Reserve Act reformed and stabilized the banking system.  The Federal Trade Commission Act outlawed unfair business practices.  Other legislation prohibited child labor, regulated hours of work on the railroads, and established labor’s right to organize and to strike.  On August 25, 1916, President Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service to protect the country’s 35 national parks and monuments.

In foreign affairs, President Wilson continued his predecessors’ policies of intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean, but his main concern was the war that had broken out in Europe in August of 1914.  Although he immediately declared American neutrality, he soon had to face a British blockade of neutral shipping.  The German decision to use its submarines to sink neutral ships without warning, often with great loss of life, was an even more serious challenge.  Although Wilson’s protest temporarily ended the sinkings, American popular opinion began to turn against Germany and its allies. 

Wilson narrowly won reelection in 1916, based on his domestic reform program and his ability to keep the nation out of the war in Europe.  His attempts to persuade Britain and Germany to accept a “peace without victory” in early 1917 were unsuccessful.  When Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare, sinking four American ships, Congress declared war on April 2,1917.  The mobilization of men and supplies that Wilson directed played a critical role in the Allied victory.

The "Fourteen Points" that Wilson articulated as a basis for lasting peace had a strong influence on the armistice that ended the war.  Forced to make compromises at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, he managed to include the creation of a League of Nations as an integral part of the peace treaty.  He saw the League as the place where problems that might grow out of the treaty could be resolved peacefully.  Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919.

When Wilson returned to Washington, DC in the summer of 1919, he presented the treaty to the Senate for ratification.  The Republicans took over control of the Senate in 1918, when the end of the war produced a new wave of isolationist sentiment, but Wilson refused to compromise.  He insisted that the treaty, and the League of Nations at its heart, be accepted without change.  In September, he launched a "whistle-stop" tour to build public support for ratification, against the advice of his doctor.  Wilson was a spellbinding speaker, and some people think he might have succeeded, but on October 2, 1919, he collapsed from a paralytic stroke.  The Versailles Treaty failed in the Senate by seven votes.  It took until the Harding administration to pass a joint congressional resolution formally ending the war.

The year after the death of his first wife in 1914, Wilson married widow, Edith Bolling Galt. Some historians call her "the first female president of the United States" for the role she played in hiding the effects of her husband’s disabling illness from the public during his last year and a half in office.  She began searching for a permanent residence in Washington in 1920.  Delighted with a handsome five-year old Georgian mansion she found at 2340 S Street NW, she informed her husband that it would make an ideal retirement home.  On December 14, Wilson surprised his wife by presenting her with the deed.  Before moving in, the Wilsons made a number of changes to accommodate Wilson’s condition.  They installed an elevator to make it easier for him to move around and created a terrace off the second-floor dining room, so that Wilson could walk outside without having to negotiate steps.  They also added a billiard room and enlarged the library to accommodate his 8,000 books. Wilson spent his three remaining years in partial seclusion, cared for by his wife and servants. Except for a daily automobile ride and a weekly visit to the movies, he rarely left home or received guests.  On Armistice Day in 1923, he spoke to more than 20,000 well-wishers who came to the house to honor him, still affirming the principles in which he believed. It was his last public appearance.  He died three months later in his upstairs bedroom.

Wilson’s widow donated the S Street house and many of its furnishings to the National Trust for Historic Preservation but continued to live in the house until her death in 1961.  The Trust opened it to the public in 1963.  Today, visitors can see the three-story, red brick neo-Georgian house, as it was when Wilson lived there. The front door opens to a marble-floored entrance hall and stairway, flanked by the kitchen, servants' dining room, and billiard room.  The main public spaces, a drawing room facing S Street, library, dining room, and solarium overlooking the garden, are on the second floor. The third floor contains five bedrooms.  Original furnishings include portraits, books, autographed photographs of world leaders, commemorative china, and Bolling family furniture.  The library holds the leather chair Wilson used at Cabinet meetings and numerous personal effects. The Bible on which he took the oath of office as governor and as president is on display in the drawing room.  Radios, silent movies, dresses, and personal items reflect the Wilsons’ day-to-day lives.

The Woodrow Wilson House at 2340 S St., NW Washington, DC. has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.  The house is open Tuesday-Sunday from 10:00am to 4:00pm and closed on major holidays. An entrance fee is charged. For more information visit the National Trust for Historic Preservation Woodrow Wilson House website or call 202-387-4062.

The site is the subject of an online lesson plan, Woodrow Wilson: Prophet of Peace.  The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page. The Woodrow Wilson House has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. The Woodrow Wilson House is featured in the National Park Service Washington, DC Travel Itinerary.

The Woodrow Wilson Birthplace is featured in the National Park Service Virginia Main Street Communities Travel Itinerary. The Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home is featured in the National Park Service's Augusta, GA Travel Itinerary.


Woodrow Wilson Birthplace, excerpted from Virginia Main Street Communities Travel Itinerary

Thomas Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States, was born in this Greek Revival manse in 1856. Built in 1846 to house the pastors of Staunton's First Presbyterian Church, the manse's second occupants were Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, Wilson's parents, who moved here in 1855. Although his family left Staunton while he was still a baby, it was in this forthright dwelling that the seeds of Wilson's firm moral and intellectual training were planted. He carried these precepts into his adult life as a professor, president of Princeton University, governor of New Jersey and finally president of the United States. Wilson conceived the League of Nations, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919. The manse was acquired by the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace Foundation in 1938 and was dedicated as a museum by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941.

The Woodrow Wilson Birthplace, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 24 North Coalter St. in Staunton, VA. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. It is open March-October, Monday-Saturday from 9:00am to 5:00pm, and Sundays 12:00pm to 5:00pm; from November-February Monday-Saturday from 10:00am to 4:00pm, and Sundays 12:00pm to 4:00pm.. It is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. There is a fee. Please call the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library 540-885-0897, or toll free 1-888-496-6376, or visit the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library website for further information.

Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home,excerpted from the Augusta, Georgia Travel Itinerary

Although he is generally associated with Princeton University and the governorship of New Jersey prior to becoming President of the United States, Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in Virginia and spent 13 childhood years in Augusta, Georgia.  The son of Joseph Ruggles Wilson, a Presbyterian minister, he moved with his parents and two sisters  to Augusta in 1858, when his father was installed as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church.  The future president, then known as “Tommy,” had just turned one when the Wilsons moved to Augusta. His younger brother was born while they lived in Augusta.

In 1860, the church offered Reverend Wilson a raise and a comfortable new house as incentives to remain.  The salary increased from an above average $2,500 to a generous $3,000 per annum.  The church purchased the house for $10,000.  The Classical Revival 2½-story brick home had conveniences of the day, including gas lighting and running water.  The church justified this purchase by explaining its goal of making the pastor and his family so comfortable in this temporal life that his only earthly concern would be the care of his congregants’ souls.

The Wilson family remained in Augusta until the fall of 1870 when Tommy was nearly 14. Wilson suggested in a speech in 1909 that his earliest memory was standing at the front gate and hearing someone pass by exclaiming that Abraham Lincoln had been elected, and there would be war.  He also remembered wounded and dying soldiers, when his father’s churchyard had been confiscated by the Confederate government to use as a hospital.  Joseph Wilson, originally from Ohio, defended slavery in a widely distributed sermon and served as Chaplain in the Confederate Army.  Young Tommy Wilson witnessed Jefferson Davis being brought under guard through the streets of Augusta after his capture. 

While living in the house, Wilson formed the Lightfoot Baseball Club with friends and served as its president.  He wrote a constitution and bylaws and conducted the meetings according to Parliamentary Procedure in the carriage house.  This started his lifelong fascination with governing and political science, culminating in the U.S. Presidency and formation of the League of Nations.

The Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home is located at 419 7th St. within the boundaries of the Augusta Downtown Historic District. It is owned and operated by Historic Augusta, Inc. and is open for tours, Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00am to 5:00pm.  An admission fee is charged. Groups by appointment. Call 706-722-9828.  For additional information, visit Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home. The home has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.

Warren G. Harding (1921- August 1923)
Warren G. Harding Home, Ohio

Warren G. Harding, the 29th president of the United States, built this substantial frame house in Marion, Ohio in 1890 and made it his permanent home until his election as president in 1920.  These years spanned his rise from small-town newspaperman through his six years of service in the United States Senate.  Harding won an overwhelming victory in 1920 based on a vague pledge to return America to “normalcy” after the tensions of World War I and its succeeding depression.  A conservative Republican, usually content to follow the advice of party leaders, Harding signed measures that ended wartime economic controls, cut taxes, re-imposed high protective tariffs, and strictly limited immigration.  In foreign affairs, he worked with his able secretary of state to gain an international agreement to limit naval armaments.  A handsome and affable man who was always loyal to his friends, Harding paid a high price when some of his appointees turned out to be corrupt; however, he died of a heart attack in August 1923, before the full extent of the scandals broke.

Born in 1865 on a farm near Corsica, a small town in north-central Ohio, Warren G. Harding was the eldest of eight children. He graduated from Ohio Central College in 1882, working odd jobs to support himself and editing the school newspaper.  Harding moved to Marion in 1882, which would be his home for the rest of his life.  After short periods as teacher, law student, and insurance salesman, he went to work as a reporter at a weekly newspaper.  In 1884, he and two partners purchased for $300 the Marion Star, a failing four-page weekly. Harding bought out his associates, turned the paper into a daily, and became a successful publisher and prominent citizen.

In 1890, Harding and Florence Kling DeWolfe designed the home on Mount Vernon Avenue and arranged for its construction, in anticipation of their marriage, which took place in the large front hallway of the completed house in July 1891.  Florence Kling DeWolfe was the daughter of a local banker. The comfortable two and one-half story Queen Anne house, with its dark green siding and cream trim, demonstrated Harding’s solid middle-class status.  The first floor contains a parlor, library, dining room, and the large front hall where William and Florence Harding’s wedding took place.  The master bedroom, two other bedrooms, a maid's room, and a bathroom were on the second floor. Almost all of the interior woodwork is oak.  Harding became seriously interested in politics shortly after his marriage.

Harding rose steadily in the State Republican Party and attracted the attention of Ohio politician-lobbyist Harry M. Daugherty.  He served in the State senate for four years.  From 1904 to 1906, he was lieutenant governor, but lost when he ran for governor in 1910.  Elected to the United States Senate in 1914, he served there until 1921.  When the principal contenders for the 1920 Republican presidential nomination deadlocked, party leaders picked Harding as the compromise candidate. During the campaign, which Daugherty managed, Harding spoke to thousands of people from the wide Colonial Revival front porch of his home.  He was famous as an orator, with a powerful, expressive voice.  So many people came to hear him that the family had to replace the front lawn with gravel.

Harding announced that what America wanted was “not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not agitation, but adjustment; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.”  His “Return to Normalcy” platform proved extremely popular with a people just recovering from the dislocations of World War I and the postwar depression.  In November, Harding and running mate Calvin Coolidge overwhelmed Democrat James M. Cox with more than 60 percent of the popular vote.  At the time, this was the largest majority any presidential candidate had ever received.

Harding’s position on the League of Nations was ambiguous during the campaign, but he took his election as a mandate against U.S. membership.  He signed separate peace treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary, formally ending World War I for the United States. President Harding hosted the 1921-22 Washington Naval Conference.  Five of the major powers in attendance—the United States, Great Britain, Japan, Italy, and France—agreed to limit naval armaments.  The conference also internationalized existing territorial claims in the Pacific, guaranteed China’s territorial integrity and independence, and reaffirmed the "Open Door" trading policy.   Harding also achieved international agreement to outlaw gas warfare.

In domestic policy, he left many decisions to his cabinet officers.  Republican leaders in Congress easily got his approval for bills eliminating wartime controls; reducing taxes, especially those on business; creating a federal budget process; restoring the high protective tariff; and limiting immigration.

Harding was popular for his foreign policies and for his success in restoring prosperity, but by 1923 he was facing increasing problems.  He lost effective control of Congress in the midterm elections of 1922.  More importantly, persistent rumors of corruption in his administration began to circulate.  They centered on the Veterans' Bureau, the Office of Alien Property Custodian (both under his friend, Attorney General Daugherty), and the Department of the Interior.  Eventually Interior Secretary Albert B. Fall went to jail for accepting bribes in exchange for leasing naval oil reserves on public land at Teapot Dome, Wyoming (infamously known as the Teapot Dome Scandal) and Elk Hills, California to private interests.  Fall was the first cabinet member ever to go to prison.

Fortunately for Harding, this did not happen until 1931.  Having learned about corruption in his administration before his death, he did not live to see the full extent of the scandals become public knowledge.  Returning from a trip to Alaska, Harding died of a heart attack in San Francisco on August 2, 1923.

Harding’s widow moved back to Marion but never again lived in their house. She survived her husband by only a little more than a year.  She willed the house and its furnishings to the Harding Memorial Association, which later opened some of the rooms to the public.  The foundation donated the site to the State of Ohio in 1978; the Ohio Historical Society manages it on behalf of the State.  Many pieces of Harding furniture and possessions are on display in the house.  The small white clapboard building behind the house that served as press headquarters during the 1920 campaign is now a museum dedicated to the lives of President and Mrs. Harding.  A portable tin voting booth, used during the 1920 election to encourage voter turnout, sits next to the press building.

The Warren G. Harding Home, located at 380 Mount Vernon Ave. in Marion, OH has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. The Harding Home is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Wednesday-Sunday 12:00pm to 5:00pm. In September and October the home is open on the weekends from 12:00pm to 5:00pm. In November through May tours are available by advance appointment. An admission fee is charged: Adults $7, Seniors (60+) $6, Students (12-17) $4, Children (6-11) $3. Some discounts are available. For more information visit the Ohio Historical Society Harding Home website or call 800-600-6894.

Visitors also can see the impressive white Georgian marble tomb that holds the remains of President and Mrs. Harding, located two miles from their home at the corner of State Rte. 423 and Vernon Heights Blvd.


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Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
Calvin Coolidge Homestead District (President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site), Vermont

At 2:47am on August 3, 1923, Vice President Calvin Coolidge became the 30th president of the United States when he took the oath of office in the sitting room of this modest frame and clapboard farmhouse.  President Harding had died only a few hours earlier.  Coolidge’s father, a notary public, administered the oath by the light of a kerosene lamp; he refused to install such modern conveniences as electricity.  Located in the tiny community of Plymouth Notch in the beautiful hill country of Vermont, the house where he took the oath of office was also Calvin Coolidge’s boyhood home. Although he spent most of his adult life in Northampton, Massachusetts, Coolidge often returned to the old homestead to visit his family.  He never lost his fondness for Vermont and its people.  Famous for his honesty, thrift, and taciturnity, “Silent Cal” restored confidence in government after the Harding scandals and symbolized stability during a period of rapid, disorienting social change.  The Calvin Coolidge Homestead District at Plymouth Notch preserves many of the historic buildings that Coolidge knew in his youth: his birthplace, his boyhood home, the church that he attended, the homes of relatives and family friends, and the hall above his father’s old store, which he used as his office during the summer of 1924 and others.  Coolidge and his wife lie amid seven generations of Coolidges in the town cemetery.

In 1872, John Calvin Coolidge (his family called him Calvin or “Cal”) was born in a house attached to his father's general store. In 1876, his father, "Colonel" John Coolidge, purchased the homestead across the street, a simple, one and one-half story farmhouse connected to a barn in the typical New England “big house, little house, backhouse, barn” configuration. He repaired the house, bought some new furniture, and added a front porch and  two-story bay windows, but made few other changes.

Today, a formal parlor, the most elaborate room in the house, used only on special occasions, contains the black walnut, horsehair-covered furniture Colonel Coolidge purchased in 1876, as well as the original rug, lace curtains, and cast-iron stove. The sitting room, known as the "Oath of Office Room," displays the table, Bible, and kerosene lamp used in the inauguration. President and Mrs. Coolidge occupied a second floor bedroom during their many visits.  Because the upper floor is not open to the public, the State of Vermont moved their furniture down to one of the first floor rooms. The kitchen, which opens off the front porch, contains the original cast-iron wood stove and a table set for four.

Calvin lived at the homestead until 1887, when he went away to school.  In 1895, he graduated with honors from Amherst College in Massachusetts.  He then moved to nearby Northampton to study law.  Northampton would be his home for the rest of his life. After admittance to the bar in 1897, he established his law practice and soon became involved in local politics.

Coolidge began a steady rise in the State Republican Party in 1899.  He started as city councilman in Northampton and ended as mayor.  He later served in both houses of the Massachusetts State Legislature.  From 1916 to 1919, he held the positions of lieutenant governor and governor of Massachusetts.

Coolidge gained national attention during the Boston police strike of 1919. When the strike resulted in a day and two nights of rioting, Governor Coolidge ordered the National Guard to Boston to restore order.  In a famous letter, he told Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, that there was “no right to strike against public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime.”  His firm position made him popular with many people, and the Republican National Convention selected him as running mate for Warren G. Harding in 1920.  The Harding-Coolidge ticket won the election by a comfortable majority. 

Coolidge’s actions as president and his reputation for personal honesty went a long way toward restoring public confidence in the government and the Republican Party.  He encouraged prosecution of those involved in the scandals of the Harding administration.  He stood for traditional moral principles at a time when those values seemed under attack.  Running for reelection in his own right in 1924, he promised a continuation of "Coolidge prosperity." He captured more than 54 percent of the popular vote defeating Democrat John W. Davis and Progressive Robert M. La Follette.

President Coolidge was a traditional conservative Republican in his domestic policy, committed to maintaining the status quo.  He proposed little new legislation to Congress and opposed Federal programs that he saw as threats to individual freedom and initiative.  He vetoed a proposed Federal power project on the Tennessee River; reduced the number of antitrust suits; blocked plans to subsidize farmers, who had been in a deep agricultural depression since 1920; and advocated tax cuts, governmental economy, and high protective tariffs. In 1924, he signed an immigration bill that set strict quotas favoring immigrants from Northern Europe.  In foreign affairs, his administration’s most important achievement was the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, a multinational agreement to outlaw war, largely negotiated by Frank Kellogg, his secretary of state.  Otherwise, Coolidge opposed international agreements.

Coolidge was extremely shy as a child and a reluctant conversationalist as an adult.  His popular wife, Grace, whom he married in 1905, was an asset to him. The sudden death of his younger son from an infected blister on his heel in 1924 brought him much sympathy.  Coolidge was the last president to hold White House receptions open to the general public.  Oddly enough, he did not seem to mind posing for photographs with a variety of visiting groups, delivering speeches, and receiving scores of delegations.

Despite his popularity, Coolidge chose not to run for reelection in 1928.  He retired to Northampton the next year—before Wall Street’s “Black Thursday” ushered in the Great Depression.  In retirement, he published his autobiography and wrote newspaper articles.   In 1933, he died suddenly in Northampton at the age of 60.

Calvin Coolidge willed the homestead to his surviving son, John.  In 1956, John donated the house and all its furnishings to the State of Vermont, at his mother’s suggestion. The State dedicated the building as a historic shrine and opened it to the public the following year.  Today, it appears almost exactly as it did on the night of the inauguration.  The historic district, which is at the center of the village of Plymouth Notch, contains a number of buildings associated with Coolidge and the 19th-century rural Vermont setting that he knew and loved.  Visitors may tour the Cilley General Store, the Post Office, the Wilder Restaurant (serving lunch), the church, several barns displaying farming tools of the era, the dance hall that served as the summer white house office.  In addition, visitors may tour the Plymouth Cheese Factory- established by the president's father-and sample the granular curd cheese produced there.

The Calvin Coolidge Homestead District has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.  The State of Vermont administers the Homestead District as the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site.  The historic site is open daily from late May until mid October, from 9:30am to 5:00pm. Visits should begin at the Visitor Center.  An admission fee is charged.  The Calvin Coolidge Visitor Center is located at 3780 Rte. 100A in Plymouth, VT. The Aldrich House, the site's office, is located at 249 Coolidge Memorial Rd. It is open weekdays year-round and has exhibits especially designed for winter visitors. For more information visit the President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site website or call 802-672-3773.  The Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation, located in the Union Christian Church in Plymouth Notch, has a website that provides additional information on Calvin Coolidge, his wife, and the homestead.

Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, Iowa

"My grandparents and my parents came here in a covered wagon. In this community they toiled and worshipped God. They lie buried on your hillside. The most formative years of my boyhood were spent here. My roots are in this soil. This cottage where I was born is physical proof of the unbounded opportunity of American life." -Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover, mining engineer, humanitarian, statesman, and 31st president of the United States, was born August 10, 1874 in a simple two-room cottage in West Branch, Iowa that is now a part of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. His Quaker family helped settle the town, and their principles of honesty, hard work, simplicity, and generosity guided Hoover throughout his life of service to the nation and the world.


Growing up in West Branch, Herbert saw his parents and other family members in leadership roles, which instilled in him a drive to become a leader and a success. He was influenced greatly by the Quaker belief in the equality of all people, regardless of race, gender, or creed, as illustrated by equality within the Quaker community and exemplified by his own remarkable relief efforts. Herbert's experiences as an orphan at an early age left a lasting impression on him. That impression led him to help children throughout his life.

Herbert Hoover, his wife Lou Henry Hoover, and their family shaped this presidential memorial area to present a fuller picture of Hoover's life. The park's memorial landscape and its elements symbolize American ideals of religion, education, hard work, community, and entrepreneurship as Herbert Hoover saw them and lived them. Rather than fully recreate the setting of his youth, the landscape and historic furnishings are an effort to commemorate and celebrate Herbert Hoover’s accomplishments and ideals. They reflect the wishes and the direct involvement of the Hoover family, especially Lou Henry Hoover, as they expressed them during the park’s development from 1935 to 1966. Four historic buildings-- the Birthplace Cottage, the Blacksmith Shop, the Schoolhouse, and the Friends Meetinghouse-- tell the story of Hoover's West Branch childhood. As additions to the historic landscape of Herbert's early years, the Gravesite, the Statue of Isis, and the Presidential Library and Museum connect his childhood to his later accomplishments.

The Great Depression began with the stock market crash in October 1929, soon after Hoover became president.  Committed to individualism and opposed to direct Federal intervention, he hoped at first that local governments and traditional charitable organizations could solve the problems that arose.  When the massive unemployment and poverty of the 1930s overwhelmed the political system, public opinion soon transformed this internationally famous humanitarian into “the man with ice water in his veins.”  Although Hoover did more than any previous president to relieve economic distress, he became the scapegoat for the Depression.  In the presidential election of 1932, he met overwhelming defeat at the hands of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Herbert Hoover’s father, Jesse, built the birthplace cottage in 1871.  There were two main rooms in the one-story, board-and-batten house.  The first was a combined living room, kitchen, and dining room; the second was the bedroom.  Herbert and his older brother shared the trundle bed kept under their parents’ bed during the day.  The partially enclosed back porch served as a summer kitchen or spare bedroom.

Jesse Hoover was a young, up-and-coming blacksmith.  The Hoovers lived in the cottage until 1879, when they moved to a larger home a short distance away.  Jesse sold his blacksmith shop and bought a larger store where he sold pumps, wagons, barbed wire, and sewing machines.  A heart attack cut short his promising career in 1880; he was 34.  For four years, Jesse’s widow, Hulda struggled to support her young family by taking in sewing.  She also accepted help from her relatives and from other members of the Quaker community.  The Quaker Meetinghouse was at the center of West Branch in the late 19th century, and Herbert’s mother often spoke at meeting.  In 1884, Hulda died of typhoid fever, leaving her three young children orphans.  The three siblings were separated and sent to live with different relatives.

In 1885, Herbert left West Branch to live with his uncle, Dr. Henry J. Minthorn, a physician and businessman, in Oregon. His brother and sister joined him there three years later.  His uncle oversaw his schooling and later hired him as an office boy. Herbert learned to type and to keep books and attended business school at night. In 1895, he graduated from Stanford University, with a degree in geology. To support himself through school and the years immediately following, he worked as a surveyor and for a mining engineering firm.  Early in 1899, Herbert returned to California and married his university sweetheart, Lou Henry.

The couple sailed the next day for China, where Herbert had taken a job as mining engineer-consultant to the Chinese Government.  For the next two decades, the Hoovers shared an adventurous life on several continents, as Herbert gained an international reputation for developing mines and managing other industrial projects.  From 1908 to 1914, Hoover operated his own international consulting business as a “doctor of sick mines.”  By the age of 40, he was a multimillionaire.

When President Coolidge refused to run again in 1928, the Republican National Convention nominated Hoover.  His service as secretary of commerce in the Harding and Coolidge administrations and his humanitarian work during and after World War I made him a highly respected figure.  He decisively defeated Democrat Alfred E. Smith in his first elected public office.  Hoover pledged to continue the prosperity of the 1920s, but he also predicted that "should conditions [arise] with which the political machinery is unable to cope, I will be the one to suffer."

On October 29, 1929, the stock market collapsed, triggering the worst depression the United States has ever known.  With no clear guidance from economists on how to deal with the unprecedented hardship, Hoover was torn between two clashing ideals.  Individualism suggested that local communities and private charities, like the ones he had worked with between the wars, should provide relief, but humanitarianism said that people must not suffer.

President Hoover’s administration took more direct action to end the Depression than any previous one had done in such times.  He created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to aid businesses, help farmers facing foreclosures, reform banking, and feed the unemployed.  He rejected direct subsidy payments to farmers and instead sought to stabilize prices through agricultural cooperatives. To prevent further decline, Hoover asked labor to hold down wages and industry to maintain payrolls and production voluntarily. He called on Congress to balance the Federal budget, but also urged it to cut taxes and increase public building programs.  At a personal level, he anonymously gave away $25,000 of his own money every year to help victims of the Depression.

After Hoover’s defeat by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, the Hoovers divided their time between New York City and their house in Palo Alto, California.  Hoover continued to criticize the New Deal, which he considered “statism,” and briefly considered running for president again in 1936 and 1940.  President Truman asked him to help the hungry people of Europe after World War II by organizing the program to distribute food to them. Under Presidents Truman and Eisenhower, Hoover also chaired commissions to consider reorganizing and improving the efficiency of the executive branch of the Federal government. Herbert Hoover died October 20, 1964, at the age of 90.  He lies next to his wife on a hillside overlooking the cottage where he was born. The marble gravestones are in keeping with the Quaker ideal of simplicity.

Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located at 110 Parkside Dr., West Branch, IA. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. The Visitor Center, Birthplace Cottage, Blacksmith Shop, Schoolhouse, Friends Meetinghouse, and the Presidential Library and Museum are open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm, except on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years Day. The grounds of the historic site are open 24 hours. Visit the National Park Service Herbert Hoover National Historic Site website for more information to help plan a visit, learn more about Herbert Hoover and his family, find photographs, take a virtual tour, or to download teacher materials. Call 319-643-2541 for additional information. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library & Museum sits on the grounds of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.

The site is the subject of an online lesson plan, Herbert Hoover: Iowa Farm Boy and World Humanitarian.  The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page. Both the Herbert Hoover Birthplace House  and the Quaker Meetinghouse have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.


President Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover's Rapidan Camp, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States, bought the land for his summer weekend retreat in 1929, during the first peaceful days of his administration.  The camp provided Hoover and his wife much needed rest and recreation during the later difficult years, after the stock market crash in October 1929 signaled the beginning of the worst depression the nation had ever known.  Secluded among the hemlocks on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, the 164-acre property was on the site where two small streams merged to form the Rapidan River.  The 13 rustic cabins that made up the compound were nestled into a natural mountain setting enhanced by rock gardens, waterfalls, and other stone structures.  Here the Hoovers entertained family members, friends, Cabinet officers, and politicians for relaxing weekends of hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and conversation.  Hoover also used the camp as an informal setting for planning sessions with his Cabinet and for private meetings with representatives of foreign governments.  White House physician, Joel Boone, recalled that the Rapidan Camp was “one of the most relaxing places that I have ever known.”

After World War I, the work of being president expanded dramatically and extended summer vacations away from Washington, DC became impossible.  President Calvin Coolidge recommended that the government provide a “Summer White House” not too far away, where chief executives could spend the weekends in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.  The Hoovers visited Virginia in mid-January 1929 and settled on the Rapidan site by April.  It was a three to three-and-one-half-hour drive from the city; the fresh mountain air was a pleasant relief from Washington’s heat and humidity; and the river offered excellent fishing, one of Hoover’s favorite pastimes. The Hoovers paid for the land and the building supplies for the camp. They originally brought some of the furnishings from the former presidential yacht to the camp and then augmented with their own purchases.

Against Hoover's initial thoughts, he allowed the Marines to build the camp as part of their training regimen. The Hoovers kept meticulous detail of their expenditures because there was negative press about the government paying for his summer retreat. There was constant building and many changes during the four year period that the Hoovers occupied the camp. The Federal Government did not own the camp or anything in it until the final condemnation proceedings were settled to establish Shenandoah National Park. Hoover donated the camp by not taking money for its value. In a letter Herbert Hoover asked that future presidents be allowed to use the camp as a summer White House. They bought the land with the understanding that it would eventually become part of Shenandoah National Park, which was then in the planning stage.  The Hoovers owned the land and their own personal furnishings; the buildings, roads, and utilities, which the Marine Corps constructed between 1929 and 1932, belonged to the Federal Government.  The Marine engineer in charge later said that building this camp on its rocky, forested site was one of the hardest jobs of his 25-year career.

Rapidan Camp was the first complex specifically designed as a presidential retreat.  It eventually consisted of 13 buildings connected by a network of paths and stone or wood bridges designed to blend with the natural landscape.  Lou Henry Hoover hired the architect and told him exactly what she wanted. The buildings consisted of sleeping cabins for guests and servants, public spaces, and workspaces.  The centerpiece was the “The Brown House” (facetiously compared with Hoover’s other, “White” house) or “President’s” cabin, located where Mill Prong and Laurel Prong joined to form the Rapidan.  The buildings were simple one-story, gable-roofed, brown-stained frame cabins with many windows, usually consisting only of bedrooms, bathrooms, and porches.  According to signs posted in the cabins, the “Town Hall” was the “the place of general meeting for anything from Executive Committee Meeting to ping pong and knitting.”  Guests ate hearty country breakfasts and dinners at the “Mess Hall;” lunches often took place outside.  Workspaces included the Secret Service “Duty Station” cabin and “The Slums,” which was, in fact, a perfectly comfortable cabin housing Lou Henry Hoover’s secretaries.  Dormitories for the mess servants were across the main access road.  Separate compounds for the Marines who operated and maintained the camp and for visiting Cabinet members were within walking distance.

The camp served as a much-needed retreat for the president during the tumultuous first years of the Great Depression.  White House Physician Boone felt that Rapidan Camp played an important role in maintaining Hoover’s health.  He recalled that, "The president could recuperate from fatigue faster than anybody I have ever known.  As he had tremendous powers of concentration, he had tremendous power of relaxation once he surrendered himself to taking periods to relax and rest mentally and physically."

The Hoovers were very social and rarely came to Rapidan Camp alone.  The guest-register reads like a "Who's Who" of the era, including such notables as Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Mrs. Thomas A. Edison, the Edsel Fords, Henry Luce, and Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.  According to humorist Will Rogers, Lindbergh was one of the guests Hoover recruited to build dams along Mill Prong to form pools for trout.

Rapidan Camp also served as a site for meetings where Hoover and his associates could discuss national and international policy with few interruptions.  It was never cut off from public business.  There were telephones in the Secret Service “Duty Office” and in the president’s cabin.  Every day an airplane dropped mail and the daily newspapers at the Marine Compound; Hoover got his papers while he was still in bed.  In October 1929, British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and his daughter spent a week at Rapidan Camp.  During their stay, Hoover and MacDonald held private discussions in preparation for a conference on limiting naval armaments to take place in London the following year.  A persistent, if probably apocryphal story tells that they dismantled the navies of the world while perched at opposite ends of a fallen tree trunk.  The tree trunk has never been located.  During the summer of 1931, as he worked on a balanced Federal budget, Herbert Hoover summoned four of his department heads, one by one, to a series of weekend meetings at the camp.  Members of the press, whose relationship with Hoover was generally hostile, were not welcome.

The Hoovers donated Rapidan Camp to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1932 for use as a summer retreat for subsequent presidents; in December 1935, it officially became part of Shenandoah National Park.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the camp, but did not stay there because its rugged terrain was too difficult for him to navigate.  He eventually established his own retreat at what is now Camp David in the Catoctin Mountains in Maryland.  The Boy Scouts of America leased Rapidan Camp from 1948 through 1958.  The National Park Service tore down all but three of the buildings in 1959.  The last president to use the camp was Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s.

Three of Rapidan Camp's original buildings still stand: "The Brown House;" "The Prime Minister," cabin where Ramsey MacDonald stayed; and "The Creel." Many of the trails, man-made bridges, fountains, trout pools, and other landscape features also survive. Markers indicate the locations of buildings that no longer exist. The National Park Service restored the exteriors of "The Brown House" and "The Prime Minister" cabin to their appearance in 1932. The restored interior of "The Brown House" and the museum inside "The Prime Minister" cabin are open during ranger-led tours.

Rapidan Camp is located within the central district of Shenandoah National Park, a unit of the National Park System, which follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Front Royal, VA, in the north, to Rockfish Gap in the south.  Park headquarters are located at 3655 U.S. Highway 211 East, Luray, VA. The camp, under the name of Camp Hoover, has also been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic  Landmark registration file: text and photos.  During the summer months, ranger-led tours of the camp are available, leaving from the Harry F. Byrd Visitor Center; tours are also sometimes given at other times. Visit the National Park Service Rapidan Camp website for directions, current schedules, and information on park programs or call 540-999-3283.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933- April 1945)
Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, New York

"All that is within me cries out to go back to my home on the Hudson River"-FDR

For Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, Springwood, the family estate on the Hudson River in Hyde Park, New York, was “home” throughout his busy life.  On this estate, the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, he was born in 1882, spent his youth, and lies buried.  On the eve of several elections in which he ran, Roosevelt waited on the terrace to greet the torchlight parade of his friends and neighbors that made its way up the long driveway to wish him well.  He gave the house and grounds to the United States, and they remain largely unchanged since his death.  The house is still full of his personality.  His boyhood collection of stuffed birds is in the hall.  The bedroom that he used as president, with its beautiful view across the lawn down to the river, is as he left it in March 1945, shortly before his death.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR to most Americans) carried the nation through two of the greatest crises in its history: the Great Depression and World War II.  The child of a wealthy family and only son of a doting mother became the champion of the common man.  Uncomfortable with theory, he was willing to try any policies that might help deal with the nation’s problems.  The Supreme Court declared some of these, such as the National Recovery Act, unconstitutional, but many, like Social Security, became permanent parts of the American political system.  He found ways to share with Americans, during the darkest days of the 1930s and 1940s, the unshakable optimism and strength of character that helped him overcome the polio that paralyzed his legs.  Hated by some, but loved by many, he served as president for an unprecedented 12 years, breaking the two-term tradition George Washington established.  When he died, on April 12, 1945, it was like a death in the family for millions of Americans.

The original home at Hyde Park dated from around the turn of the 18th century.  James Roosevelt, Franklin’s father, purchased the 110-acre estate in 1867, naming it Springwood.  The Roosevelts were wealthy and prominent members of New York society.  James made a number of additions to the house, though it was never as grand as the neighboring Vanderbilt mansion.

Born at Springwood in 1882, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only child from his father's second marriage to Sara Delano. The Roosevelts had a house in New York City and summered on Campobello Island in Canada, but loved their peaceful home overlooking the Hudson River.  Educated by private tutors as a child, Franklin left home at the age of 14 to attend preparatory school.  He graduated from Harvard in 1904 and married his distant cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt, the following year.  Sara Roosevelt, who inherited Springwood on the death of her husband in 1900, invited the couple to come live with her.

Although Roosevelt had no need to support himself, he soon became interested in a career in politics, probably inspired by his cousin Theodore.  He won election to the State senate in 1910 as a Democrat. Reelected in 1912, he supported Woodrow Wilson's presidential candidacy at the national convention.  In 1913, President Wilson rewarded him by appointing him assistant secretary of the navy.

In 1915, Franklin and his mother made the last and most significant changes to the Springwood house, enlarging it and giving it a new look.  They transformed it from simple clapboard farmhouse in the Federal style to a grand stucco-and-fieldstone mansion in the Colonial Revival style that Roosevelt loved.  They upgraded the plumbing and electrical systems and added new wings to house Franklin and Eleanor’s growing family.  A new formal terrace with a balustrade and an entrance portico disguised the piecemeal construction process. FDR and Sara added the north wing to the house and enlarged the south wing. They also added a third floor.

Roosevelt’s run as the vice presidential candidate in James M. Cox’s unsuccessful presidential campaign gained him national recognition, but tragedy struck the following year.  While vacationing on Campobello Island, Franklin Roosevelt fell ill with polio; he would never again walk unaided.  The support of his family and his own reserves of inner strength helped him through a long recovery.  As usual, Roosevelt sought refuge at Springwood, where his strength slowly returned.  His mother thought he should retire, but his wife worked tirelessly to help him keep his political career alive.

Roosevelt regained the national spotlight first in 1924, with his “Happy Warrior” speech nominating Al Smith at the Democratic National Convention.  Elected governor of New York in 1928, he soon gained attention as a reformer.  In 1932, as the Depression was deepening, Roosevelt won the Democratic presidential nomination. Delivering an unprecedented acceptance speech at the convention, he pledged a "New Deal" of relief, recovery, and reform.  Roosevelt swept the nation.

During the four months between Roosevelt's election and his inauguration, the Depression worsened. Industrial production plummeted; the pace of factory closings accelerated; unemployment soared; breadlines lengthened; and runs on the banks by panicking depositors brought the banking system close to collapse.  Roosevelt immediately summoned Congress into an emergency session.  Legislation passed during his first "100 Days" was far-reaching in scope and significance, a sweeping program to bring recovery and relief to business and agriculture, to the unemployed, and to those in danger of losing farms and homes. In a series of radio "fireside chats" (two of which were broadcast from the Presidential Library at Springwood), Roosevelt reached into the homes of Americans across the country explaining programs and policy and providing hope for the future.

The New Deal did not win the favor of everyone.  Many businessmen and bankers saw Roosevelt's programs as "socialistic" and a danger to capitalism and democracy. The Supreme Court declared some key pieces of New Deal legislation unconstitutional. Roosevelt easily won re-election in 1936, but weakening support in Congress, partisan conflict, labor unrest, and an unexpected economic downturn in 1937 took much of the impetus out of the New Deal. The nation did not fully recover from the Depression until the approach of World War II set off an unprecedented employment boom.

By the end of his second term, the worsening international situation became Roosevelt’s primary concern.  He grew increasingly concerned about the aggressive policies pursued by Adolf Hitler in Germany, Benito Mussolini in Italy, and militarist leaders in Japan.  Although neutrality legislation passed during the 1930s inhibited his freedom of action, he recognized the need for military preparedness.  Many Americans were isolationists and opposed intervention even after Hitler invaded Poland in the fall of 1939, beginning the Second World War. It was not until 1940 when France fell and Great Britain stood alone against the Nazis that Roosevelt was able to launch an improvised “lend-lease” program to provide direct assistance to the Allies.  Convinced that maintaining continuity in government was critical, Roosevelt reluctantly decided to run for an unprecedented third term, defeating Republican Wendell Willkie by 5 million votes.

The surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, put an end to isolationism.  Within days, the United States declared war on the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan.  As they had been during the Depression, Roosevelt’s optimism and confidence were critical during the darkest days of the war.  He mobilized the nation, defined war aims, and conferred with the leaders of the Allied states, most notably Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.  He began work on the creation of the United Nations, which he saw as the only way to prevent future world wars.  In 1944, he was ill and weary of war, but decided he had no choice but to run again for president.  Inaugurated to a fourth term in January, he served only a few months, dying of a cerebral hemorrhage at Warm Springs, Georgia in April.  The nation mourned his passing.  As he had requested, his body came home for burial.  His grave and that of his wife lie in the Rose Garden at Springwood. 

Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located at 4097 Albany Post Rd., Hyde Park, NY.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos.  The park is open daily year-round, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. The grounds are free and open to the public dawn to dusk. Buildings are open from 9:00am to 5:00pm. The Historic Site contains the Springwood house, numerous historic outbuildings, and the Presidential Library and Museum, created by Roosevelt before his death and operated by the National Archives.   Visitors should begin at the Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center, where they can arrange for self-guided tours of the Presidential Library and Museum and ranger-led tours of the historic house. Visitors should plan to spend a minimum of 2 1/2 hours.  Tours to Top Cottage, Franklin Roosevelt’s personal retreat, depart by shuttle from the Visitor and Education Center and last 1 1/2 hours.  For more information, go to the National Park Service Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site website or call 1-800-FDR-VISIT. Eleanor Roosevelt’s Val-kill Cottage, the first National Historic Site dedicated to a first lady, is 2 miles east of Springwood.

The home is the subject of an online lesson plan, Springwood: Birthplace and Home to Franklin D. Roosevelt. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page. The National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey has documented the Springwood house, as well as the Icehouse and the Superintendent's Cottage. Visit the National Park Service Virtual Museum Exhibit on Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


Roosevelt Campobello International Park, New Brunswick, Canada

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, spent his summer vacations on Campobello Island over a period of 56 years.  His rugged and beautiful "beloved island" is located in Passamaquoddy Bay, which forms the border between the State of Maine and the Canadian province of New Brunswick.  He came first with his father and mother, then with his wife and children.  Here he fell ill with polio that left him partially paralyzed at the age of 39.  Today Roosevelt Campobello International Park honors his memory and symbolizes the friendship between the United States and Canada.  The 2,800 park includes the 34-room “cottage” where Roosevelt and his family lived and four other cottages dating from approximately the same period.  In the park’s natural areas, visitors can still see the beaches, bogs, forests, and magnificent views of ocean headlands that Roosevelt loved.

A group of New York and Boston entrepreneurs bought most of the southern part of Campobello Island in 1881 and began to develop it as a resort area for families from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Ottawa, and Montreal. James Roosevelt was one of the first citizens of the United States to enjoy the island’s large and luxurious hotels, bracing sea breezes, and scenic beauty.  He soon bought land and built his own cottage.  Franklin visited the island for the first time when he was only a year old.  His parents soon began to spend whole summers there.  Growing up on the island, Franklin lived an active life and acquired his life-long love of the sea and sailing.

In 1910, Franklin D. Roosevelt moved his growing family to his own house on the island, a two-story frame Dutch-Colonial cottage built in 1897.  Mrs. Hartman Kuhn, of Boston, built the house in 1897.  She came to know and like Eleanor when she and Franklin summered at his mother’s cottage next door.  When Mrs. Kuhn died, a provision in her will offered her cottage to Sara Roosevelt, at a bargain price of $5,000.  In 1909, Franklin’s mother purchased the cottage for her son and his family.

The shingle-covered frame house provided comfortable rooms, abundant light and air, beautiful views, and many picturesque verandas.  Stylistically it resembles the Dutch Colonial houses that Franklin particularly loved. Between 1910 and 1915, Franklin Roosevelt added a new wing, which blends well with the original house.  By this time, the “cottage” contained 34 rooms, including 18 bedrooms and six bathrooms. The cottage was comfortable, but had neither electricity nor a telephone.  Providing running water for bathing, cooking, and cleaning required a windmill or pump and a complex system of storage tanks in the attic. Seven fireplaces and the kitchen stove provided the only sources of heat. Franklin, Eleanor, and their growing family spent summers in the cottage from 1910 to 1921.  The young Roosevelts loved exploring the surrounding area, though Franklin’s growing political responsibilities soon limited his visits to a few days at a time.

In August 1921, he arrived in Campobello for his first extended visit in more than a decade.  After an ocean swim one day, he developed a high fever and his legs grew weak.  “My left leg lagged. . . Presently it refused to work, and then the other.”  At the age of 39, he had come down with polio, then usually called infantile paralysis.  The disease left him permanently disabled, and he never walked again without assistance. It took Roosevelt years of physical therapy to overcome the effects of the disease.  He worked hard at strengthening his upper body and regained some use of his legs, particularly after he began going to Warm Springs, Georgia to swim in the healing waters.  He directed and inspired the March of Dimes that eventually developed a vaccine that almost eradicated this once dreaded disease.  At his insistence, few people in the United States knew of his paralysis.  The press conspired to ensure that no pictures of the president in his wheel chair showed up in the newspapers, and no one ever mentioned his painful struggles to walk, weighed down with heavy leg braces and leaning heavily on aides.

Roosevelt did not return to Campobello for over 10 years.  In June 1933, during his first term, the schooner Amberjack II sailed from Marion, Massachusetts.  The president spent much of the trip at the helm.  His stay was too short, but the seclusion and serenity of Campobello provided needed respite during the national crisis of the Great Depression. His final brief visits occurred in 1936 and 1939, though his family continued to use the house until 1952.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt International Memorial Bridge, between Lubec, Maine and Campobello Island, New Brunswick opened in 1962.  The next year, President John F. Kennedy suggested that the home be preserved as a memorial to Roosevelt and as an expression of international peace and good will between the United States and Canada. In 1963, the owners of the house donated it, its furnishings, outbuildings, and about 10-1/2 acres of land to the governments of the United States and Canada. A joint Canada-United States commission maintains and administers the park today.  The larger part of the 2,800-acre park is a natural area offering a variety of habitats to explore. Five historic turn-of-the-century cottages, including the Roosevelt Cottage, make up the historic core of the Roosevelt Campobello International Park.  Interpretation at the Roosevelt Cottage concentrates on the 1920s, though the period of significance for the house extends from the 1880s to the 1930s.

The Roosevelt Campobello International Park, located on Campobello Island in New Brunswick, Canada, is administered by the joint U.S.-Canadian Roosevelt Campobello International Park Commission.  It is the only park in the world owned by the peoples of two countries and administered by a joint commission in their name. The best way to reach the park is by car; no public transportation is available.  Take Route 189 to Lubec, Maine and cross the FDR Memorial Bridge to Campobello Island. The visitor center is located approximately two miles from the bridge. The customs station is located at the southern end of the island. The park grounds are open year round from ½ hour before sunrise to ½ hour after sunset.  There is no admission fee for the park. For more information visit the National Park Service Roosevelt Campobello International Park website or call 506-752-2922.

The Visitor Center is open the Saturday prior to U.S. Memorial Day through U.S. Columbus Day from 9:00am to 5:00pm seven days a week; and from  U.S. Columbus Day through October 31 from 9:00am to 4:00pm seven days a week. The Visitor Center offers exhibits about FDR and a video.

The Roosevelt Cottage is open the Saturday prior to U.S. Memorial Day through U.S. Columbus Day from 9:00am to 5:00pm seven days a week.  President Roosevelt’s office and bedroom are open to the public, along with Mrs. Roosevelt’s writing room, the living room, dining room, kitchen, family bedrooms, nursery, and laundry.  Stationed throughout the cottage, guides answer questions and provide interpretation of the house and its furnishings.

The Roosevelts enjoyed hiking, biking, canoeing, and many other outdoor recreations, some of the main reasons that they spent their summers on Campobello.  These activities can still be enjoyed in the park today.  There are 8.4 miles of driving roads located in the park's 2,800 acres and 10 miles of walking trails. Visitors can see coastal headland, rocky shore, sphagnum bog, field, and forest.  

The Roosevelt Campobello International Park Commission website provides detailed information about facilities, activities, and more. Visit the National Park Service Virtual Museum Exhibit on Eleanor Roosevelt: American Visionary.


Warm Springs Historic District
(Roosevelt's Little White House State Historic Site and Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation)
, Georgia

At Warm Springs, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States found the strength to resume his political career and a positive outlet for his own personal struggle with polio through creation of the Warm Springs Foundation. Roosevelt returned to use the therapeutic waters at Warm Springs every year, except 1942, from his first visit in 1924 until his death there in 1945.  Influenced by his experiences in this rural area, President Roosevelt developed New Deal programs, such as the Rural Electrification Administration.  He also carried on important official duties when he was there.

Warm Springs Historic District is adjacent to the small Georgia town that is its namesake. By the late 18th century, settlers came to the area. The population grew with the advancement of the railroad, and by the 1830’s, it was the site of a summer resort and a village. In 1893, Charles Davis constructed the Victorian 300-room Meriwether Inn with resort pools, a dance pavilion, bowling alley, tennis court, and trap shooting. The water flowing from the hillside of Pine Mountain was used to create the resort pools. By the turn of the 20th century, the town of Warm Springs and the resort were in decline.

George Foster Peabody, a prominent businessman and philanthropist in New York, purchased the property in 1923. Peabody shared the story of a young polio victim’s recovery after bathing in the swimming pools at Warm Springs with his friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the young politician paralyzed from the waist down in 1921 from polio. Roosevelt arrived at the resort on October 3, 1924 hoping to find a cure. The next day, he began swimming and immediately felt an improvement. For the first time in three years, he was able to move his right leg.  Because Roosevelt was nationally prominent, his visit assured publicity for Warm Springs. A syndicated Sunday newspaper supplement featured his experience. By his return in 1925, other patients were coming in the hope of a cure.  In 1926, he bought the resort property and 1,200 acres from George Peabody for some $200,000.  Seeking medical advice and contributions from his friends, he organized the nonprofit Warms Springs Foundation in 1927 turning property over to the foundation.

At Warm Springs, Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States found the strength to resume his political career and a positive outlet for his own personal struggle with polio through creation of the Warm Springs Foundation. Roosevelt returned to use the therapeutic waters at Warm Springs every year, except 1942, from his first visit in 1924 until his death there in 1945.  Influenced by his experiences in this rural area, President Roosevelt developed New Deal programs, such as the Rural Electrification Administration.  He also carried on important official duties when he was there.

Warm Springs Historic District is adjacent to the small Georgia town that is its namesake. By the late 18th century, settlers came to the area. The population grew with the advancement of the railroad, and by the 1830’s, it was the site of a summer resort and a village. In 1893, Charles Davis constructed the Victorian 300-room Meriwether Inn with resort pools, a dance pavilion, bowling alley, tennis court, and trap shooting. The water flowing from the hillside of Pine Mountain was used to create the resort pools. By the turn of the 20th century, the town of Warm Springs and the resort were in decline.

George Foster Peabody, a prominent businessman and philanthropist in New York, purchased the property in 1923. Peabody shared the story of a young polio victim’s recovery after bathing in the swimming pools at Warm Springs with his friend, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the young politician paralyzed from the waist down in 1921 from polio. Roosevelt arrived at the resort on October 3, 1924 hoping to find a cure. The next day, he began swimming and immediately felt an improvement. For the first time in three years, he was able to move his right leg.  Because Roosevelt was nationally prominent, his visit assured publicity for Warm Springs. A syndicated Sunday newspaper supplement featured his experience. By his return in 1925, other patients were coming in the hope of a cure.  In 1926, he bought the resort property and 1,200 acres from George Peabody for some $200,000.  Seeking medical advice and contributions from his friends, he organized the nonprofit Warms Springs Foundation in 1927 turning property over to the foundation.

The Warm Springs Foundation created what became the first and for many years, the only hospital devoted solely to the treatment of poliomyelitis victims in the world.  The organization became the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, the sponsor of the “March of Dimes,” and was instrumental in promoting the development of a cure for polio. Roosevelt continued for the rest of his life to be actively involved with the foundation, participating in decisions regarding management of the hospital at Warm Springs, including tearing down the old Meriweather Inn to replace it with safer, more accessible buildings for the handicapped.

Although never again able to use his legs fully, by 1928, Roosevelt regained enough physical and emotional strength to return to his great passion, politics. After supporting Al Smith for the presidency at the National Democratic Convention, Roosevelt, at Smith’s behest, accepted the nomination for governor of New York, the position Smith was vacating.  Roosevelt narrowly won.  This victory set him on his path to the White House. Roosevelt’s success in the governorship brought him overwhelming reelection in 1930 and the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1932. His public obligations from 1929 to 1933 limited his visits to Warm Springs to about a month each year.

As President-elect, during the Depression winter of 1932-33, he went twice to Warm Springs staying in his new house. Finished in 1932, the Little White House is a modest, six room one-story cottage. The wooden building features a four-columned central temple form portico.  The slightly off-center entrance hall cuts through the combination living room dining room and opens into Eleanor Roosevelt’s bedroom on the left and into a narrow side hall on the right. The living room /dining room is glassed-in on the west side with high windows flanking French doors that open onto a sundeck. Roosevelt enjoyed the serenity of the sundeck’s view overlooking a heavily wooded ravine.

Roosevelt’s personal secretary used a bedroom off the living room to the right.  The two bathrooms are located between the kitchen and the secretary's bedroom and connecting Franklin and Eleanor's bedrooms. The only readily visible adaptations of the house to Roosevelt's infirmity are the flat sills and the raised bathroom fixtures. Some of the furniture is from the Val-Kill workshops.

Even while President Roosevelt fought the Great Depression and led the nation through World War II, he still dedicated time to the Warm Springs Foundation. Frequently, important national figures and cabinet members accompanied Roosevelt to Warm Springs, so he could meet with board trustees while continuing to run the nation and carry out his own personal physical therapy. He met with the patients and shared Thanksgiving Dinner with them in the hospital’s Georgia Hall, whenever he could.  FDR claimed that observations in the Warm Springs area inspired certain New Deal programs.  He noticed that electric rates were exorbitantly higher in Warm Springs than in Hyde Park. His enthusiasm for the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), which strove to bring electric power to rural areas at reasonable rates, may have begun at Warm Springs. Roosevelt symbolized the connection by signing the REA bill into law at the Little White House.

Roosevelt was only able to go to Warm Springs for infrequent short visits during World War II.  He returned to Warm Springs for the last time near the end of the war in March of 1945. Just back from the Yalta Conference, he planned to work on the address with which he would open the United Nations Conference. He also entertained neighbors and conferred with two important guests, Sergio Osmena, the president of the Philippines, to whom he gave assurances of future independence, and Henry Morgenthau, secretary of the treasury. On Thursday, April 12, he planned to attend an afternoon barbecue given by his Warm Springs friends and then a minstrel show at the hospital. That afternoon, Roosevelt seated in a favorite chair near the fireplace, posed for a portrait by Madame Elizabeth Shoumatoff. Suddenly, he suffered a massive stroke. Carried from the room into his bedroom, he died later that same afternoon. The “Unfinished Portrait” is on exhibit at the historic site.

Warm Springs is a place of pilgrimage for many. Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy spoke here during his 1960 race, and in 1976 Jimmy Carter opened his general election campaign in front of the building. The Georgia Warm Springs Foundation granted the property to the State of Georgia. The State created the memorial commission, a self-perpetuating body, opening the Little White House to the public in 1948. In 1980, Roosevelt’s Little White House and Historic Pools and springs became part of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources State Parks and Historic Sites. Presently, Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute, adjacent to the Little White House, is managed by the Department of Labor and is a vocational rehabilitation center treating persons with head neck and back injuries, any type of joint or muscle disorder, stroke patients, arthritis, post-polio syndrome and a wide range of birth defects. Today, the Roosevelt’s Little White House remains the same as it was the day the president died.

Roosevelt's Little White House Historic Site is located at 401 Little White House Rd. in Warm Springs, GA 1/4 mile south of Warm Springs on Ga. Hwy. 85 Alt.-U.S. Hwy. 27 Alt.  Warm Springs Historic District has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.

The site is opendaily from 9:00am to 4:45pm except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. An admission fee is charged.  For more information, visit the Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites’ Roosevelt's Little White House Historic Site or call 706-655-5870. In addition to the house, preserved as FDR left it, visitors can also see the Memorial Fountain, the Walk of the States, a new FDR Memorial Museum a new film narrated by Walter Cronkite, two of Roosevelt's classic cars and the original bump gate that opened with an automobile bumper. The Historic Therapy Pools and Springs Complex is open daily for tours from 9:00am to 4:45pm except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.

NOTE: The warm springs are not longer available to the general public to swim in; the springs still feed the modern therapeutic pools at Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute. Roosevelt’s Warm Springs, adjacent to the Little White House, offers weekday tours of the historic campus and hospital area and houses the Smithsonian Institute’s Exhibit: “Whatever Happen to Polio?” Admission is free.

Roosevelt’s Little White House has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.  Visit the National Park Service Virtual Museum Exhibit on Franklin Delano Roosevelt.



Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial National Memorial, Washington, DC

The national memorial dedicated to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, lies about half way between the Lincoln Memorial and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC.  Its four open-air rooms represent each of the four terms of office to which he was elected.  A meandering pathway leads past waterfalls, bronze sculptures, and FDR’s own powerful words carved on the granite walls.  The memorial honors the memory of one of America’s great leaders and the optimism and courage that he shared with his fellow citizens through the ordeals of the Great Depression and World War II.  A statue of Roosevelt sitting in a wheelchair greets visitors and reminds them of the man who refused to let disability stop him. 

When Congress established the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial Commission in 1955, there was already a modest memorial to Roosevelt in Washington, DC.  Roosevelt told his friend Felix Frankfurter what he wanted: “a block about the size of [this desk] . . . in the center of that green plot in front of the Archives Building.”  The new, larger memorial took over 40 years of planning before its dedication on May 2, 1997.

The FDR Memorial Commission selected landscape architect Lawrence Halprin to design the memorial in 1974.  The result, with its shade trees, waterfalls, and quiet alcoves, feels more like a secluded garden than a traditional memorial.  Walls of red South Dakota granite define the memorial’s outdoor rooms and the passageways connecting them.  Waterfalls, quiet pools of water, and Roosevelt’s own words, beautifully incised into the granite walls by master carver John Benson, create a mood of quiet reflection.

Each room conveys in its own way the spirit of the man.  In Room One, a bronze bas-relief of the first inauguration, one of the early public sculptures created by Robert Graham, introduces the first years of Roosevelt’s presidency, when he launched the New Deal in response to the worst economic crisis the nation had ever known.  George Segal created the powerful sculptures in Room Two.  The Breadline represents the despair of the Great Depression.  The Fireside Chat depicts the hope that Roosevelt’s inspiring words gave to ordinary people.

In Room Three of the memorial, a waterfall crashes over scattered boulders, suggesting the destruction and violence of World War II, which dominated Roosevelt’s third term in office.  Neil Estern created the statues of Roosevelt and his beloved dog, Fala, calmly presiding over the chaos surrounding them.  Franklin D. Roosevelt’s hopes for the future are engraved on the wall next to his statue:

"We have faith that future generations will know that here, in the middle of the twentieth century, there came a time when men of good will found a way to unite, and produce, and fight to destroy the forces of ignorance, and intolerance, and slavery, and war."

The centerpiece of Room Four is a monumental bas-relief created by sculptor Leonard Baskin.  The Funeral Cortege represents the nation in mourning after the death of the only president many of them could remember.  Neil Estern’s statue of Eleanor Roosevelt honors her contributions as first lady and as one of the early delegates representing the United States at the newly formed United Nations.

One of the things visitors to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial see is a simple, but powerful, statue of FDR sitting in the kind of wheelchair he used after the polio attack that paralyzed his legs in 1921.  Halprin carefully designed the FDR Memorial to be accessible for people with all kinds of disabilities, but the original plans did not include this sculpture.  Spokespersons for the disabled protested, arguing that showing the truth of FDR’s paralysis, something that he himself rarely allowed, would increase awareness and set an inspiring example for others who struggled with disability.  Congress agreed.  Robert Graham created the present statue, dedicated in January 2001.

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial National Memorial, a unit of the National Park System, is located in West Potomac Park between the Tidal Basin and the Potomac River in Washington, DC. The Memorial is open 24 hours a day.  Rangers are on duty to answer questions from 9:30am to 11:30pm daily, except for Christmas Day. The closest Metro stop is Smithsonian.  For more information and a map locating the memorial, visit the National Park Service Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial website or call 202-426-6841. Visit the National Park Service Virtual Museum Exhibit on Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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Harry S Truman (1945-1953)
Harry S Truman National Historic Site, Missouri

The comfortable 14 room, Victorian house at 219 North Delaware Street was the home of Harry S Truman, the 33rd president of the United States, for over 50 years.  He moved into the house when he married Bess Wallace, his childhood sweetheart, in 1919.  Although often kept away by his political career as senator, vice president, and president, Truman always thought of the house and the small city of Independence as “home.”  He happily returned after he left office in 1953 and lived there until his death in 1972.  Truman managed to overcome financial difficulties and limited education through intelligence, determination, common sense, and hard work.  He needed all of these qualities when he faced the daunting national and international challenges of the immediate post-World War II period.  Ill informed as vice president, he learned on the job and never hesitated to make difficult, sometimes still controversial, decisions.  As he often said of the presidency, “The buck stops here.”

The house in Independence is the centerpiece of the Harry S Truman National Historic Site.  When Truman and his new wife moved in with her mother and younger brother in 1919, the house had been in the Wallace family since shortly after the Civil War.  Bess Truman’s grandfather bought the land in 1867 and immediately began expanding the small existing house.  By 1885, it was the most expensive residence in town, with 14 rooms, indoor plumbing, gas lighting, elaborate porches, bay windows, and interior details.

Born in rural Missouri in 1884, Harry S Truman moved to Independence with his family when he was six years old, so that he and his brother and sister could attend city schools.  He met his life-long sweetheart and future wife in December 1890.  They attended school together from elementary through high school but lost touch after Harry graduated in 1901.  Truman, an excellent student, could not afford college and spent most of the next five years working at clerical jobs in nearby Kansas City.  In 1906, he moved to Grandview to help his father run the family farm.  In 1910, while visiting his aunt, Harry encountered Bess again and a nine-year courtship ensued.  Harry made the 20-mile trip from Grandview to Independence many weekends, often staying with his aunt, who lived across the street from Bess’s house.

In 1917, Truman enlisted in the army, serving with distinction in France during World War I.  When he returned to the United States, he married Bess and moved into the Delaware Street house, both to save money and to help care for Bess’s ailing mother.  Truman and a friend established a men’s clothing store that same year.  Although the business failed in 1922, Harry refused to declare bankruptcy and insisted on paying off all his debts in full.

Truman found his real calling that same year, when an Army buddy convinced him to run for the Democratic nomination for the Jackson County Eastern District judgeship, an administrative position.  In 1924, he lost when he sought reelection, in part because of opposition from the Ku Klux Klan.  The birth of Margaret, his adored only child, helped soften the defeat.  In 1926, he won election as presiding judge of Jackson County, roughly the equivalent of county commissioner.  Over the next eight years, Truman earned a reputation for honesty and efficiency.  His political career relied on the support of the sometimes-corrupt political machine of Kansas City boss Tom Pendergast.  Truman was aware of the corruption and sometimes looked the other way but never profited from it personally.  His personal integrity was so well known that his constituents continued to vote for him even after the Pendergast machine collapsed.

In 1934, he ran for the United States Senate and won.  The Trumans moved to Washington, DC, but Bess and Margaret spent much of the year in Independence, so that Bess could take care of her mother and Margaret could attend public school.  Reelected to the Senate in 1940, Truman gained national recognition for his work as chairman of the “Truman Committee,” which investigated war profiteering, waste, and unfair practices in government contractors that produced military equipment and supplies during World War II.  After Bess Truman’s mother joined them in Washington in 1942, the family returned to Independence only during the summers and other vacation periods.

Truman strongly supported President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, and the president personally selected him to be his running mate in 1944.  Truman’s duties as vice president were largely ceremonial.  Roosevelt, often out of the country, had little opportunity to keep him informed about everything that was happening during these last months of the war.  Truman had been vice president for only 82 days when Roosevelt died.  He said, “I felt like the moon, the stars and all the planets fell on me.”

When Truman became president in 1945, national attention focused on the new first family and their home. For six weeks in the spring, roofers, carpenters, and painters worked feverishly to prepare for the Trumans’ first visit to their old home.  Neighbors helped paint the house and the mayor of Independence had a flagpole built on the front lawn.  He declared that the “Summer White House” should not be without the Stars and Stripes.  Although Truman took his work with him, visits to Independence were a welcome break from life in the White House.  The family spent most summers and Christmases at home in Missouri. Throughout his presidency, on Christmas Eve, Truman spoke to the nation over the radio and used a telegraph key to light the National Christmas Tree in Washington, DC.

In the next few months, Harry Truman had to make some of the most difficult decisions any president has ever faced.  He led the nation to victory in Europe on V-E Day, May 8, 1945.  He participated in the partition and occupation of defeated Germany, and in the formation of the United Nations.  His meeting with Churchill and Stalin at Potsdam, outside Berlin, played a major role in post-war Europe.  Truman knew nothing about the American atomic bomb program when he took office, but he was the one who had to make the decision to use the bomb.  He hoped the bomb would end the war in the Pacific and thereby avoid the enormous loss of life that would result from having to invade the Japanese home islands.  World War II ended on August 14, 1945, within days of the destruction of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Truman made many enemies during his first three years in office, and most people expected him to lose his bid for reelection in 1948.  On October 31, he ended his famous thousand-mile “whistle-stop” campaign in Independence.  In a radio broadcast delivered from his living room, President Truman summarized his campaign and proclaimed the Democratic Party the “party of the people.”  Reporters surrounded the house that night waiting for the election returns.  When final returns were in, Truman had defeated Republican Thomas E. Dewey by a slim margin and had led his party back into control of Congress.

Truman’s presidency also saw the beginning of the Cold War.  His “Truman Doctrine” sought to use a system of security alliances and direct military and economic aid to contain Soviet expansion.  His Marshall Plan, an unprecedented aid program, helped the countries of Western Europe recover from the devastation of the war and countered the political influence of local communist parties.  In 1948-49, he directed the massive airlift that broke a Soviet blockade of West Berlin, surrounded by Communist East Germany.  In 1950, he enlisted the aid of the United Nations in repelling an invasion of South Korea by the communist North Korea.  The following year, in a controversial move, he removed General Douglas MacArthur as commander in Korea.  MacArthur had defied Truman’s policies, risking a possible conflict with communist China.  This period also saw the rise of “McCarthyism,” a red scare much like the intense fear of communism that followed World War I.  Truman denounced Senator Joseph R. McCarthy’s accusations of communist infiltration in the United States Government, but the charges ruined many careers and became a major issue in the 1952 presidential election.

The domestic decisions Truman faced were no easier, as he had to preside over a hasty and badly planned reconversion of the economy of the United States from a war footing to a peacetime basis.  In the fall of 1945, he initiated his “Fair Deal” program, which was to be the first step in this process.  Congress ignored or rejected many of the "Fair Deal" programs, including those that would guarantee civil rights through a permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee and provide Federal grants for education and national health insurance.  Congressional opposition grew even stronger after the mid-term elections of 1946, when Republicans took control of both the House and the Senate.  Business leaders and labor unions rejected Truman’s efforts to prevent post-war inflation by keeping wartime wage and price controls, and 1946 brought an unprecedented wave of strikes in major industries.  Truman intervened directly in the most important of these.  On the other hand, he vetoed the Taft-Hartley Act, which he considered anti-labor.  Congress immediately overrode his veto.  In 1950, he narrowly escaped assassination by Puerto Rican nationalists.

Truman decided not to run for reelection and retired to Independence in 1953.  He enjoyed quiet walks and spending time with family and friends. He remained active in the Democratic Party, wrote his memoirs, and worked tirelessly to create the Truman Presidential Library. He died in 1972 at age 88.  He and his beloved Bess, who died in 1982, lie next to each other in a courtyard of the library.

The Harry S Truman National Historic Site consists of two parts: the house and one-acre lot in Independence and the 10 acre Truman Farm in nearby Grandview.  A self-guided walking tour of historic Independence provides visitors a glimpse of Truman’s small town life and includes sites such as Clinton’s Drugstore, where Harry held his first job, and the Jackson County Courthouse, where he began his political career.  Other family homes are also open to the public.  The Truman Presidential Library, administered by the National Archives and Records Administration, is located just north of the Delaware Street house.

The Truman Home located at 219 N. Delaware St. in Independence, MO is the heart of the Harry S Truman National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos.  The Visitor Center is located five blocks away, in Historic Fire Station No. 1 at 223 N. Main St. at the corner of Truman Rd. and Main St.  The Visitor Center is open Tuesday-Saturday from 8:30am to 5:00pm. Guided tours of the Truman Home in Independence are available between 9:00am and 4:30pm, Tuesday through Saturday.  Tour tickets may be purchased at the Visitor Center for $4.00; children 15 and under are free.

The Truman Farm Home located at 12301 Blue Ridge Blvd. amid the retail and commercial district in Grandview, MO. is not open to the public. The farm house grounds are open daily, year-round dawn to dusk. Audio tour available onsite. For more information, including family history and audio files, visit the National Park Service Harry S Truman National Historic Site website or call 816-254-9929. The Harry S Truman Presidential Museum & Library is about 1.5 miles from the Harry S Truman NHS, at 500 W. U.S. Hwy. 24, Independence, MO.

The Truman Home is the subject of an online lesson plan, Harry Truman and Independence, Missouri: “This is Where I Belong”. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page. Both the Harry S Truman House and the Carriage House have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.  Visit the National Park Service Virtual Museum Exhibit on Harry S Truman: American Visionary.


Little White House (Harry S Truman Little White House), Florida

President Harry S Truman began using this former naval officer residence in November 1946 as his winter White House. This Key West retreat gave Truman a restorative atmosphere to deal with the tumultuous events of the time, from the first use of nuclear weapons, post-World War II reconstruction, and the beginning of the Cold War. President Truman spent 11 working vacations here frequently meeting with high-ranking officials to discuss significant legislation such as the Marshall Plan and his fifth Civil Rights Executive Order. He continued to visit after his presidency ended in 1953.  To date, six American presidents have used it as the functioning White House of America and as a retreat and summit meeting location. William Howard Taft, the first president to visit this site, stopped here in December 1912 on his way to inspect construction of the Panama Canal.

Built by the United States Navy in 1890 as a two-family residence with a double façade emphasized by two prominent cross gables, the long narrow building known as Quarters A and B housed the commandant and paymaster. It features elements of late Victorian and West Indian architecture. The north, west and south sides feature louvers that enclose spacious wrap around porches.  The house was originally constructed on the waterfront. The land in front of the house was filled in with the 1909 dredging of the harbor to accommodate larger naval ships.   Much of the original 1890 construction remains. In 1911, the duplex was converted into a single 8700 square foot dwelling. In 1949, the Bureau of Yards and Docks added ten feet to the length of the house and enlarged bedrooms on the second floor for use by President Harry S Truman.

Key West’s strategic location has a long military history. The naval station served as command headquarters during the Spanish American War. Scientist Edward Hayden was base commander from 1912 to 1915 while doing hurricane research. As the headquarters of the Seventh Naval District it featured one of the first naval air stations and early submarine base and surface craft. Inventor Thomas Edison lived in the house for six months in 1918 and invented 41 new weapons for the war effort while he was here.  During World War II, the Key West Naval Station was heavily involved in protecting Allied shipping in the Straits of Florida. A number of Allied ships and German U-boats sank during combat off Key West. Throughout the Cold War, it served as headquarters of the East Coast Anti Submarine Warfare School.

President Harry S Truman’s first 19 months in office were grueling leaving him physically exhausted. When Truman suffered from a lingering cold, his doctor, Wallace Graham, ordered a warm vacation. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz recommended Quarters A in Key West as a secure, warm retreat.  Truman arrived in November 1946 for a week of relaxation. He fell in love with the climate and the charm of another small town. He promised to return whenever he felt the need for rest and relaxation.   He kept his promise to return by coming back to the Little White House for 11 presidential working vacations and five post presidential trips after he left office. Truman claimed Key West was his second favorite place on earth, only surpassed by his hometown of Independence, Missouri.

He spent a total of 175 days at his winter White House during his administration and used it to conduct official business. The work of the president never ends and Truman complained to a family member that he signed his name 200 to 600 times in a day. In March 1947, Truman announced a change in foreign policy known as the Truman Doctrine and immediately flew to Key West. The full impact of this decision fell upon the president while at his Little White House. In 1948, the Joint Chiefs of Staff met at this house to create the Department of Defense by merging the Departments of War and Navy. This is known as the Key West Accord.

Among the discussions at the Little White House were the development of a massive aid program to rebuild Europe commonly called the Marshall Plan, discussions concerning the partition of Palestine and the recognition of Israel, the response to the Cold War. Domestic issues included labor unrest and Truman’s fifth Civil Rights Executive Order requiring federal contractors hire minorities. Improvements in communication and transportation allowed the president to operate the government from Key West. On his first visit in November 1946, there were 16 staff plus secret service, and the vacation lasted one week. In March 1952 on his eleventh visit, the staff had grown to 57, and they spent nearly a month at the Little White House.

Between 1957 and 1969, Truman made five post-presidential visits to Key West staying in a private residence in town and visiting the Little White House.  Successive presidents continued to use the Little White House. President Dwight Eisenhower convened meetings in the house in December 1955 and January 1956, when he was recuperating from a heart attack. On March 26, 1961, just 23 days before the Bay of Pigs, President John F. Kennedy had a summit meeting with British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan here.  Kennedy used the house again on November 26, 1962, returning to make an inspection following the Cuban missile crisis.  Recently, President Clinton in 2005 and President Carter in 2007 stayed at the retreat with their families.  Other notable visitors include King Hussein I of Jordan in 1972. On April 2-6, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell opened peace talks in this house between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Now owned by the State of Florida and restored with the help of private donors, the Little White House is open to the public as a historic house museum. Most of the furnishings are original to the 1949 remodeling for President Truman. The United States government’s Departments of Defense and State regularly use the Little White House for dinners and diplomatic missions.

The Little White House is located at 111 Front St. in Key West, FL and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The house is open daily, year-round from 9:00am to 4:30pm. An admission fee is charged. Tours are offered approximately every 20 minutes. The botanical gardens are usually open from 7:00am until 6:00pm in conjunction with Truman Annex Gated Community. The botanical tour of the gardens that surround the building is self -guided and free.  Visit the Harry S Truman Little White House website or call 305-294-9911 for more information.

Visit the National Park Service Virtual Museum Exhibit on Harry S Truman: American Visionary.


Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953- 1961)
Eisenhower National Historic Site, Pennsylvania

Eisenhower National Historic Site is the only home Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th president of the United States, ever owned.  Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, loved their weekend, later, retirement home adjoining the Gettysburg Battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  The farm also provided a relaxed atmosphere for meetings with international leaders during the Cold War.  A hero of World War II and a five-star general, Eisenhower won the presidential election in 1952 with the help of an irresistible slogan, “I Like Ike,” and an instantly recognizable smile.  The Cold War dominated his two terms in office, but his moderate Republican domestic policies left permanent marks on the nation.  Today the virtually unchanged house, furnishings, landscape, and views at Eisenhower National Historic Site offer an intimate look into the lives of Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower.

Dwight David Eisenhower was born in Texas on October 14, 1890, but grew up in Kansas.  The nickname he got in school, “Ike,” stayed with him for the rest of his life.  Attracted by the free education the military academies provided, he applied to West Point and received an appointment in 1911.  He graduated in the top half of his class in 1915. A year later, he married Mamie Geneva Doud, whom he met in Texas on his first assignment as a second lieutenant.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Eisenhower hoped for duty overseas.  Instead, he spent the war setting up and commanding a new tank training center at Camp Colt, located on the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania.  During the 1920s and 1930s, Eisenhower rose rapidly through a series of staff jobs.  When World War II began with the German invasion of Poland in 1939, he started to earn promotions—and stars—at record speed.  Eisenhower commanded the Allied invasions of North Africa and Italy, and in December 1943, he became Supreme Allied Commander for “Operation Overlord,” the invasion of mainland Europe.  On D-Day, June 6, 1944, he directed the Allied landings on the beaches at Normandy. Eleven months later, he accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, ending the war in Europe.  By then a five-star general of the Army, Eisenhower served three years as Army chief of staff in Washington.  He retired from active duty in 1948 to become president of Columbia University.

When Eisenhower and Mamie wanted to find a retirement home, they remembered their happy early-married life at Camp Colt and looked for a farm in the Gettysburg area.  The Gettysburg Battlefield was another attraction.  Eisenhower had loved military history since childhood and studied the strategy of the battle in depth at West Point.  He also liked the convenient location between Washington, DC and New York City.  The Eisenhowers purchased the 189-acre farm adjoining the battlefield in 1950, but new responsibilities prevented them from living there for four years.

In December 1950, President Truman called Eisenhower out of retirement to command the newly formed North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  Upon his return to the United States, the enormously popular war hero decided to run for president as a Republican.  Eisenhower easily defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson, as he would again in 1956.  This was the first Republican victory in a presidential election since Herbert Hoover beat Al Smith in 1928. 

The Eisenhowers began rebuilding the house at Gettysburg shortly after the election.  The architects found a decaying 200-year old log cabin inside the walls of the existing house.  Mamie asked them to save and reuse what they could of the old timbers and other building materials.  The finished house was a “modified Georgian farmhouse,” with eight bedrooms, nine bathrooms, a formal living room, dining room, kitchen and butler’s pantry, and glassed-in porch with a view of the mountains.  The porch was their favorite room. Gifts to the Eisenhowers filled the house.

Eisenhower was a man of many interests. He enjoyed playing golf and painting, especially portraits and landscapes. The Eisenhowers added gardens, paths, a skeet-shooting range, a teahouse, and a putting green with a sand trap. They converted the old garage northwest of the main house into a guesthouse.  The Secret Service adapted a concrete milk house attached to the barn for their office.  The immediate grounds also include a large stock barn and various utility structures.  Eisenhower started a successful cattle enterprise, Eisenhower Farms, during his presidency. The business included 189 acres of Eisenhower’s land and 306 adjoining acres owned by partners.

On July 1, 1955, the Eisenhowers invited the entire White House staff to the house to celebrate both its completion and their wedding anniversary.  Later that year Eisenhower had a major heart attack, and the farm became the “Temporary White House” during his recuperation.  He started spending more time at the farm after he returned to work, often bringing foreign dignitaries there after meeting with them at nearby Camp David.  Visitors included former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Prime Minster Nehru of India, Chancellor Adenauer of West Germany, and French President De Gaulle.  He always showed them his prize herd of Angus cattle, of which he was very proud. 

From the Korean War at the beginning of his two terms to the U-2 spy plane incident at the end, the Cold War dominated Eisenhower’s presidency.  By 1953, both the Soviet Union and the United States possessed nuclear arms, and many people feared that a nuclear war might break out between the two super powers.  Eisenhower did what he could to reduce tensions.  Honoring a campaign pledge, he brought about an armistice in the Korean conflict.  He repeatedly sought an agreement with the Soviets to reduce nuclear arms.  In 1953, he proposed an "Atoms for Peace," program for the peaceful use of atomic energy in developing countries.  Stalin's death in that same year raised hopes for “peaceful co-existence.”  In 1955, Eisenhower proposed his ‘Open Skies’ plan to the first Geneva Summit meeting between heads of state from Britain, France, the United States, and Russia.  The proposal called for an international aerial monitoring system of nuclear weapons. Although the Russians rejected the proposal, the conference did improve relations between the two countries.  In September 1959, Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev, Stalin’s successor as premier, visited President Eisenhower at the farm for informal meetings, but that produced only a brief thaw in the Cold War.

For most Americans the “Spirit of Geneva” ended with the brutal Soviet suppression of a revolt in Hungary in 1956.  Concerned about Soviet influence in the Middle East, the president and John Foster Dulles, his secretary of state, announced the “Eisenhower Doctrine,” which provided economic and military aid to help the countries in that area resist communism.  The launch of “Sputnik,” the first earth satellite, suggested that Soviet military capability might be greater than had previously been thought.  The capture of a U-2 reconnaissance jet over Soviet territory in 1960 caused Khrushchev to end a summit meeting taking place in Paris and to cancel Eisenhower’s planned visit to Russia.  The Cold War was at the forefront of the 1960 election.  In 1961, Eisenhower broke off diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro’s Cuba, because of its close relationship with the Soviet Union.

Domestically, Eisenhower worked with a Democratic Congress to pass many bills continuing New Deal and Fair Deal programs.  He supported the expansion of Social Security and Federal aid for health assistance and educational programs and created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.  He signed the bill that authorized the Interstate Highway System in 1956.  He balanced the Federal budget.  In one of his last speeches as president, he warned the country about the dangers posed by the huge “military-industrial complex” that had grown out of the protracted crisis of the Cold War.

The 1954 Supreme Court decision that declared segregation of schools unconstitutional led to a new emphasis on civil rights.  Eisenhower had already extended Truman’s policy of desegregating the Armed Forces.  In 1957, he proposed the first civil rights legislation since Reconstruction.  Congress approved most of his recommendations in the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which provided, among other things, for the formation of a permanent Civil Rights Commission.  In that same year, the president sent Federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to protect black students newly enrolled in formerly all-white Little Rock High School.  In 1960, he sponsored another civil rights bill providing voting registration protection for blacks.  He wrote, “There must be no second class citizens in this country."

In 1961, Eisenhower retired to the Gettysburg farm, although he stayed busy meeting political and business associates and writing his memoirs. He served as an elder statesman, advising presidents and meeting world leaders. The Eisenhowers’ greatest joy was spending time on their farm with family and friends.

Eisenhower and his wife donated their home and farm to the National Park Service in 1967.  He died two years later, at the age of 78.  His wife continued to live on the farm until her death in 1979.  The National Park Service opened the site to the public in 1980.  Visitors can see the house and grounds and the barns.  The house retains almost all its original furnishings, including an Italian marble mantelpiece in the living room salvaged during an 1873 renovation of the White House.

The Eisenhower National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park, in Gettysburg, PA. The site includes 690 acres of farmland, meadows, pastures, and forest. Open daily: 9:00am to 4:00pm. The site is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.  Visitors to the Eisenhower home must use a shuttle bus, which leaves from the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, PA. An admission/shuttle fee is charged.  A visit to the site begins with a 15-minute orientation tour of the grounds and farm operation, highlighting how the farm was used during Eisenhower’s presidency.  Self-guided walking tours are available year-round.  Ranger-conducted walks lasting 30 minutes are offered throughout the summer and during the spring and fall as staffing permits. Visit the National Park Service Eisenhower National Historic Site website for more information, including the shuttle schedule, or call 717- 338-9114 ext. 10.

The site is the subject of an online lesson plan, Thaw in the Cold War: Eisenhower and Khrushchev at Gettysburg. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

A number of buildings on Eisenhower’s farms have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey including the Eisenhower Farm One, Bank Barn; Eisenhower Farm Two, Bank Barn; and the Eisenhower Farm Two, Showbarn. For a virtual tour, visit the National Park Service Virtual Museum Exhibit on Eisenhower National Historic Site.


John F. Kennedy (1961-November 1963)
John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site, Massachusetts

When John F. Kennedy was inaugurated 35th president of the United States, he was the youngest person and the only Catholic ever elected to the nation’s highest office.  Elected with the narrowest of margins by a nation fearful under the dark cloud of the Cold War, Kennedy summoned fellow citizens with his inaugural call to commitment and sacrifice: “Now the trumpet summons us again to…a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war itself…And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”   Kennedy seized the momentum of his inauguration and tackled some of the nation’s most pressing domestic and foreign policy issues during the first one-hundred days of his administration. Though an assassin’s bullet ended Kennedy’s life in Dallas in November, 1963, before the realization of many of his far-reaching reform initiatives, his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, won passage of the civil rights bills and voting rights laws, federal aid to education and Medicare, and the statute creating a cabinet-level housing and urban development department as a fulfillment of Kennedy’s promise of hope and progress.  In addition to these legislative memorials to Kennedy’s vision for a more prosperous and peaceful world, his mother, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, commemorated the life of her son at his birthplace in Brookline, Massachusetts.

John Kennedy’s parents, Joseph P. and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, were both members of politically prominent Irish Catholic families in Boston. Joseph Kennedy bought the nine-room, Colonial Revival style house at 83 Beals Street in Brookline, a streetcar suburb of Boston, shortly before his marriage to Rose Fitzgerald in 1914.  The Kennedys’ second son, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was born in the master bedroom, on the second floor, on May 29, 1917 and spent the formative years of his childhood in this middle-class neighborhood.  Here Rose Kennedy instilled in her children a commitment to personal cultivation and public service with piano lessons in the parlor, political discussions around the dinner table, and edifying tales of adventure in the nursery.  Two servants, who lived on the third floor and whom Mrs. Kennedy supervised from her second-floor study, accomplished most of the physical labor in the kitchen, allowing the Kennedys’ to lavish time and attention on their growing family.  In 1920, with the birth of their fourth child, Rose and Joseph Kennedy felt that the family had outgrown the Beals Street house and moved nearby to a larger home, where they lived until they departed for New York in 1927. 

John F. Kennedy entered Harvard University in 1936.  In 1940, he graduated with honors in political science.  His senior thesis, published under the title of Why England Slept, became a bestseller.  Following graduation, he attended Stanford University Business School for six months.

Kennedy joined the Navy in the fall of 1941 as an ensign.  After the attack on Pearl Harbor, he commanded a PT boat in the South Pacific.  When a Japanese destroyer sank his boat in 1943, he helped his crew reach safety in spite of his own wounds and chronic back pain. His actions earned him the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.

Kennedy worked briefly as a reporter for the Hearst newspapers after his military discharge in 1945.  Covering the formation of the United Nations at San Francisco, the Potsdam Conference, and the British elections whetted his appetite for politics.  Elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1946, he easily won reelection in 1948 and 1950. Two years later, he defeated long-term incumbent Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.  The next year, Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier.  In 1955, he wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage, while recuperating from back surgery.

In 1956, Kennedy narrowly lost a bid for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination. Two years later, he overwhelmingly won reelection to his seat in the Senate. In 1960, the Democratic National Convention selected him as its presidential candidate on the first ballot.  Senator Lyndon B. Johnson, his principal rival for the nomination, accepted the vice-presidential nomination.  Americans watched Kennedy face the Republican candidate, Richard M. Nixon, in the first televised presidential debates.  Kennedy won the general election by a very small margin.

The Cold War dominated Kennedy’s brief presidency, as it did that of his predecessor, President Eisenhower. Soon after his inauguration in 1961, he supported a group of anti-communist Cuban exiles, equipped and trained with the assistance of the United States, in an attempt to overthrow Premier Fidel Castro. The “Bay of Pigs” invasion was an embarrassing failure, and President Kennedy publicly accepted responsibility.  The incident severely damaged American ability to negotiate with Soviet Premier Khrushchev that summer in Vienna.  In August 1961, East Germany built the Berlin Wall to prevent its own people from escaping across the border between East Berlin and West Berlin.  In retaliation, Kennedy increased U.S. forces in Berlin.  Two years later, he endeared himself to West Germans by delivering his “Ich bin ein Berliner” (“I am a Berliner”) speech at the Wall, declaring it a symbol of the failures of Soviet-style communism.  The Soviet Union and the United States subsequently enlarged their military budgets and resumed nuclear testing.  Responding to communist revolutionary movements in Southeast Asia, Kennedy achieved a negotiated settlement of the longstanding political turmoil in Laos in 1962.  That same year, he increased U.S. involvement in the conflict between North and South Vietnam, adding Special Forces units to the military advisers President Eisenhower sent during his presidency.

In October 1962, a major international crisis brought the world close to nuclear war.  Kennedy obtained aerial photographs showing that the Soviet Union had placed intermediate-range missiles capable of striking the United States mainland in Cuba.  In an emergency telecast to the nation, Kennedy announced that the U.S. Navy would quarantine any shipments of offensive arms to the island until the Soviets removed the missiles.  The tense confrontation ended when Khrushchev backed down.  The period after the “Cuban Missile Crisis” saw significant progress in improving Soviet-American relations.  In 1963, Kennedy signed the first arms-control treaty of the Cold War with the Soviet Union and Great Britain, banning aboveground nuclear testing.  He also agreed to the installation of a "hot line" for instant communication between the White House and the Kremlin.

Kennedy brought new optimism and idealism to politics, particularly among young people.  His Alliance for Progress and Peace Corps extended that idealism to helping developing countries.  He succeeded in getting Congress to pass many elements of his "New Frontier" domestic program, including aid to higher education, increases in the minimum wage and Social Security benefits, urban renewal, and aid to economically distressed areas.  His policies ushered in a sustained period of economic growth and set the stage for major reform initiatives, including the establishment of the cabinet-level Department of Urban Affairs, the provision of medical care for the aged under the Medicare program, federal assistance for public schools, and stronger regulation of farm production, that were enacted under the leadership of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Though initially cautious, Kennedy made notable gains in civil rights.  During his first 100 days in office, Kennedy established the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity to eliminate discrimination in federal hiring, instructed his cabinet secretaries to expand opportunities for African Americans in every department, and renewed the Civil Rights Commission.  Increasingly moved to moral outrage by Southern resistance to court-ordered desegregation of public schools and facilities, President Kennedy, together with his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, enforced the Supreme Court’s directives.  In 1962, Kennedy sent U.S. marshals and troops to ensure enrollment of African American James H. Meredith in the University of Mississippi.  In 1963, Kennedy federalized the Alabama National Guard to prevent violence during integration of the last segregated State university in the nation.  During a televised address June 10, 1963, President Kennedy reminded the nation that “for all its hopes and all its boasts, [it would] not be fully free until all its citizens are free” and called for commitment to the “proposition that race has no place in American life or law.”  The following week, Kennedy presented Congress with a civil rights bill which would ensure voting rights and eliminate discrimination in all places of public accommodation, a proposal for racial justice later enacted under the Civil Rights Law of 1964 and the Voting Rights Law of 1965.

In the fall of 1963, Kennedy toured the nation to build support for administration programs and his reelection.  On November 22, 1963, an assassin shot Kennedy as his motorcade passed through downtown Dallas, Texas.  The president died a few hours later and, while the whole world mourned his passing, his reputed assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald’s own murder shrouded Kennedy’s death in allegations of conspiracy.

The nation responded to the tragedy with thousands of memorial tributes to the slain president, but the most intimate remains the Kennedy family’s memorial at his birthplace. In 1966, the Kennedy family repurchased the house on Beals Street; Rose Kennedy enlisted decorator Robert Luddington of the Jordan Marsh retail store, to help recreate the home’s 1917 appearance.  Working from her remembrances, Mrs. Kennedy and Mr. Luddington assembled and arranged household furnishings, photographs, and significant mementoes in the principal rooms of the house.  Mrs. Kennedy’s personal reminiscences continue to guide visitors through the home.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located at 83 Beals St., Brookline, MA, a residential suburb.  The birthplace has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The grounds are accessible year round; the house is open to the public seasonally.  Entrance to the Visitor Center is free; a fee is charged for visiting the house museum.  For additional information, directions, and the seasonal schedule, visit the National Park Service John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site or call 617-566-7937.  Visitors can also enjoy self-guided walking and special ranger-led tours of the neighborhood where Jack Kennedy spent his childhood. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum is located nearby in Boston.

The John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey. The home is the subject of an online lesson plan,  Birthplace of John F. Kennedy: Home of the Boy Who Would Be President. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.


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Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, Texas

"This is my country, the hill country of Texas.  And through the years when time would permit, here is where I would always return, to the Pedernales River, the scenes of my childhood.” - LBJ

Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th president of the United States, loved the beautiful, rugged country along the Pedernales River in central Texas.  His roots ran deep here.  The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park preserves his grandfather’s first ranch house and part of the small town of Johnson City, which his family founded.  The park also includes the places where he was born; grew up; began his long political career; returned again and again during his years in Washington as congressman, senator, vice-president, and president; retired; died; and lies buried. The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park contains two distinct areas, Johnson City and the LBJ Ranch, that together, along with the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, interpret President Johnson’s story. 

Johnson’s term as president was one of the most complex and poignant in the 20th century.  Sworn into office with the nation still reeling from John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Johnson successfully pushed many of Kennedy’s and his own legislative proposals through Congress.  Personally committed to liberal social policies and civil rights, he used all of his considerable skill at political negotiation to get an unprecedented number of important pieces of legislation passed.  His administration ultimately foundered on two crises, the Vietnam War and the explosive urban riots of the mid-to-late 1960s.  In March 1968, he announced he would not seek re-election.  He retired to his Texas ranch at the end of his term of office and died there four years later.

The Johnson family lived in this area dating back before 1867. Newly married to Eliza Bunton Johnson, Lyndon’s grandfather, Sam E. Johnson Sr. established an open range ranch in the area in 1867.  The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park restored Sam Johnson Sr.’s small log dogtrot house to the period when he lived there.  Sam Johnson’s nephew, James Polk Johnson, bought the property in 1872, when the ranch operation collapsed.  James Polk Johnson improved the property and founded Johnson City.

Lyndon Johnson was born August 27, 1908, in another small dogtrot house on the land that belonged to his grandfather.  He was the first of five children of Rebekah Baines and Sam E. Johnson, Jr.  An open central passage, or "dogtrot," separated the two main rooms of the one-story frame house. President and Mrs. Johnson constructed, on the site of the original birthplace, a guesthouse similar to the house in which he was born. Thus, the LBJ Birthplace has the distinction of being the only presidential birthplace replica constructed, furnished, and interpreted by an incumbent chief executive. The home is a five-room, Texas dogtrot house, typical of the late 19th century with stone foundation, frame construction, board-and-batten siding, and a wood-shingle roof. An open central hallway runs between two large rooms on the east and west sides. In the outer wall of each room is a stone fireplace with wooden mantel. A partially enclosed wooden porch extends across the front of the building with a nursery room extending out from the porch.  An ell to the rear of the western room contains a dining room, an old kitchen, and a modern kitchen. To the east of the dining room are a back porch, a shed room, and a modern bath. Johnson family items and period pieces furnish the home.

Sam E. Johnson, Jr. moved his family to Johnson City in 1913, when Lyndon was five years old.  The Johnsons purchased a handsome, one-story home the following year.  The house consisted of the original five-room house built in 1901, plus a west wing addition with two more bedrooms and a “tubroom,” containing a tub and possibly a washstand.  The house also had two L-shaped porches on the front, a screened porch in the back, and another open porch behind the west wing.  Many people in Johnson City thought this was one of the nicest houses in town.  Lyndon Johnson grew up in this house until he went away to college.  It was his home from the age of five until he married at the age of 26, except for two years between 1920 and 1922 when the family returned to their farm. In 1934, Johnson married Claudia “Lady Bird” Alta Taylor. By this time, he had already embarked on his political career.  In 1931, he went to Washington, DC as secretary to Democratic Congressman Richard Kleberg and by 1935, was a successful administrator for the National Youth Administration in Texas.  When Congressman Joseph Buchanan died unexpectedly, Johnson decided to run for his seat.  He returned to the front porch of his boyhood home to make his first political campaign speech in 1937.

Reelected five times, Johnson served in the House until 1948; in 1941 he unsuccesfully ran for the Senate.  He became a master of the legislative process and attracted the attention of powerful House Speaker Sam Rayburn, another Texan, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He served in the Navy during the early days of World War II, until the president called all congressmen back from active duty to Washington, DC.  In 1948, his second run for the Senate was successful.  He soon became known as the “Master of the Senate,” and by 1953 was the youngest minority leader in history.  When the Democrats took control of Congress the following year, he became majority leader.  He and Republican President Eisenhower worked together to secure passage of a number of important bills, including the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, the first such legislation in over 80 years.

As his political career flourished, Johnson spent much of his time in Washington, DC, but returned to Texas as often as he could. In 1951, he bought a 1,500-acre ranch, 15 miles west of Johnson City, near Stonewall, Texas, from his widowed aunt.  The ranch and its comfortable house were his home until his death 22 years later.  Everyone in the country soon came to know the “LBJ Ranch.”  Johnson and his wife remodeled and added onto the existing house, which faces south towards the Pedernales River.  The two-story frame house, painted white with green shutters, eventually grew to 28 rooms.  The Johnsons also added swimming pools and carports for their Lincoln Continentals.

Johnson actively sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1960, but ultimately agreed to accept the position of vice president. His campaigning in the South played an important role in Kennedy’s election, and he was an unusually active vice president.  Sworn in as president just hours after Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson moved quickly to break the logjam in Congress that was blocking many Kennedy initiatives.  He also began to develop his own “Great Society” reform program.  During his first two years in office, he signed a record number of important pieces of legislation including increases in foreign aid, reductions in taxes, and laws supporting wildlife preservation and mass transit systems.  When he ran for president in his own right in 1964, he overwhelmed Republican Barry Goldwater.

President Johnson worked closely with black leaders to gain passage of two pieces of landmark civil rights legislation.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited segregation in public accommodations and strengthened fair employment regulations in industry.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed the restrictions that blocked African Americans in the South from exercising the rights granted them almost a century before with the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  He began the food stamp system, established the Job Corps to train unemployed youth, and created community action agencies to improve health services such as Medicare and Medicaid. He formed the Office of Economic Opportunity to coordinate the new programs and initiated the War on Poverty.  He also is also responsible for a number of important environmental laws and initiatives, such as the National Historic Preservation Act, which he signed in 1966.  President Johnson has more education legislation to his credit than any other president, before his time or since.

Despite his many accomplishments, Johnson faced mounting difficulties at home and abroad. Fiercely committed to fighting communist expansion in Southeast Asia, he steadily expanded the American presence in Vietnam that the Eisenhower administration initiated.  Bombing of North Vietnam began in 1965.  As the draft took increasing numbers of young men and casualties grew, antiwar demonstrations began to take place all over the country, and Johnson became the focal point of much of the controversy. In the late 1960s, the cities of America exploded, as African Americans vented their frustration in a series of violent and destructive riots.

During these difficult years, President Johnson often sought refuge in the serenity of the “Texas White House,” far from the shouts of “Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” and the smoke of burning buildings in Washington, DC’s segregated black neighborhoods.  Altogether, he spent a total of 490 days at the ranch, about a quarter of his presidential term.  Use of the house as the “Texas White House” required many changes to the complex.  Communications facilities kept Johnson abreast of developments in Washington and the world.  Secret Service guard stations and barracks protected him from the threat of assassination that was in everyone’s mind after Kennedy’s death.  An airstrip made it easy for the president to move between the “Texas White House” and the White House in Washington, DC.

In March 1968, Johnson suddenly announced a halt in the bombing of North Vietnam, invited the communists to negotiate, and stunned the nation by saying that he would not run for reelection.  Retiring in 1969, Johnson returned to the LBJ Ranch in Texas, where he concentrated on running his registered Hereford cattle operations and wrote his memoirs. He died there in 1973 and lies buried in the family graveyard on the ranch along with his parents, grandparents, and great-grandmother.  Lady Bird Johnson, who died in 2007, rests beside her husband.

The National Historic Site consists of two parts: the Johnson City District and the Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch Unit.  The Johnson City District contains the Boyhood Home, restored to the period of the late 1920s; the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Hospital, built in 1968 and now serves as a Visitor Center; and a number of other historic Johnson City buildings.  The Johnson Settlement Complex, about one-half mile away from the Boyhood Home, includes the Sam Johnson, Sr. Log House, restored to the 1869 to 1872 period, and a number of related farm outbuildings.  The LBJ Ranch House or “Texas White House” is the centerpiece of the LBJ Ranch Unit, about 14 miles from the Johnson City District.  The reconstructed birthplace is located on the ranch about three-quarters of a mile away from the Ranch House.  The Secret Service Compound lies behind the house. The Show Barn Complex highlights the importance of the Hereford cattle operation, in which Johnson was actively involved, even when he was in Washington, DC.  The airplane hangar, painted "LBJ-green" the customary color for outbuildings throughout the ranch, is northwest of the Ranch House.  The hangar not only housed the presidential plane but also was a place to watch movies and hold parties and press conferences.  The Junction School, which four-year old Lyndon attended for a year, and the family cemetery are also part of the LBJ Ranch Unit.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is a unit of the National Park System.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos.  The Johnson City Unit is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. The Visitor Center, on Ladybird Lane in Johnson City, TX is open from 8:45am to 5:00pm.  Guided tours of the LBJ Boyhood Home are offered seven days a week.  Self-guided tours of the Johnson Settlement are available from 9:00am until sunset seven days a week.

The Visitor Center for the Lyndon Baines Johnson Ranch Unit is located in the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site, 2 miles east of Stonewall on US Highway 290. The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park and the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park work together to interpret the Hill Country and its influence on Lyndon Johnson.  To see the LBJ Ranch, visitors take a National Park bus tour from the Texas State Park Visitor Center.  Bus tours are conducted from 10:00am to 4:00pm seven days a week. For more information, visit the National Park Service Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park website or call 830-868-7128 ext. 244.


Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac, Washington, DC

Shortly after Lyndon Baines Johnson died in January 1973, some of his friends began to consider creating a national memorial to the 36th president of the United States in Washington, DC.  They decided that a grove of trees, a “living memorial,” would be a fitting representation of a man who valued nature in his personal life and supported environmental protection in his presidency.   Lady Bird Johnson selected Columbia Island, lying between the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Boundary Channel, as the site.  The LBJ Grove Memorial Committee raised more than $2 million in donations from people all over the United States.  Noted local landscape architect Meade Palmer worked closely with Mrs. Johnson to plan the grove, which opened on April 6, 1976.  The memorial grove has two sections.  The commemorative area, surrounded by a grove of pine trees, focuses on the life, goals, and accomplishments of Lyndon B. Johnson.  The second section consists of a broad grassy meadow encircled by a gravel path for strolling and framed by trees.  Intended to provide physical and spiritual rejuvenation, this part of the grove also reflects the solace Johnson found in nature and the outdoors.  The grassy meadow, especially set aside to provide a peaceful setting for people to sit, walk, and relax, is in keeping with Johnson's legacy of trying to ensure that all Americans could enjoy what he valued.

In the formal commemorative area, a broad flagstone walkway gently spirals through a grove of white pines to a 19-foot tall, Sunset Red granite monolith in the center of a flagstone plaza.  Quarried in Johnson’s native Texas, the stone arrived on the site in 1974.  The grove, consisting of 900 white pine trees selected for their form and evergreen color, surrounds the plaza on three sides.  The third side is open and looks out across the Potomac River toward Washington, DC.  The mature trees create a dramatic feeling of enclosure for visitors walking on the path to the plaza.  Azaleas, rhododendron, flowering shrubs, wildflowers, and spring bulbs cover the ground beneath the trees.  The form and placement of planting beds and the low, flagstone wall that parallels the path echo the spiral design of the walkway.  Mrs. Johnson selected the four quotations inscribed at the base of the granite monolith.  They embody the President’s thoughts on the environment, education, civil rights, and the presidency.  Four simple benches at the edge of the plaza provide a place to contemplate the view of the Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson Memorials, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol across the Potomac.  The Johnsons often stopped here on many occasions as they drove back to Washington along the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

The second area of the memorial grove focuses inward on the sweep of grass that constitutes the meadow.  More informal than the plaza area, it provides a variety of passive recreational activities.  Benches along the gravel walkway that winds around the meadow give visitors a chance to sit and relax, and there are picnic tables under the trees that frame the meadow.  The designer of the memorial thought that an expanse of grass framed by trees was one of the most pleasing of all landscape views.  This relatively small space plays the same role as the grand public parks of the 19th century.  Like them, it offers visitors-- many of whom are urban dwellers-- rejuvenation, passive recreation, and a chance to enjoy the outdoors.

Ideas about memorializing presidents changed dramatically during the course of the 20th century.  Early memorials tended to be imposing architectural monuments, using the language of Classical architecture to honor the president and his accomplishments.  In Washington, DC the Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson Memorials are superb examples of this type.  In the late 20th century, interest grew in creating “living memorials” that use landscapes, rather than buildings, to embody the president’s ideals and serve other desirable public purposes.  Theodore Roosevelt Island and the Frankin D. Roosevelt Memorial are other excellent examples of living memorials.

Using a grove of trees as a living memorial to Johnson was particularly appropriate in view of his record in preserving the nation’s natural heritage.  The Johnson Administration oversaw the addition of 3.6 million acres of land to the National Park System, passed the Wilderness Act, and created the Land and Water Conservation Fund.  It initiated the first legislation regulating water pollution, in 1965 and 1966, and air pollution, in 1963 and 1967.  The Water Resources Planning Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the establishment of the first National Water Commission, the Endangered Species Act, and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act were all a part of the surge of legislation directed at protecting the environment and natural heritage that Johnson embraced.

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove was designed by Meade Palmer in collaboration with the architectural and engineering firm of Mills and Petticord and sculptor Harold Vogel.  It is an excellent example of contemporary landscape architecture, allowing the site to dictate the form of the design. The designers planned the grove for a variety of users.  For visitors, it provides a memorial to the 36th president of the United States and a pleasant outdoor setting.  For motorists on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, it is a lovely view.  For passengers in planes approaching Reagan National Airport, the grove becomes an abstract expression of landscape art.

The Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac National Memorial, a unit of the National Park System, is located near the Pentagon and Arlington Memorial Cemetery. The George Washington Memorial Parkway provides direct access to the LBJ Grove parking areas. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos

The memorial is on Columbia Island, west of the 14th Street Bridge and south of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The 17-acre park is bounded by the George Washington Memorial Parkway on the northeast, the Boundary Channel on the southwest, and Columbia Island Marina on the southeast. For more information visit the National Park Service Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac National Memorial website or call 703-289-2500. The Memorial Grove is open year round during daylight hours.  The park closes at dusk.  Restrooms are at the adjacent Columbia Island Marina and are open from 7:00am until 10:00pm. Admittance is free to the public. The closest Metro station is Arlington Cemetery. Visitors may also want to explore more of Ladybird Johnson Park, of which the memorial grove is a part.  This park was created to honor Lady Bird Johnson’s contributions to beautifying Washington, DC and the country as a whole.


Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974)
The Richard M. Nixon Birthplace, California

Richard Nixon’s term as the 37th president of the United States was a roller-coaster ride of success and failure, of triumph and defeat.  Born into modest circumstances in this small frame house, he won election as president in 1968 in a remarkable comeback from his defeat in the 1960 presidential election and the loss of his bid for governor of California two years later.  His margin of victory in the 1972 presidential election when he ran for a second term is one of the widest on record.  President Nixon ended the draft and oversaw the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam.  He reached out to China, meeting personally with Mao Zedong, and reduced tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. His administration ended in scandal in 1974, however.  The expanding investigation of a bungled burglary at the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC ultimately forced Nixon to resign to avoid almost certain impeachment.  In the years before his death in 1994, he gained praise as an elder statesman.  His restored birthplace home is now part of a nine-acre museum complex that includes gardens and exhibit galleries.

Richard Milhous Nixon was born in this modest house on January 9, 1913.  His father, Frank Nixon, used a kit to build the house in a small grove of trees on his eight-acre citrus farm.  The one and one-half story, white clapboard siding house has a low-pitched gable roof.  A long dormer on the north side lights a small second-floor bedroom.  The front elevation features a projecting gable-roofed entry.  There is a small flat-roofed addition on the back. 

Nixon’s parents were members of the Quaker community in Yorba Linda and active in civic life.  They taught their four sons patience, courage, and determination, qualities that Nixon drew strength from during trying times.  He later recalled that he gained his first taste for politics during debates around the family dinner table and described friendly pillow fights with his three brothers in the small upstairs bedroom they shared.  The family lived here until 1922, when they moved to the nearby community of Whittier.

Nixon had a brilliant record at Whittier College and Duke University Law School, in North Carolina.  He opened his law practice in Whittier and became involved in local politics as a Republican.  In 1940, he married Thelma Catherine Ryan, universally known as “Pat.”  He served 14 months on active duty in the Pacific during World War II.  Nixon ran for the United States House of Representatives in 1946, defeating a long-term Democratic incumbent.  He won national recognition, and controversy, as an anti-communist crusader on the Un-American Activities Committee.  Reelected to the House in 1948, he easily won a seat in the United States Senate two years later in an extremely bitter campaign.

In 1952, Republican presidential candidate, Dwight D. Eisenhower chose Nixon, only 39 years old, as his running mate.  During the campaign, accusations of using political contributions for personal purposes threatened Nixon’s place on the ticket.  He saved his candidacy in one of the first live, nationwide political television broadcasts—the famous "Checkers" speech.  Nixon was an active and visible vice president and had no trouble gaining the nomination to succeed Eisenhower in 1960.  His extremely narrow loss to John F. Kennedy was the first defeat in his career.  Returning to California, he ran for governor two years later and lost again.  He thought his political career was over, telling reporters, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore . . .  This is my last press conference.”

Nixon remained active in Republican politics during these “wilderness years,” however, and in 1968, he again sought the presidential nomination.  He won the general election, defeating Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey and third-party candidate George Wallace.  Reelected in 1972, Nixon won the largest number of popular votes in the nation's history, defeating Democrat George McGovern in the Electoral College by 520 to 71.

President Nixon’s domestic achievements included revenue sharing, new anticrime laws, a broad environmental program, and the end of the military draft.  Concerned about rising inflation, he instituted mandatory wage and price controls.  On July 19, 1969, Nixon spoke with the American astronauts who had made the first Moon landing in a long-distance telephone call.

Working with his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Nixon pursued a vigorous foreign policy.  His first priority was the conflict in Vietnam.  The invasion of Cambodia and expanded bombing in North Vietnam triggered violent protests in 1970. A student protest at Kent State University met with police violence that left four students dead.  More than 4 million students participated in the following nationwide strike.  In January 1973, Nixon announced an accord with North Vietnam ending American military involvement in Southeast Asia. By March, he reduced the number of United States military forces in Vietnam to zero, from 543,000 in April 1969.

One of President Nixon’s proudest achievements was opening official contact between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.  He was the first American president to visit China during his term of office.  His talks with Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Zhou Enlai led to a new spirit of amity between the two countries.  On a trip to the Soviet Union, he met with Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev, preparing the ground for the signing of the first treaty to limit nuclear arms. 

The series of revelations that led to Nixon's resignation began with a June 1971 burglary at the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate office complex in Washington, DC.  Newspaper accounts eventually traced the break-in, virtually ignored during the election campaign, to the president’s special reelection committee.  The investigation of the “Watergate Affair” eventually led to the conviction and imprisonment of a number of senior administration officials. Nixon himself denied any personal involvement in Watergate.  He tried to use executive privilege to protect audio tapes of conversations at the White House, but the Supreme Court overruled his efforts.  When the tapes indicated that he had tried to divert the investigation, his support with the public and in Congress eroded.  Late in July 1974, the House Judiciary Committee recommended his impeachment on counts of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress.  Republican leaders urged Nixon to step down.  On August 8, 1974, he announced his decision to resign, saying that he wished to begin the “process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.”  His resignation was effective at noon on August 9.  Gerald Ford succeeded Nixon as president.  Ford, who had been majority leader of the House of Representatives, became vice president in December 1973 after Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned in October 1973 amid a bribery scandal.

In retirement, Nixon represented the United States on a number of trips abroad, gaining unusual access to major political leaders because of his status as an elder statesman.  He also maintained a busy speaking schedule and wrote 10 books.  He played an active role in planning his presidential library in Yorba Linda, and he and his wife were present at its dedication in 1990.  Richard Nixon suffered a stroke in April 1994 at his home in New Jersey, dying a few days later.  His grave and that of his wife, who died in 1993, lie near the birthplace on the grounds of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum.

The Richard Nixon birthplace home changed hands a number of times after the Nixons moved out in 1922. Frank Nixon, the president's father, sold parts of the property between 1922 and 1925, when the Yorba Linda School District bought five and one-half acres of the land to build a school. In 1948, the school district purchased the remaining land, including the birthplace, and installed the school's caretaker in the home. Nixon formed the private nonprofit Richard Nixon Library Foundation for the purpose of building his presidential library in 1969, after he became president. Work on the library did not begin until after he left office, but fundraising continued. In 1978, a group of businessmen purchased the birthplace on behalf of the Foundation. The City of Yorba Linda deeded the whole nine and one-half-acre site over to the Nixon Library Foundation ten years later. In anticipation of the Nixon Library's opening in 1990, the home was carefully restored with many of its original furnishings, including the bedstead in which President Nixon was born. The private Nixon Library was transferred to the Federal Government's National Archives and Records Administration on July 11, 2007. The home remains under the Foundation's administration and is open to visitors.

The Richard M. Nixon Birthplace in Yorba Linda, CA, has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.  It is open daily from 10:00am to 5:00pm, Sundays 11:00am to 5:00pm. It is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.  An admission fee is charged. Tickets must be purchased at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, located at 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd, Yorba Linda.   Regular admission includes the gardens, the birthplace home and the galleries.  Docents are available to give tours at the Birthplace.  Museum visitors begin their tour by viewing a 27-minute movie about Nixon's career. Visit the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation website or call 714-993-5075.

For moreinformation, visit the National Archives Nixon Presidential Library and Museum website, or call 714-983-9120. The website contains additional information on the birthplace and the museum.  Visitors to the website can also hear Nixon describing his childhood memories of his birthplace.


Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)
Gerald R. Ford, Jr. House, Virginia

Gerald Ford made his home in this typical, upper middle-class suburban house from 1955 until he became the 38th president of the United States after the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974.  Ford was the first person to come into office under the provisions of the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution, first as vice president and less than a year later as president.  His basic decency and personal integrity helped hold a fractured nation together and restore public confidence after the scandals of the Nixon administration.  Faced with a heavily Democratic Congress after the off-year elections of 1974, Ford was unable to get much legislation passed during his term in office.  His decision to give Nixon a full-presidential pardon in September 1974 was extremely controversial and probably contributed to his defeat in the close 1976 presidential election.

Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1913, Gerald R. Ford moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan two years later when his parents divorced.  Baptized Leslie King, Ford took the name of his stepfather, who formally adopted him.  He attended local public schools and later worked his way through the University of Michigan.  He played on Michigan’s championship football team in 1932 and 1933 and was the team’s “Most Valuable Player” in 1934.  Deciding against a career in professional football, Ford enrolled in Yale Law School.  He graduated in the top third of his class in 1941, in spite of having to work as an assistant football and boxing coach.  He served on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific during World War II.  Returning to his law practice in Grand Rapids after the war, Ford became active in community affairs.  In 1948, local Republicans and Michigan Senator Vandenberg, a well-known internationalist, suggested that Ford challenge the incumbent United States Representative, who was an isolationist.  Ford won an upset victory in the Republican primary and easily carried the general election.  In the same year, he married Elizabeth “Betty” Warren.

Ford moved to Washington, DC in 1948 to take up his seat in Congress.  After the birth of their first child in 1950, he and his wife moved to a garden apartment in the Virginia suburbs.  The Fords began to think about buying a house in 1952.  They already owned a house in Grand Rapids to maintain their residency in his district, but the purchase of the home in the new Clover subdivision in Alexandria, Virginia signified a new long-term commitment to life in Washington.  Betty Ford later recollected that it was obvious that her husband “was not going home to Michigan. . . .  He planned to stay in Congress.”  Ford did stay in Congress, easily winning reelection for a total of 25 years.  For eight of those years he served as minority leader.  He worked effectively to advance Republican policies, played an important role in party politics, was a key member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and was popular with members of both parties.

The Fords worked with Grand Rapids architect Viktors Purins to design their new house.  The two story brick and clapboard building consists of two parts: a main block and a slightly projecting extension with a two-car garage and master bedroom above.  There is a small, one-story enclosed porch on the back of the house.  The house contains seven rooms, two and one-half baths, and a finished basement.  In 1955, when they moved in, theirs was only the second house on the block.  Betty Ford was not happy with the developer’s original landscaping and did much of the lawn and garden work herself.  In 1961, the family installed a swimming pool, which Ford used regularly.

When Vice President Spiro T. Agnew resigned after pleading “no contest” to tax fraud in the autumn of 1973, President Nixon nominated Ford as vice president, following the provisions of the 25th Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1967.  Enacted in the aftermath of President Kennedy’s assassination, when there was no vice president and President Johnson had already survived one heart attack, this amendment established procedures for selecting a new vice president.  Both houses of Congress overwhelmingly confirmed Ford’s appointment as vice president. Ford continued to live in his Alexandria home, although the Secret Service made a number of changes, including the installation of a command post in the garage.

Gerald R. Ford became president on August 9, 1974, the day President Nixon’s resignation took effect.  The Fords stayed in Alexandria for 10 days to allow the Nixons time to move out of the White House.  Betty Ford remembered her husband’s first morning as president, “At 7 A.M., the President of the United States, in baby-blue short pajamas, appears on his doorstep looking for the morning paper, then goes back inside to fix his orange juice and English muffin."

One of President Ford’s first actions was granting Nixon a full presidential pardon.  He was hoping to begin healing the deeply divided nation, but the short-term effect of this extremely controversial action was further polarization.  The Democrats scored major gains in the mid-term elections that took place less than three months after Ford assumed office, increasing their majorities in both houses of Congress.  Ford had been a popular and effective congressman, but, as president, he and Congress were able to find agreement on very few legislative issues.  Ford vetoed 39 measures during his first 14 months; most were sustained.

President Ford’s first domestic challenge was stopping inflation, but the onset of a recession soon shifted his emphasis to stimulating the ailing economy.  Ford used his veto power to achieve compromises on emergency unemployment programs and housing subsidies.  Concerned about the large budget deficit, he signed an economic stimulus bill authorizing income-tax reductions only after Congress agreed to a ceiling on Federal expenditures.  Ford and his wife were both outspoken supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment.

In foreign affairs, Ford sought international solutions where he could.  He worked to maintain the power and prestige of the United States after communists took over Cambodia and South Vietnam.  By providing aid to both Israel and Egypt and persuading both countries to accept an interim truce agreement, the Ford administration sought to prevent a new war in the Middle East. Ford met with Soviet Union leader Leonid I. Brezhnev to set new restrictions on nuclear weapons.
Ford won the Republican nomination for president in 1976, but lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter in a close election.  Carter began his inaugural address by saying, “For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land."

In 1977, the Fords moved to a new house they built in Rancho Mirage, California.  Ford continued to participate actively in the political process and to speak out on important issues. He published his memoirs in 1979 and participated in conferences at the Gerald R. Ford Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan and the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, both dedicated in 1981.  He died on December 26, 2006 in Rancho Mirage.  His grave is on the grounds of the museum that honors him in Grand Rapids.

The Gerald R. Ford, Jr. House, a private home not open to the public, is located in Alexandria, VA. The house has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.

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Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, Georgia

“The early years of my life on the farm were full and enjoyable, isolated but not lonely. We always had enough to eat, no economic hardship, but no money to waste. We felt close to nature, close to members of our family, and close to God.” - Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter, 39th president of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, still makes his home in Plains, the small Georgia farm town where he was born.  As he did during his presidency, he returns to his roots here for rejuvenation while continuing his work as humanitarian and peace seeker. The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains includes the farm where he spent his boyhood, the Plains High School he attended, and the train depot that served as headquarters for his 1976 presidential campaign.  Although he came to office after a brilliantly run political campaign, Carter distrusted politics.  He relied on the strong moral convictions that he learned in Plains to help him find actions that would best benefit the whole country regardless of political party.  He made considerable progress toward his goal of making government “competent and compassionate” during his single term but could not overcome energy crises, record inflation, and international conflict.

Born in 1924 in Plains, James Earl "Jimmy" Carter, Jr., was the first of Earl and Lillian Carter’s four children. When he was four years old, the Carter family moved to a farm in the small community of Archery, two and one-half miles away.  The Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm is part of the National Historic Site.  The day the family moved to the farm was memorable. Earl Carter had forgotten the key and Jimmy crawled through a window to unlock the front door.  Although the house used fireplaces and wood stoves for heat and had no indoor plumbing or electricity, it was a typical middle class rural dwelling for the 1920s.  Earl Carter raised cotton, corn, and sugar cane with the aid of tenant farmers and was one of the first in the area to experiment with growing peanuts.  He also sold canned goods, coffee, kerosene, overalls, and a large variety of other useful items in the country store/commissary near the house.  Jimmy and his African American playmates helped in the fields, and Jimmy sold bags of boiled peanuts on the streets of “metropolitan” Plains for a nickel.  His parents raised their children to value education, community service, the Baptist Church, and each other.  Jimmy Carter lived on the farm until he went away to college in 1941.

Carter attended the Plains High School from first grade through his graduation in 1941.  He quoted Miss Julia Coleman, one of his teachers and an intellectual and cultural inspiration to him, in his presidential inaugural address.  After graduation, he attended Georgia Southwestern College and Georgia Tech University briefly before receiving an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis.  In June 1946, he came home to marry Rosalynn Smith in the Plains United Methodist Church.  He served in the Navy for seven years following his graduation from the Naval Academy, resigning his commission in 1953 to take over the family peanut business after his father died.  His income of $200 that first year was so low that he qualified to move into a low-income housing project in Plains.  He and Rosalynn lived there for a year but soon turned the Golden Peanut Company into a successful production and processing business.

Following his father’s example, Jimmy Carter became involved in civic, church, and fraternal affairs, but refused to join the local segregationist White Citizens' Council. A lifelong Democrat, Carter entered the political arena in 1962. After a strenuous contest, he won a seat in the State senate and held it for two terms. He showed special interest in education and election reform.  Carter abandoned plans to run for the United States House of Representatives to seek the governorship in 1966. Although he failed on his first attempt, he succeeded four years later.  During his term as governor, he reorganized the State government, worked for conservation, and attracted national attention as a moderate on civil rights.

Carter’s decision to leap from governor to presidential candidate was a bold one.  In a cross-country grassroots campaign, he gained support from a public looking for change after the scandals that had shaken the nation.  His surprise success in the Iowa Democratic caucus began a phenomenal rise that confounded the political experts who thought his quest was hopeless.  The downtown Plains train depot, which served the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad from 1888 to 1951, became Carter’s local campaign headquarters.  Approximately 10,000 people a day came to Plains to find out about this unknown candidate, and Carter’s friends and neighbors gathered outside the depot to celebrate his many successes in State primaries.  The Democratic National Convention made Carter their presidential nominee on the first ballot.  The depot, now a museum, was again the site of a celebration on his election as president in November 1976.

Carter defeated incumbent Gerald Ford by a relatively narrow but conclusive margin in both popular and electoral votes. He is the first president from Georgia and the first elected directly from the Deep South since Zachary Taylor in 1848.   Dramatizing his break with tradition, Carter and his family walked hand in hand down Pennsylvania Avenue after his inauguration at the Capitol, to the cheers of the watching crowds.

As President Carter took office, he stressed his plans to fight “stagflation” by both stimulating the economy and attacking inflation.  He succeeded in adding millions of new jobs and reducing the budget deficit but could not control inflation, which reached record rates.  He developed new policies to fight the energy shortage, expanded civil service reform, and sought to protect the environment.  He appointed record numbers of women, African Americans, and Hispanics to government jobs and strengthened the Social Security system.  In 1977, Carter pardoned young men who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War.  This controversial decision, combined with his unwillingness to work within the traditional party system, brought him into conflict with Congress.

In foreign policy, his support for human rights complicated his negotiations with the Soviet Union and other foreign states.  His greatest success was the Camp David accords of 1978, which brought about a rapprochement between Israel and Egypt and a reduction of tensions in the Middle East.  His greatest failure was his inability to free the American Embassy staff members taken hostage by the new Islamic regime in Iran.  The 14-month long hostage crisis, plus the continuing ruinous inflation, led to his defeat by Ronald Reagan in 1980.  He continued to negotiate with Iran after his defeat, however, and obtained the release of the hostages hours before the end of his term.  He and his wife flew to Germany to greet them.

Retiring from public office, Jimmy Carter returned to Plains.  He continues to work as a humanitarian with the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity, participates in Middle East peace negotiations, and has written several books.  In 2002, Jimmy Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for his "decades of untiring efforts to find peaceful solution to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development."

The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site consists of three parts.  The Plains High School serves as the park visitor center and museum.  Visitors find a restored and furnished classroom, principal's office, and auditorium, and exhibits on Carter’s life and accomplishments.  His friends, neighbors, and family talk about the Jimmy Carter they know on a 25-minute video.  The Plains Depot is a self-guided museum with exhibits focusing on the 1976 presidential campaign.  The Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm, two and half miles from downtown Plains, offers an intimate look at Carter’s childhood.  The National Park Service has restored the Carter house to its appearance before the installation of electricity in 1938.  Other restored features include the commissary/country store, the barn, the blacksmith shop, two tenant houses, a buggy shed, and a windmill.  Heritage crops of cotton, peanuts, sugar cane, and corn grow in the fields and the gardens still provide vegetables for the table.  Visitors can hear Jimmy Carter share stories about his childhood at audio stations along a walking path around the farm.

The Jimmy Carter Preservation District includes a number of other buildings in Plains that are associated with the peanut farmer turned president.  Jimmy Carter was born at the Lillian G. Carter Nursing Center, the first president born in a hospital.  Visitors can see the public housing where Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter lived for a year.  Ghost stories shroud the 1850 house they rented from 1956 to 1961.  Family members lie buried in the Lebanon Cemetery on the road to the Boyhood Farm.  Jimmy Carter still teaches Sunday school at the Maranatha Baptist Church, when he is in town.

The Jimmy Carter National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located in Plains, GA, 10 miles west of Americus on US 280.  It is free to the public. The historic site is open daily except on New Year's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.  Visits should begin at the Plains High School at 300 North Bond St., which houses the park's visitor center and museum. The Plains High School Visitor Center and Museum is open from 9:00am to 5:00 pm. The Train Depot Museum is open from 9:00am to 4:30pm. The Jimmy Carter Boyhood Farm is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm.  Walking tours of the farm are led on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30am and 3:30pm.  The Carter Private Residence and Compound is not open to the public.  For more information, visit the National Park Service Jimmy Carter National Historic Site website or call 229-824-4104.

More than 20 buildings in the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site & Preservation District have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.  Many are documented individually including  Jimmy Carter Boyhood Home Tenant House, Jimmy Carter Boyhood Home, Jimmy Carter Boyhood Home Commissary, Rosalynn Carter Childhood Home,  Plains School, and the Jimmy Carter House.


Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home, Illinois

“All of us have to have a place we go back to.  Dixon is that place for me.  There was the life that has shaped my body and mind for all the years to come.” -Ronald Reagan

When Reagan became president in 1980, he pledged himself to restore “the great, confident roar of American progress and growth and optimism.”  By the end of his two terms, the nation was enjoying its longest recorded period of peacetime prosperity, and Reagan’s personal meetings with reform Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev seemed to bring his goal of peace through strength within grasp. Americans loved Ronald Reagan, 40th president of the United States; polls showed that he was more popular than any other retiring president had ever been.  

This modest house in Dixon, Illinois was Reagan’s home from 1920 to 1924, the site of his earliest childhood memories, and a place he recalled with great fondness.  The gable-roofed, two-story white frame house is a typical late 19th-century small-town American home.  A broad one-story front porch with a white painted balustrade stretches across the entire front elevation.  The first floor includes an entry hall, double parlor, dining room, kitchen, and pantry.  The front parlor, the most formal room in the house, contains a tile-trimmed fireplace.  Stairs in the front hall lead to the second-floor bedrooms.  Period furniture fills the house, which is restored to its 1920 appearance.

Born in Tampico, Illinois, on February 6, 1911, Ronald Reagan and his family moved many times during his childhood.  In December 1920, when he was nine years old, they rented a house on Hennepin Avenue in Dixon.  Reagan remembered raising rabbits in the back yard with his older brother Neil, and collecting birds’ nests and butterflies.  He lived in this northern Illinois town until he was 21.  Here he developed the outgoing personality that served him so well in Hollywood and Washington, DC.  His mother was an active member of the First Christian Church in Dixon, where he sometimes taught Sunday school.  She started him on his acting career by encouraging him to participate in church plays.

After graduating from high school in 1928, Reagan worked his way through Eureka College. In addition to pursuing his studies, he played on the football team and acted in school plays.  He got a job as a radio sports announcer after graduation, no small feat in 1932.  During a spring training trip to California in 1937, he took a screen test and won a Hollywood contract. Over the next 20 years, he appeared in 53 movies.  One of his most famous roles was as George Gipp in Knute Rockne—All American; his nickname of “The Gipper” stayed with him for the rest of his life.  He served in the military during World War II, although he never left the country.  His marriage to actress Jane Wyman ended in divorce.  In 1952, he married actress Nancy Davis.  They were married for 52 years.

Reagan was a Democrat during the 1930s and 1940s, but the disputes over the influence of communism in the film industry he encountered as president of the Screen Actors Guild turned him in a more conservative direction.  Famous as the host of a popular TV series, he was soon touring the country as a spokesman for conservatism.  Reagan’s political ambitions grew as he became more conservative.  Elected governor of California in 1966 as a Republican, he won reelection in 1970 by a million-vote margin.  In 1976, Reagan challenged incumbent President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination.  He lost, but his strong showing laid the foundation for his success four years later.  When he became the Republican presidential nominee in 1980, he selected future President George H. W. Bush as his running mate.  The election took place in the midst of the long American hostage crisis in Iran, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, runaway inflation, and a sagging economy.  Reagan asked voters whether they were better off than they had been in 1976, and defeated Jimmy Carter in a landslide victory.

President Reagan took office in January 1981, announcing that “Government is not the solution to our problem; it is the problem.”  The release of the American hostages in Iran on the day of his inauguration started his administration on a high note.  His popularity increased 69 days later when mentally ill John Hinckley Jr. shot him in an assassination attempt.  Americans were impressed with his courage and gallantry in the wake of a life-threatening injury—in the hospital emergency room, he told his wife “I forgot to duck.”  He continued to carry out his responsibilities as president during his recovery.

President Reagan’s economic policies called for limiting government spending, reducing the burden of regulation, cutting taxes, and strengthening national defense.  When increases in defense expenditures created a budget deficit, he continued to cut taxes.  By 1984, the economy was booming, and Reagan won reelection with an unprecedented number of electoral votes.  One of the highlights of his second term was the passage of a new tax code eliminating many deductions and exempting many low-income Americans from paying any taxes at all.  Reagan declared war on drugs, and witnessed the onset of the AIDS epidemic and the tragedy of the Challenger space shuttle.

Reagan’s fierce anti-communism was central to his foreign policy.  The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union intensified during his first term, with both sides increasing their military expenditures.  That changed in his second term, when the Russian economy began to crumble, and reformer Mikhail Gorbachev rose to power in 1985.  Reagan met personally with Gorbachev to agree on a treaty eliminating intermediate-range nuclear missiles.  He gave strong, sometimes controversial support to anti-communist insurgencies in Central America, Asia, and Africa.  He sent bombers to Libya, when he received information tying terrorists from that country to an attack on American soldiers in West Berlin.

Reagan left office at the end of his second term in 1989, retiring to his California ranch. In 1994, the nation grieved with him and his wife, Nancy, when, with his customary honesty, he revealed that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. He passed away at 93 years of age on June 5, 2004, after suffering for ten years with Alzheimer’s disease. News of his death in June 2004 seemed to plunge the whole country into mourning.

Reagan friends and supporters formed the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home Preservation Foundation in the early 1980s to preserve the house on Hennepin Avenue.  They restored it to its appearance when he lived there, based on his and his brother’s recollections, and opened it to the public.  Both brothers were present at its dedication in 1984.  The foundation also added a visitor center and a statue of Reagan to the property.

The Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home located at 816 S. Hennepin Ave., Dixon, IL is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The home is open daily April-October, Monday–Saturday from 10:00am to 4:00pm, and Sunday 1:00pm to 4:00pm. An admission fee is charged. For more information, visit the Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home  website or call 815-288-5176.  Visitors can tour the home along with an interpretive Visitor Center next door.

George H. W. Bush (1989-1993) & George W. Bush (2001-2009)
George W. Bush Childhood Home, Texas

This typical pre-World War II suburban house shares with the Adams National Historical Site the distinction of being the home of two presidents: George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st president of the United States, and George Walker Bush, the 43rd president. The George W. Bush Childhood Home pays tribute to the two presidents who lived here, one on the verge of his political career and the other not yet a teenager.  George H. W. Bush bought this house in 1951, a year after he moved his family to the booming west Texas town of Midland to establish himself in the oil business.  George W. Bush, his first child, was five at the time.  The family lived in the house for four years.  The first President Bush led the nation during the tumultuous years of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the reunification of divided Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Gulf War that drove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait.  The tragic bombings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the hijacking of Flight 93 on September 11, 2001 have dominated the administration of his son.  Declaring “the war on terrorism,” President George W. Bush took dramatic steps to protect Americans at home and abroad.  The Bush administration supported and obtained the enactment of large tax cuts and worked with Congress to secure substantial education reforms in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, two of its most notable domestic initiatives.

When George H. W. Bush and his wife Barbara bought this house on November 7, 1951, Midland was already changing from a small country town into the economic center of the great Permian oil basin that spans west Texas and eastern New Mexico.  By 1950, 215 oil companies had offices in Midland and a local developer called it the “headquarters of the independent oil man in Texas.”  The simple one-story frame house, built in 1939, was one of the first in its subdivision.  An original brick chimney and large projecting bay window, added when the attached garage became a den, dominate the front elevation.  The complex low-pitched hipped roof of red shingles contrasts with the olive green clapboards and the red brick detailing at the top of the chimney.  The compact, efficient layout includes a living room, den, and eat-in kitchen at the front of the house.  A narrow hallway separates the three bedrooms and one bath from the public spaces.

Restored to the appearance of the Bush residency, significant interior features include the original “knotty pine” paneling in the living room, den, and master bedroom; original cabinets and hardware; a phone niche; an original light fixture; and the wallpaper from the Bush occupancy. Hardwood floors are present throughout the home with the exception of the kitchen and bathroom.  The neighborhood was close enough to downtown Midland for young George and his friends to ride their bicycles to the movie theater.

George H. W. Bush
Born to a wealthy family in Massachusetts in 1924, George H. W. Bush was a decorated Navy fighter pilot in World War II, who flew 58 combat missions. Shot down by Japanese antiaircraft fire over the Pacific and rescued by an American submarine, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery in action. When he returned home from the war, he married the former Barbara Pierce, whom he had met as a student at Phillips Academy, and enrolled in Yale University.  Graduating in 1948 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, he entered the oil business as a sales clerk but soon started his own independent oil development company.  As his business prospered, he moved to a larger house in Midland in 1955 and to Houston four years later.  When he left active management of his company in 1966, he was already a millionaire.

That same year, Bush began the first of his two terms as a member of the United States House of Representatives, following his father into politics; Prescott Bush served as United States senator from Connecticut from 1952 to 1963.  Unsuccessful in two campaigns for the Senate, George H. W. Bush next served in a series of high-level appointed positions, including ambassador to the United Nations, chairman of the Republican National Committee, chief of the U.S. Liaison Office to the People’s Republic of China, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency. After challenging Ronald Reagan for the Republican presidential nomination, he accepted the vice presidential nomination in 1980. Vice President Bush had a large role in both foreign and domestic dealings, including Federal deregulation and anti-drug programs.  Winning the presidential nomination eight years later, he easily defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis in the election of 1988.

His international experience as vice president served President Bush well. His diplomacy smoothed the way, aiding the relatively peaceful transition from the Cold War into a new era of American and Russian relations.  It was a time of dramatic change with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the resignation of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev; but Bush received high marks for his restrained handling of this volatile situation.  In Latin America, he sent American troops into Panama to overthrow the corrupt regime of General Manuel Noriega.  When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, Bush put together a powerful international coalition to oppose him. The dramatic allied victory in Operation Desert Storm was a high point of his presidency.

Foreign policy dominated Bush’s administration, and his pursuit of a “kinder, gentler nation” did not include a large amount of domestic legislation. The Bush White House supported the Clean Air Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Problems on the domestic front eventually overwhelmed Bush’s popularity following the Gulf War.  A faltering economy, rising violence in the nation’s cities, high budget deficits, and the difficulty of maintaining his “no new taxes” campaign pledge hurt him in the 1992 election, which he lost to Democrat William J. Clinton.

George W. Bush
Born in 1946, the first of six children, George W. Bush was five years old when his family moved to the house on Ohio Avenue.  The Bushes moved frequently during George W. Bush’s childhood. The four years he lived here were formative ones, and the house figures prominently in family memoirs.  It saw the birth of two of his three brothers and the tragic death of his sister Robin from leukemia in 1953. George attended Sam Houston Elementary School while the family lived in this house, and he began to play baseball.  At the end of 1955, the family moved to a larger house in Midland.  Like his father, Bush attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts and Yale University, graduating in 1968.  After receiving a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard Business School in 1975, he returned to Midland to work in the oil industry. In 1977, he married Laura Welch, a teacher and librarian born in Midland.

George W. Bush worked on his father’s 1988 presidential campaign.  In 1989, he and a group of partners bought the Texas Rangers baseball franchise.  He was managing general partner when elected governor of Texas in 1994.  Successful in his reelection bid in 1998, he was the first Texas governor ever elected to two consecutive four-year terms.

George W. Bush began his presidential campaign in 1999.  In the extremely close contest between Bush and Democrat Albert Gore, Jr. in 2000, reminiscent of the disputed Hayes-Tilden election of 1876, the United States Supreme Court did not confirm Bush as the winner until December 13, more than a month after Election Day.  Bush won reelection in 2004 in another close contest, this time with Democrat John Kerry.

In domestic affairs, President Bush has cut taxes, obtained significant education reform, expanded Medicare to include prescription drugs, and emphasized and embraced the contributions of local and voluntary organizations to the nation’s welfare.  After the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, President Bush has aggressively sought to protect the nation at home and root out terrorist organizations around the world.  He has worked to strengthen the nation’s defenses through the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security that consolidates and realigns government agencies into a new agency charged with protecting the homeland. He sent troops to Afghanistan to hunt down the men responsible for the attacks of September 11, resulting in the defeat of the oppressive Taliban regime.  In March 2003, a U.S.-based coalition invaded Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction. The war effort was joined by more than 20 other nations designated the "coalition of the willing."  The war efforts overturned Saddam Hussein’s government.  Captured by American forces and brought to trial under the Iraqi interim government set up by the U.S.-led coalition, Saddam was convicted and executed.

Subsequent owners made a number of changes to the George W. Bush Boyhood Home after the Bush family moved out in 1955.  In 2001, the Permian Basin Board of Realtors in Midland bought the house and created the George W. Bush Boyhood Home Foundation to restore it to its appearance when the Bush family lived there.  The house opened to the public in 2006 with the first phase of restoration complete.  First Lady Laura Bush, former President George H. W. Bush, and his wife Barbara attended the dedication.  The second phase of the restoration project will include construction of a permanent exhibit and educational center.

The George W. Bush Childhood Home located at 1412 West Ohio Ave., Midland, TX is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The home is open Tuesday-Saturday from 10:00am to 5:00pm, and Sunday from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. It is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. An admission fee is charged.  For more information, visit the George W. Bush Childhood Home website or call toll free 1-866-684-4380.

William Jefferson Clinton (1993-2001)
Bill Clinton Birthplace (President Bill Clinton's 1st Home Museum), Arkansas

William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, was born at the Julia Chester Hospital on the 19th of August 1946 in the small town of Hope, Arkansas as William Jefferson Blythe III, named for his late father who had died in an auto accident in May. He lived in this comfortable frame house in Hope with his widowed mother and her parents for four years after his birth in 1946. Clinton remembered playing in the yard with friends and learning from his adored grandfather about social justice and the equality of all people. Clinton, the first Baby Boomer elected to the White House, maintained a centrist political stance. The American people enjoyed a great economic boom during his administration, and President Clinton worked effectively for peace in Northern Ireland, Haiti, the Middle East, and the former Yugoslavia. He also faced impeachment but was acquitted of the charges brought against him.

The Clinton Birthplace Foundation, Inc. preserved the two and one-half story frame house as Bill Clinton’s 1st Home Museum.  The home has deep projecting eaves and a broad one-story hipped roof porch on the front. Its style is American foursquare, so called because of its square floor plan. There are many foursquare houses in towns and cities across the country, most built during the early years of the 20th century. The Clinton house dates from 1917. The Cassidy family moved into the home in 1938, when Virginia was in high school, and purchased the house in 1946.  The restored interior still has much of its original detail, including the staircase in the living room, with its turned balusters and massive, paneled newel post. A small pantry features built-in cupboards. Virtually all of the second floor finishes are original, including the flooring and the beaded board in the hallway and nursery.

Virginia received her R.N. certification in nursing in Shreveport, Louisiana where she met and married William Jefferson “Bill” Blythe II in 1943.  He was a traveling salesman from Sherman, Texas.  He served in Italy during WWII.  Virginia returned to Hope, living with her parents and awaiting her husband’s return.  In 1945, Bill Blythe and Virginia lived briefly with her parents before moving to Chicago for his work.  Virginia was already expecting; she and Bill wanted to return to Hope for the birth of their child.  He insisted she fly back and he would drive to meet her.  Tragically, he died in an auto accident en route to Hope.

Young Billy lived with his widowed mother in the comfortable frame home with his grandparents, Eldridge and Edith Grisham Cassidy.  He remembers playing in the yard with friends and cousins.  In 1948, Virginia, a registered nurse, went to New Orleans for her certification as a nurse-anesthetist.  She left her two-year-old son in the care of her parents.  They visited back and forth during the months Virginia was away.  Bill’s maternal grandparents and extended family played an important role in his childhood. His grandmother taught him his numbers using playing cards pinned to the kitchen curtains. He lived with his grandparents for four years and maintained a close relationship with them, visiting frequently until his grandfather’s death in 1956.

Virginia finished her schooling and returned to Hope in 1950. Soon she met and married Roger Clinton from Hot Springs, Arkansas.  They moved a short distance away to a house of their own at 321 E. 13th Street.  Bill enjoyed his Lionel trains and was keen on Hopalong Cassidy.  He attended first grade at Brookwood Elementary.

In 1953, the family moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas where his mother continued her nursing, and his stepfather worked with the family car dealership.  From 1953-1955 young Bill attended St. John’s Catholic School and then public schools.  Bill adored his younger half-brother, Roger who was born in 1956. When Roger started school, Bill asked to change his name to Clinton so everyone would know the two boys were brothers.  Bill Clinton completed high school in Hot Springs, excelling in many areas.

Bill won the American Legion essay contest.  During the Boys’ Nation trip to Washington, DC, he shook hands with President Kennedy.  This experience reinforced his growing interest in politics and public service.  Bill had a large extended family that encouraged him, and he was fortunate to meet many mentors along the way, including Senator Fulbright.  Bill Clinton graduated from Georgetown University in 1968 and won a Rhodes Scholarship to attend Oxford University in England.  He returned to the United States to go to Yale Law School.  While there he met Hillary Rodham.  After graduating from law school, he taught at the University of Arkansas Law School.  He and Hillary married in 1975, and she also taught at the law school.  Bill Clinton entered politics after heading Senator McGovern’s presidential campaign in Texas.  He first served as Attorney General of Arkansas in 1976. He was elected Governor of Arkansas in 1978, the youngest governor in the nation at 32.  Clinton pursued a liberal agenda. Defeated two years later, he moved to the centrist political stance that would characterize the remainder of his political career. Regaining the governor’s office in 1982, he served a total of five terms.  After ten years as a very popular governor, Bill Clinton won the presidential race in 1992.

Many leading Democrats chose not to run in the presidential election of 1992, assuming that President George H. W. Bush would easily win reelection for a second term. Clinton, sensing opportunity, announced his candidacy in 1991. President Clinton and his vice president, Albert Gore, Jr., represented a new political generation, the men and women born after World War II. The Democrats swept the election, taking control of both the White House and Congress for the first time in 12 years.

During the Clinton administration, the nation enjoyed the lowest unemployment and inflation in modern times, reduced welfare rolls, falling crime rates in many places, and the highest home ownership in the country's history. President Clinton proposed the first balanced budget in many years and achieved a budget surplus by lowering government spending and increasing taxes of the wealthiest 1.2% of Americans. He sought to end racial discrimination, improve education, and strengthen environmental rules. A major initiative of the Clinton administration was an ambitious health care reform plan, led by First Lady Hilary Clinton. The administration’s plan was defeated on Capitol Hill.

Clinton was an effective peacemaker internationally, although he had little foreign policy experience. Tragedy marred President Clinton’s first term, when a rescue mission in Somalia begun by President Bush ended with the deaths of 18 American servicemen. He acted as a mediator during peace negotiations between Ireland, Great Britain, and the Irish Republican Army. He brought the leaders of Israel and Palestine together at the White House, where they signed a peace accord in 1995. He dispatched peacekeeping forces to Bosnia and bombed Iraq to enforce United Nations inspections of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. President Clinton successfully negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, which boosted both the American and Mexican economies. In 1995, the peace accord signed in Dayton, Ohio, led to a U.S. and NATO-backed cease-fire in the Balkans.

Clinton was popular as a “New Democrat,” but the tide began to turn in 1994, when the Republicans took over both houses of Congress, and personal scandal rocked his administration. He won reelection in 1996, but, in 1998, was the second sitting president impeached in the House of Representatives, where he was tried for charges relating to personal indiscretions with a White House intern. He became the first elected president to be tried by the Senate. After the Senate found him not guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice, Clinton apologized to the nation.

The non-profit Clinton Birthplace Foundation, Inc. acquired the home in 1994 and opened the restored house to the public three years later as President Bill Clinton’s 1st Home Museum & Exhibit Center.  The foundation added The Virginia Cassidy Blythe Clinton Kelley memorial garden to honor Bill’s mother.  The Museum Exhibit Center is adjacent to the home and garden, with exhibits on Clinton’s childhood, personal and political life, family history, and friends from Hope.  It also houses a museum store with Clinton’s favorite books and Fair Trade craft items reflecting the Clinton Global Initiative as well as political memorabilia and heritage souvenirs.   In 2011, the home was officially designated as a National Historic Site in the National Park System.

President Bill Clinton's 1st Home Museum, at 117 S. Hervey St., Hope, AR is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Bill Clinton Birthplace. It is operated by The Bill Clinton Birthplace Foundation. The museum’s complex of buildings is located 1.4 miles SE of IH-30 in downtown Hope.  Parking and entrance is in the back, off 2nd St.  The museum is open Monday-Saturday 10:00am to 5:00pm and by reservation.  The grounds and exhibits are accessible at no charge, and guided tours of the inside of the home are available for a small fee.  For more information, visit the Clinton Birthplace Foundation website or call 870-777-4455.

The foundation also owns the small house at 321 E. 13th in Hope, where young Bill lived with Virginia and Roger Clinton.  There are no tours inside but exhibits are visible through the porch windows.


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Other Presidential Places
The White House & President's Park, Washington, DC

"I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof." -John Adams, 1800

The White House is the official residence of the American head of state, the heart of the executive branch of government, and the home to the presidents of the United States and their families.  It welcomes prominent people and foreign heads of state, but also houses policy debates and critical decisions; running, shouting children; men and women taking their marriage vows; and families joined by the nation in mourning slain husbands and fathers.  The White House is a living space, not only a historic site, but a place that sees the making of history every day.

President John Adams opened the White House to the public and started the tradition of hosting New Year’s Day receptions. President Thomas Jefferson expanded on this tradition of hospitality and hosted the first Fourth of July celebration.   Frequently at these events, people would line up to shake the president’s hand.  Many chief executives reported red and aching hands at the end of these receptions, which continued into the early 20th century.  The White House is still the only private residence of a head of state open to the public free of charge.  White House tours of the great state rooms with their magnificent furnishings, including collections of antiques and portraits of the presidents and their first ladies, offer visitors a glimpse into the public lives of the presidents.  The important work going on in the West and East Wings and the personal lives in the private rooms on the Second and Third Floors take place out of public view.

President George Washington signed the Residence Act in July 1790 declaring that the Federal Government would reside in a district “not exceeding ten miles square…on the river Potomac.” City Planner Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant laid out plans for the nation’s new capital and together with President Washington chose the site for the “President’s House.”  In 1792, Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson held a design contest for the executive residence and the Capitol building. Irish-born architect James Hoban won the competition to design the “President’s House,” the first public building erected in the newly created federal city of Washington. John Adams moved into the unfinished building in November 1800, the first president to live in the presidential mansion.

The White House Grounds and the surrounding parkland, known as President’s Park, provide an elegant setting to welcome foreign dignitaries and to host national celebrations such as the lighting of the National Christmas Tree and the annual Easter Egg Roll, and on occasion public protests.  President’s Park reflects the plans of first L’Enfant and later Andrew Jackson Downing and the 1902 McMillan Plan to connect the White House with the monuments of the National Mall, the United States Capitol, and the Lincoln Memorial.  The 1902 plan envisioned the sweeping lawn and tree-lined vista that today with the public buildings and monuments creates a symbolic city core that honors our most revered presidents and the great events of the nation’s history. The Ellipse is the central landscape feature on the south side. Lafayette Park, on the north side, is surrounded by many historic buildings of interest and is the site of an equestrian statue of President Andrew Jackson and a number of statues of Revolutionary War heroes erected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the mid 1930’s, President Franklin Roosevelt contracted Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. to modify the grounds and gardens to provide more privacy for the first family.

Constructed from Aquia sandstone between 1792 and 1800, the Georgian exterior of the White House survives largely unchanged, except for the famous south and north porticos, which Hoban added in 1824 and 1829 to 1830, and the West and East Wings.  The West Wing evolved from its original construction in 1902 to its present form by 1934. The East Wing was completed in 1942.  The interior of the White House has undergone three important reconstructions. During the War of 1812, the British destroyed the executive residence, when they burned Washington’s public buildings in 1814.  A summer thunderstorm put out the fire, but all that remained was a charred and badly damaged shell.  President James Madison brought Hoban back to rebuild the mansion.  During the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt, extensive renovations were undertaken lead by the architects of McKim, Mead & White.  During his administration, President Roosevelt officially changed the name of the residence to the White House. In 1948, a thorough examination of the house revealed that the alterations and remodeling overtime had weakened the old wooden beams and interior walls. President Harry S Truman and his family moved across the street to Blair House while, between 1948 and 1952, workers carefully removed the historic interiors and installed a new steel and concrete framework that replaced the old, badly deteriorated timbers.

Presidents and their wives added modern conveniences and replaced finishes and furnishings to reflect current tastes and personal preferences.  Andrew Jackson was responsible for modern amenities such as running water and an indoor bath.  The year 1848 saw the installation of gas lighting during the James K. Polk administration.  In 1891, President Benjamin Harrison made notable changes including adding electric lights.  The public rooms reflect the stories of the men and women who lived in this house and the events, both public and private, that occurred here.

The East Room is the largest space on the first or State Floor.  When John Adams moved into the President’s House for his last few months in office, his wife Abigail used the unfinished room to dry the family laundry.  Mourners filed by the bodies of seven presidents lying in state here.  President Ulysses S. Grant remodeled the room for his daughter’s wedding in 1874.  Theodore Roosevelt’s children roller-skated on the newly installed wood floors in 1902, and his daughter Alice married Congressman Nicholas Longworth in a famous East Room ceremony four years later.  President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act here.  The Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington that Dolley Madison rescued when the British invaded Washington in 1814 now hangs in this room.

President James Monroe played the card game whist with his friends in what is now the Green Room, but it did not become a “Green Drawing Room” until the John Quincy Adams administration.  Changes in cultural styles and personal tastes of the presidents and first ladies influenced the evolving appearance of the White House interiors. For example, President Chester A. Arthur, enamored with the new Aesthetic movement and the work of Tiffany, thought Lucretia Garfield’s highly patterned finishes were out of fashion, and redecorations have been frequent.  Grace Coolidge furnished this room with authentic 19th century furniture, in an early attempt to restore the White House to its historic appearance.

The Blue Room has not always been blue either.  Dolley Madison called it her “Oval Drawing Room” and decorated it with red velvet draperies.  James Monroe imported fashionable Empire furniture upholstered in crimson silk from France to decorate his “large oval room.”  Some of those pieces, reupholstered in blue, stand there today.  President Martin Van Buren began the tradition of decorating the room in blue, which continues to today.  Used often as a reception area, this room has seen many important visitors, including the chiefs of Great Plains tribes who had tea with James Monroe in 1822 and the first Chinese ambassador to the United States when he presented his credentials to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878.  It has also witnessed personal events.  The wedding of President Grover Cleveland took place here in 1886, and the christening of President Dwight Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Mary Jean, was another reminder that the White House is also a home.

Dolley Madison held her famous Wednesday night receptions in the Red Room, though it was not red, but sunflower yellow at the time.  It did not become a true “red room,” until the Polk administration.  In March 1877, it saw Rutherford B. Hayes secretly sworn in as president, after one of the most bitterly contested elections in the nation’s history.  The White House swearing-in was intended to anticipate anything that might disrupt the formal inauguration at the Capitol, scheduled for the following Monday.  Ulysses S. Grant, his predecessor, left a dinner party in the next room to attend the ceremony. Presidential families often used this room for informal Sunday evening gatherings in the 19th century.

The State Dining Room, which can now seat 140, originally was much smaller. By the 1850s, it already could not hold the many congressmen, diplomats, and other distinguished guests invited to attend official dinners.  In 1902, architects McKim, Mead & White enlarged the room to its current dimensions by removing the stairway from the west end of Cross Hall. Franklin D. Roosevelt had the blessing that John Adams wrote for the White House in 1800 carved in the large stone mantelpiece. Today this room is the center of White House hospitality.

Hoban designed the Entrance Hall and Cross Hall as a formal reception area and circulation space connecting the main rooms on the State Floor.  In the 19th century, the public entered the White House through this space.  In 1837, Andrew Jackson invited everyone in to help him eat a 1,400-pound cheese he received as a gift.  The resulting mob trampled so much cheese into the carpeting that it took months to remove the smell.  The 1902 renovation relocated the public entrance to the White House to the East Terrace, but the president and his wife still welcome state visitors in the Entrance Hall.

The Second and Third Floors are private living quarters, used only by the president, family, and guests.  This part of the White House was a joyful place when Grover Cleveland’s daughter, Esther, was born here. She is the only child of a president born in the White House, although several grandchildren have been born here.  Abigail Fillmore, a former schoolteacher, established the first official library in the White House on the Second Floor in 1850.  It was home to Theodore Roosevelt’s rambunctious children.  His daughter Alice Roosevelt Longworth once exclaimed at a small dinner party held during the Richard M. Nixon administration, “My goodness . . . this is the room where I had my appendix out!” The operation performed in the President's Dining Room, had been in her old bedroom, the Prince of Wales Room.   The private quarters of the White House also witnessed scenes of great sadness, with the death of Willie Lincoln and the painful dying of President William H. Harrison, to name a few.

Today the White House contains 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms on six levels. There are also 28 fireplaces, eight staircases, and three elevators.  A tennis court, jogging track, swimming pool, movie theater, and bowling alley reflect the active lives led by today’s presidents and their families.  The National Park Service maintains the White House Gardens and Grounds, the surrounding parkland known as President’s Park, and provides interpretive programs in the park and at the White House Visitor Center.  The White House Historical Association produces educational literature and films, develops special programs, and maintains a web site interpreting the White House and its history and the persons and events associated with it. The Association published the first official White House guidebook in 1962 and continues to publish books about the White House.

The White House, located at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, DC, is a National Historic Landmark, although it is legally exempted from listing in the National Register of Historic Places according to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.    For detailed information on touring the White House and President’s Park visit the National Park Service President’s Park (White House) website.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file for President's Park South: text and photos.

The White House Visitor Center, managed by the National Park Service, includes exhibits and a short film, which offer glimpses into the White House and its history.  The White House Historical Association website provides an intimate look into the history of the White House including those who lived and worked there since its beginning.  The association’s website has detailed information on the White House Visitor Center  and the exhibits offered by the National Park Service.  Visit the White House Visitor Center located inside the north end of the Department of Commerce Building between 14th & 15th Sts. NW, at 1450 Pennsylvania Ave., NW.   For information, call 202-208-1631. The center is open daily from 7:30am to 4:00pm except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.  Walk through six permanent exhibits relating to the White House including the First Families in the White House, Symbols and Images, White House Architecture, White House Interiors, Working White House, and Ceremonies and Celebration.  The White House Historical Association has a gift shop in the Visitor Center.

Public tours of the White House are available for groups of 10 or more people with special arrangements for the handicapped. Requests for American citizens must be submitted through one's Member of Congress and for others through the embassy of their nation of citizenship. Requests should be submitted as early as possible; the number of tours is limited. Arrangements are accepted up to six months in advance.  To contact your representative and senators, please call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.   The self-guided tours are available from 7:30am to 12:30pm, Tuesday through Saturday (excluding Federal holidays), and are scheduled on a first come, first served basis approximately one month in advance of the requested date. All guests 14 years of age or older are to submit their name, date of birth, social security number and country of citizenship to the requesting office. Attendees under the age of 14 only need to submit their name and date of birth. This security information must be received by the congressional office or embassy through which tickets are obtained no later than five business days prior to the tour date.

All White House tours are free of charge. For the most current tour information, please call the 24-hour line at 202-456-7041. Please note that White House tours may be subject to last minute cancellation. The closest Metro stops are Federal Triangle, Metro Center, and McPherson Square. Groups should enter the White House complex from the south side of East Executive Ave. near the Southeast Gate.

The official White House website also offers detailed information including history of the residence and online virtual tours.
The White House, White House Grounds and Ellipse, and Lafayette Square have all been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.  The White House and Lafayette Square are both featured in the National Park Service Discover Our Shared Heritage Washington DC travel itinerary.


Independence National Historical Park, Pennsylvania

The founding and growth of the United States and Philadelphia, when it was the capital city, are two of the themes that define Independence National Historical Park, which preserves associated historic buildings and artifacts and tells the story of the birth of American democracy. This 51½ -acre park is the site of the meetings of the first and second Continental Congresses and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States of America.  George Washington’s inauguration as its first president took place on April 30, 1789 in Federal Hall in New York City, which served as the capital until the government moved to Philadelphia in July 1790.

In the late 18th century, Philadelphia was a significant English-speaking city and port in the Atlantic World. Located at a midpoint in the 13 colonies, the city was a natural place to hold the first and second Continental Congresses and the Constitutional Convention, and to be the capital of the new nation.  Here George Washington and John Adams lived and served as the first two presidents of the infant democracy. Philadelphia became the seat of government between 1790 and 1800, while the new capital at Washington, DC was under construction.  The park includes and interprets a number of restored and reconstructed buildings, sites of buildings, and other resources that relate to the early establishment of the government and to presidents of the United States.
 
In the Declaration House at 700 Market Street in the park, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson rented two rooms from Jacob and Maria Graff on the second floor of this house from May to September 1776 to escape the oppressive summer heat, because then the house was on the edge of the city.  The National Park Service reconstructed the three-story brick house in 1976 and furnished Jefferson’s two upstairs rooms, to reflect his occupancy. Visitors can see some objects in these rooms that simulate references from Jefferson’s own day and account book entries.  The public also learns about Jefferson’s slave, Bob Hemmings, who accompanied his master to Philadelphia.

Built from 1787-89 as the Philadelphia County Courthouse, and enlarged from 1793-95 to accommodate the expanding Federal Government, Congress Hall on the corner of 6th and Chestnut Streets was the meeting place of the legislative branch. President George Washington’s second inauguration took place here, and in 1797, Washington transferred the reins of government to John Adams in the building. This event made it clear to doubters at home and abroad that the new democracy was working.

The three-story brick mansion where Presidents George Washington and John Adams lived between 1790 and 1800 stood on the south side of Market between 5th and 6th Streets until its demolition in 1832.  Both presidents also used the house as their executive offices, the place where they invented the role of chief executive.  George Washington brought 9 slaves to the house during his years as the first president of the fledgling nation, despite growing anti-slavery sentiments.

In 2003, in response to activists’ demands, the United States House of Representatives issued a report urging that the National Park Service appropriately commemorate those historical events.  To fulfill this mandate, the National Park Service and the City of Philadelphia developed a cooperative project entitled “The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in Making a New Nation.”  In May 2007, the mayor of Philadelphia and the superintendent of Independence National Historical Park launched an archeological dig to investigate whether any archeological evidence from the period between 1790 and 1800 remains at the President’s House site. Archeologists discovered remnants of the foundations of the main house, a back kitchen and a connecting service passage. A new permanent installation on the site will commemorate the house and the long untold story of the slaves who lived and toiled there. The tension between slavery and freedom provides a rich interpretive opportunity here to portray the growth of America in very personal terms.  This sites offers the opportunity to portray the moral decisions of two presidents—one a slaveholder and one against slavery—as they operated their households and government from the same property.

President George Washington also briefly occupied the Deshler-Morris House, a two and a half story stuccoed stone house at 5442 Germantown Avenue. The National Park Service restored this building to the way it looked when George Washington was the occupant between 1793 and 1794.  A group of dedicated volunteers provides tours of the property, while the National Park Service continues to maintain the house and grounds.  Here in 1793, the executive branch of the government dealt with the problem of Edward Genet, the former French minister. He had commissioned privateers in American ports to prey on British ships along the American coast and in so doing jeopardized relations and risked war between Great Britain and the new nation. The next summer, Washington rented the house again hoping to protect his family from yellow fever, while he carried out his duties as president. The home became known as “the Summer White House.”

The Todd House on the corner of 4th and Walnut Streets is associated with the life of another of the early presidents of the United States.  Here Dolly Todd lived with her first husband, lawyer John Todd.  After he died, she married Congressman James Madison who became fourth president of the United States, becoming one of the most well known first ladies. The National Park Service uses the Todd House and its neighboring row houses at 339-341 Walnut Street to interpret the lives of the prosperous middle class, when Philadelphia was the nation’s capital.

Independence Hall is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site because of the exceptional documents that originated there: the Declaration of Independence signed in 1776, the Articles of Confederation that united the 13 colonies in 1781, and the United States Constitution adopted in 1787. These radical documents had an influence on the constitutions of many democratic nations throughout the world.  Independence Hall is on Chestnut Street between 5th and 6th Streets. In its Assembly Room, George Washington received the appointment of commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775.  Visitors today can see the original "rising sun" chair used by George Washington as he presided over the Constitutional Convention is this building.

Every sitting president—with the exception of William Henry Harrison—has visited Independence Hall.  North of the historic building are a statue of George Washington and the plaques commemorating the visits of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy who worked to uphold the democratic ideals made so explicit in the immortal documents created here. The bronze statue is a 1910 reproduction of the original marble statue of Washington as commander-in-chief sculpted in 1869 by Joseph A. Bailey. 

On February 22, 1861 outside Independence Hall, President Abraham Lincoln raised an American flag with 34 stars to mark the admission of Kansas to the union as a Free State. This event took place on George Washington’s birthday and honors the Constitution, the document that permits adding new States to the union. It also permitted Lincoln to make a public statement of his anti-slavery convictions in a growing secessionist climate.  The Lincoln Plaque, a 33x36” bronze tablet set into the brick sidewalk about 30 feet from Independence Hall commemorates the event, a tribute to Abraham Lincoln, the president who abolished slavery and worked so hard to preserve the union.  A Pennsylvania post of the Grand Army of the Republic placed the plaque on the site in 1903.

On July 4, 1962, President John F. Kennedy visited the park to celebrate Independence Day.  He stood near the Lincoln plaque and to the densely packed crowd on Independence Mall presented a “Declaration of Interdependence” acknowledging that all countries must pursue a course of peace and global dependency in the 20th century.  In 1964, the City of Philadelphia placed the John F. Kennedy Plaque in honor of the occasion. The plaque is a 36 by 33 inch bronze tablet set in the sidewalk 10 feet east of the Washington statue in full view of Independence Hall.

The Second Bank of the United States on Chestnut between 4th and 5th Streets now houses the Second Bank Portrait Gallery.  The gallery exhibits a number of portraits of presidents and first ladies as part of its collection of paintings of Colonial and Federal leaders, military officers, explorers and scientists.  Designed by architect William Strickland, the Second Bank was built between 1819 and 1824.  Modeled after the Parthenon, the building was the inspiration of a century of Greek Revival bank buildings throughout America.  The Second Bank, chartered in 1816 under the Madison administration, had a short lifespan, however.  President Andrew Jackson, champion of States’ rights and an ardent foe of central banking, despised the Second Bank and its popular President, Nicholas Biddle.  Jackson conducted a notorious “bank war” against Biddle.  Under Jackson’s provocation, Congress allowed the Bank’s charter to expire in 1836. 
 
Independence National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park System, is located in downtown Philadelphia, PA. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places registration file: text and photos.  Begin your visit at the Independence Visitor Center at 6th and Market Sts by viewing the Independence film. A parking garage for visitors is under the center on 6th St. between Arch and Market Sts.  The center opens every day at 8:30am. Most park buildings are open from 9:00am to 5:00pm daily.  Hours are subject to change.  Tour reservations are made at the Visitor Center on the day of your visit.  All sites are free except house tours and the Second Bank Portrait Gallery.  For current details and admission information on park buildings, please visit the National Park Service Independence Hall National Historical Park website, or call 215-597-8974.

Independence National Historical Park is the subject of two online lesson plans, Independence Hall: International Symbol of Freedom and The Liberty Bell: From Obscurity to Icon. The lesson plans have been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.  Many buildings and other resources at Independence National Historical Park have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.  Visit the National Park Service Virtual Museum Exhibit on Independence National Historical Park.

Federal Hall National Memorial, New York

Federal Hall National Memorial is a museum and memorial to the beginnings of the United States of America and to its first president. It stands on the site of the original Federal Hall, the first capitol of the United States, and of George Washington’s inauguration as the first president.  The building no longer standing that served first as New York City’s 18th century City Hall and later as Federal Hall was the scene of important events associated with the founding of the new nation and the American presidency.

In 1735, old City Hall was the place of imprisonment and the trial for libel of newspaper publisher John Peter Zenger. His acquittal for exposing government corruption in his newspaper was a famous precedent in the establishment of freedom of the press.  In October 1765, colonists gathered in City Hall at the Stamp Act Congress to draft a protest against “taxation without representation” in response to passage of the Stamp Act by the Parliament of Great Britain. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the United States under the Articles of Confederation met in this building from 1785 until 1789. Here in 1787, the Congress approved the Northwest Ordinance that set the procedures for establishing new States, and made the decision to hold a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

Federal Hall National Memorial is housed in the Greek Revival style U.S. Customs Building that replaced the old building in 1842. With its eight Doric columns and low triangular pediment, it is a fine piece of classical style architecture. Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis designed its exterior to resemble the Parthenon as a tribute to Greek democracy, while John Frazee designed the domed ceiling after the Roman Pantheon.  In 1862, the building became the U.S. sub-Treasury housing millions of dollars of gold and silver in its basement vaults until 1920, when the Federal Reserve Bank replaced the Sub-Treasury. 

The building became Federal Hall Memorial National Historic Site in 1939 and a national memorial in 1955.  The museum features a number of exhibits that explore the link between Federal Hall, New York and America's history. Visitors can also view videos  about Federal Hall’s history and other National Parks of New York Harbor.  The statue of George Washington in front of the building, facing Wall Street, is by John Quincy Adams Ward.  It was dedicated on November 25, 1883, the centennial of the end of the American Revolution and evacuation of New York City by the British.

On September 6, 2002, the United States Congress convened in New York City for the first time since 1790.  Members met in Federal Hall just four blocks from Ground Zero in support of the City and its recovery after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Federal Hall National Memorial, a unit of the National Park System, is located at 26 Wall St., in New York City. The best way to reach Federal Hall is by mass transit. Click this Public Transportation link for information. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places registration documentation: text  and photos. Federal Hall National Memorial is currently open free of charge Monday to Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm, closed Federal holidays. Ranger-lead building tours are regularly scheduled at 10am, 2pm and 4pm.  Federal Hall also offers a number of self-guided exhibits. For more information, visit the National Park Service Federal Hall National Memorial website. Federal Hall has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota

Every year, the many visitors to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota draw inspiration from the colossal portraits of four outstanding presidents of the United States:  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.  Gutzon Borglum carved his gigantic Shrine of Democracy Sculpture into ancient granite high on the southeast face of Mount Rushmore “in commemoration of the foundation, preservation, and continental expansion of the United States.”  The faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt are about 60 feet high, and the grouping extends approximately 185 feet along the crest of Mount Rushmore.  Dark ponderosa pines and other evergreens set off the stark white sculpture.  Added at the time of the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence in 1976, a flag-lined formal Avenue of Flags creates an impressive approach.

In 1923, South Dakota State Historian Doane Robinson came up with an idea for attracting tourists to the State.  Robinson envisioned shaping a cluster of tall thin granite peaks called the Needles into statues of explorers and Indian leaders.  The Needles stand where the Black Hills rise from the plains as a gateway to the Rocky Mountains and the West.  In 1924, Robinson wrote sculptor Gutzon Borglum about his idea.  Borglum telegraphed back his enthusiastic support.

Born to a Danish American family on a homestead in Idaho in 1867, Gutzon Borglum made his name celebrating things American in a big way.  In 1908, he created a large, 40 inches-high head of Abraham Lincoln.  Representatives of the United Daughters of the Confederacy soon contacted him about creating a portrait head of Robert E. Lee on the side of Stone Mountain in Georgia.  Convinced that the scale of the mountain would dwarf a single head, he convinced them to create a huge group portrait of General Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis.  Borglum completed the head of Lee in 1924, but a dispute with the backers of the project soon led to his dismissal and the eventual removal of his work.  His departure from Georgia made it possible for him to concentrate on Mount Rushmore.  Borglum scouted out a location far better than the fragile Needles: 5,725-foot Mount Rushmore.  Its broad wall of exposed granite was more suitable for sculpture and received direct sunlight for most of the day. 

Borglum himself selected the presidents for the memorial, to reflect the nation’s first 150 years of history and to make the project a national, rather than regional one.  Original plans included only George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Borglum picked George Washington the father of the new country because he was a leader in the American Revolution, the first president of the United States, and the man who laid the foundation of American democracy.  Abraham Lincoln was selected for preserving the Union during the Civil War and abolishment of slavery.  As the project progressed, Borglum added Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt.  Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, began America’s westward expansion by purchasing the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, which doubled the size of the country, adding all or part of 15 present-day States. Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States and extremely popular in the early 20th century, linked the east and the west through the construction of the Panama Canal and was famous as a “trust buster,” fighting large corporate monopolies and championing the working man.

Initial planning and fund-raising began in August 1925.  The project was almost out of money in 1927 before carving even began. Borglum and the planners succeeded in getting the support of President Coolidge when he was vacationing in the Black Hills.  Coolidge dedicated the memorial in 1927.  In the closing days of his term in office, he signed a bill approving matching funds. The Federal Government would eventually cover almost all of the almost million-dollar cost of construction. On October 4, 1927, the carving process began.  Local gold miners carefully removed rock from the mountain using small charges of dynamite, leaving a three to six inch layer of granite. They used 75-pound jackhammers to remove the next layer and then the carvers took over.  First, they drilled a series of shallow holes and then removed the area between them, often by hand.  Hand tools smoothed the stone and added small details, like wrinkles and moles.  Four hundred people worked on the project.  Frequently suspended because of bad weather and money problems, the work was dangerous, but miraculously there were no fatal accidents.  During the Depression, it was welcome relief work for many, and for many others it came to be a labor of love.  As “Red” Anderson said, "more and more we sensed that we were creating a truly great thing."

The dedication of George Washington took place on July 4, 1930. The stone at the original location for the Thomas Jefferson carving turned out to have a detrimental crack requiring its blasting off after two years of work.  President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended the dedication of the Jefferson portrait in its present location in 1936.  He was so inspired that he gave an impromptu speech.  Dedications for Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt took place in 1937 and 1939. Work on the massive sculpture continued until October 1941. Borglum did not live to see it completed; he died in March 1941.  Lincoln Borglum finished the work after his father’s sudden death, but the official dedication of the Mount Rushmore National Memorial did not come until 1991, 67 years after Doane Robinson first had the idea.


Somewhat surprisingly, Borglum did not think visitors would understand his work without words to explain it.  Initially he planned to carve an inscribed tablet on the side of the mountain next to the head of Washington.  When he moved the portrait of Jefferson to the planned location of the tablet, he decided to build a huge Hall of Records behind the presidential grouping.  Difficult working conditions and lack of funding led to the abandonment of that project.  On August 9, 1998, the National Park Service placed a repository of records in the floor of the hall entry.  A teakwood box inside a titanium vault covered by a granite capstone contains 16 porcelain enamel panels. Inscriptions on the panels explain the story of how Mount Rushmore came to be, who carved it, the reasons for selecting the four presidents depicted on the mountain, a short history of the United States, and a copy of the Declaration of Independence.  Visitors cannot see this repository.  It is a message for people of the future, so that they may understand the meaning and the people behind this great monument.

The idea of building the memorial was and to some extent still is controversial because the Black Hills, or Paha Sapa, are the homelands of the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota, among other American Indian tribal nations, and they consider the Black Hills a sacred area.  The Lakota Sioux tribe opposed the sculpture as desecrating one of their sacred places.  In 1939, Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear asked Korscak Ziolkowski, a sculptor who worked with Borglum briefly before leaving after a fight with his son, to begin work on a huge freestanding sculpture of Lakota Chief Crazy Horse on a mountain 17 miles from Mount Rushmore.  Ziolkowski died in 1982, but the work went on with the completion and dedication of the face of Crazy Horse in 1998.  Very different from Mount Rushmore, it too is impressive.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, a unit of the National Park System, is located 25 miles southwest of Rapid City, SD via U.S. 16.  Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. The Information Center and the Lincoln Borglum Museum (named in honor of Gutzon Borglum’s son) are open from 8:00am to 5:00pm October 1-May 23; from 8:00am to 10:00pm May 24-August 14; from 8:00am to 9:00pm August 15-September 30.  These times are subject to change from year to year.  Visits should begin at the Information Center.  The Lincoln Borglum Museum has exhibits on the carving of Mount Rushmore, two 13-minute films, an information desk, restrooms, and a bookstore.  The Sculptor’s Studio, closed in the winter, displays models and tools used in the carving process. The half-mile Presidential Trail begins at the Grand View Terrace and provides access to viewing sites below the faces.   There is no admission fee to the park; there is a charge for parking.

For more information, visit the National Park Service Mount Rushmore National Memorial website or call 605-574-2523, for recorded information, and park headquarters. A map of both the site and the region are available on the website.  The website also provides in depth information on the people responsible for completing this monumental project.


U.S. Car No. 1, Florida

U.S. Car No.1 is the only private coach railroad car specifically designed for the president of the United States. The Pullman Company built the Ferdinand Magellan in 1928, and refurbished the car and presented it (dubbed U.S. Car No.1) to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on December 18, 1942. Both President Roosevelt and President Truman used the car extensively for state business, reelection campaigns, and personal trips.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower briefly used U.S. Car No. 1 until air travel on Air Force I began to replace U.S. Car No. 1 as the preferred means of transport. In October 1984, Ronald Reagan requested the use of U.S. Car No.1 for a one-day whistle stop reelection campaign trip to Ohio in commemoration of rail travel.

In 1941 in the midst of World War II, President Roosevelt consented to the urging of aides to have a private railcar reconfigured for his safety and comfort and that of future presidents. Originally built by the Pullman Company as the Ferdinand Magellan, the car was part of a fleet of six luxury cars, all named for famous explorers and available for private charter. Armor-plated with 5/8-inch steel on the car’s roof, floor, and sides and fitted with three-inch thick windows and two escape hatches, the refurbished car weighed 285,000 pounds, double its original weight. U.S. Car No. 1 is the heaviest railcar ever built in the United States. Security removed the name Ferdinand Magellan from the sides of the car and only "Pullman" remained, making the coach resemble, from a distance, an ordinary private car. For the remainder of World War II, this rolling fortress moved under the code word "POTUS" for President of the United States. POTUS had the right-of-way over all other rail traffic.

The 84-feet long, 15-feet high, and 10-feet wide train car, contains the presidential suite, two guest rooms, a dining room/conference room, and an observation lounge. Each room in the car has a telephone. The elimination of one of the usual five staterooms allowed for a spacious observation lounge, decorated with cream-colored woodwork, green carpeting and light brown, tufted wall covering resembling leather.

Between the observation lounge and the dining room are four bedrooms. The presidential suite consists of two separate bedrooms with a connecting bathroom. The first lady’s room has a single bed that is larger than a standard Pullman berth, a dresser, closet and washbasin. The connecting bath has a shower, bathtub, toilet, and wash basin. The president's bedroom is the largest of the bedrooms and contains a commode chair to accommodate President Roosevelt’s disability needs. Exhibited in the room is a special wheelchair built for President Roosevelt's use onboard the railcar. The chair is narrow enough to fit through the doors and hallways of the railcar.  The other two bedrooms are identical guestrooms, each containing an upper and lower berth, vanity, closet, dresser, washbasin, toilet, and medicine cabinet. The lower berth converts into a double seat with a table, while the upper berth retracts into the ceiling.

The dining/conference room is the biggest room in the railroad car and  is furnished with a large solid mahogany table that seats eight. This is where the president entertained official visitors while aboard U.S. Car No. 1. Among the many world leaders entertained in this room was Sir Winston Churchill, who visited both President Roosevelt and President Truman aboard the car on different occasions. This room also contains the small writing desk the presidents used for official business. Displayed in a cabinet above the desk are the china, silverware, and other memorabilia from presidential use of the car. The pantry and steward's quarters are at the end of the dining room divided by a door and hallway. Here the staff prepared meals for the presidential party, and had separate small spaces for themselves and storage.

On January 9, 1943, the White House ordered the assembly of a five-car train, including U.S. Car No. 1, summoning the president’s Navy attendants for work ordinarily performed by Pullman porters. Railroad officials received directions not to issue orders that might raise suspicion.  The train left Washington, DC, at 10:00pm, the usual departure time for President Roosevelt’s trips home to Hyde Park, New York. Only an hour later, at Fort Meade, Maryland, the train reversed directions and headed south.  Just before dawn, the train with President Roosevelt aboard arrived in Miami, Florida, where he boarded a plane bound for Africa, the first time a seated president of the United States ever flew outside U.S. borders. Roosevelt’s destination was the now-famous Casablanca Summit, where he met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and French leaders Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud to devise a joint strategy to end World War II. The first and last legs of this dangerous journey were aboard U.S Car No. 1. There are reports and papers from this trip on display in the car.

In 1944, Roosevelt traveled the nation in U.S. Car No. 1, making numerous public speeches for his reelection.  This lengthy tour was a demonstration that tempered skepticism among those who doubted the president's health, and therefore, his ability to complete another term of office. During 1943 and 1944, Roosevelt also used the car to travel to and from the two Quebec Conferences. Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled about 50,000 miles in the railcar during his presidency. In January 1945, he used it for the first leg of the trip to the Yalta Conference with Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. During the last 28 months of his life, FDR rode aboard U.S. Car No. 1 no fewer than 40 times to his Hyde Park, New York home on the Hudson, which served as a second White House.

April 13, 1945, President Roosevelt began his final journey home, after dying from a stroke at his Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia. Eighteen cars formed the rail cortege. The Conneaut, the companion car usually in front of U.S. Car No. 1, carried the president's body because the reinforced windows of U.S. Car No. 1 could not be removed to fit in the casket. This was the only trip in which U.S. Car No. 1 was not the last car of the train. Traditionally U.S Car No.1 was the last car of the train to facilitate presidential speeches from the rear, enclosed platform. Mrs. Roosevelt and her party rode in the president's car as always.

The following day, the train reached Union Station in the nation's capital. A procession accompanied the president's body carried by horse drawn carriage to a White House funeral. At 10:00 pm, always the usual time for departure to Hyde Park, the rail cortege moved north to the Roosevelt home on the Hudson. The new president, Harry S Truman, and his wife Bess were aboard. April 15, Sunday morning, FDR was laid to rest in the Rose Garden at Hyde Park. Mrs. Roosevelt, her party, and the Trumans returned to Washington on the train. Later, Harry Truman recalled the funeral train to Hyde Park,"... every place we stopped there’d be a crowd just as if. . . well you'd think the world had come to an end, and I thought so, too."

Thrust into the presidency, Truman continued to use U.S. Car No.1 for official business and personal trips. In July 6, 1945, President Truman rode aboard U.S. Car No. 1 to Norfolk, Virginia, on the first leg of his trip to the Potsdam Conference to confer with British Prime Minister Clement Atlee and Premier Stalin on the war and its aftermath. In 1946, Truman accompanied ex-Prime Minister Churchill to Fulton, Missouri, aboard the rail car.  There, in the gymnasium of Westminster College, Churchill delivered his famous "Iron Curtain" speech.  The speech contained the seeds of the Truman Doctrine and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Truman grew increasingly impatient with rail travel. He employed the president's plane, Independence, for long trips such as those to the Little White House in Key West, Florida. Unlike FDR, who preferred rail speed under 30 mph, Truman pressed for speeds up to 80 mph. He wrote that the heavy car "gave nightmares to every railroad engineer in the country who had to pull it on the back of his train."

To reach the American people in a personal manner, Truman used U.S. Car No. 1 for his historic 1948 "whistle-stop" campaign. Covering 31,700 miles and making 356 speeches from the rear platform of the car, he was confident of victory as he felt the pulse of the people. His victory over Thomas E. Dewey for the presidency of the United States was one of the greatest political upsets of the 20th century. Nothing better captured the conflict between Truman's confidence and the pollsters and pundits of the press than the photo of him in St. Louis the day after the election. He stood gleefully on the rear platform, holding up a copy of the Chicago Daily Tribune, which proclaimed DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN. A copy of this photo is on display in the car.

As rail travel gave way to other forms of transportation, President Dwight D. Eisenhower used the railcar less frequently, mostly to travel to and from his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. First Lady “Mamie” Eisenhower rode in it in January 1954 to christen the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus. That trip was U.S. Car No.1’s last stint of government service. After four years without it being used, the government declared the railcar surplus and offered it to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, which without a place to house it declined the offer.  In 1959, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in Miami, Florida acquired the historic car.

U.S Car No. 1 is the only passenger railcar ever designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States government.  The United States Department of the Interior bestowed this honor in February 1985.   All furnishings, fixtures, and equipment are original pieces from the time President Franklin Delano Roosevelt received the car in 1942. The Gold Coast Railroad Museum's restoration and preservation efforts aim to maintain the original décor.

U.S. Car No. 1 is located in the Gold Coast Railroad Museum located at 12450 S.W. 152nd St., Miami, FL.  It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.

The Gold Coast Museum grounds are open Monday-Friday 10:00am to 4:00pm, weekends 11:00am to 4:00pm. The Model Train Building is open Tuesday-Friday 11:00am to 2:00pm, Saturday and Sunday 11:00am to 4:00pm. The museum is closed for holidays.  An admission fee is charged. Visit the Gold Coast Museum website or call 888-608-7246, for more information and updates on when the exhibit will re-open.


First Ladies National Historic Site, Ohio

Americans did not start calling the president’s wife the “First Lady” until some time in the middle of the 19th century.  Some people say Zachary Taylor was the first to use the term in his 1849 eulogy on the death of Dolley Madison.  Others maintain that Harriet Lane, niece of President James Buchanan and official hostess for the only bachelor president, was the first “First Lady.”  In 1860, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Monthly described her as, “The Lady of the White House, and by courtesy, the First Lady of the Land.”  By the 1870s, newspapers all over the country used the term in their coverage of the activities of Lucy Webb Hayes, one of the busiest and best-loved hostesses ever to preside over the White House.  The First Ladies National Historic Site in Canton, Ohio, centered on the home of Ida Saxton McKinley and the City National Bank Building, which serves as the Education and Research Center, provides long overdue recognition of the contributions of all the women who have held the title. 

No matter their personal style, influence, political interest, or popularity, these remarkable women helped shape history.  Some first ladies shunned public attention while others reveled in it.  Many lived through immense personal tragedy.  Americans showered some with adoration and respect.  Like her husband, Martha Washington created the first model for subsequent presidential wives to follow, although she said she felt like a “state prisoner” because of the limitations on what she could and could not do.  She saw her role primarily as public hostess, and that continues to be one of the duties that go with the job.  Dolley Madison served as hostess for the widowed Thomas Jefferson, along with his daughter, Martha Jefferson Randolph.  She became a celebrity for her outgoing and vivacious nature and greatly enlarged the social duties of the first lady during her husband’s own presidential term.   Numerous women became symbols of personal strength and integrity during times of crisis.  Four first ladies lost their husbands in presidential assassinations:  Mary Lincoln, Lucretia Garfield, Ida McKinley, and Jacqueline Kennedy. Abigail Adams, Lou Hoover, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosalynn Carter, and others were full partners in life and in office—confidantes for their husbands and strong advocates for policies they believed in.

In their own way, each first lady both reflected and affected the attitudes of society of the time about appropriate behavior for women.  Bess Truman stuck with traditional charity work.  Betty Ford became an outspoken proponent of women’s rights.  When she underwent surgery for breast cancer, she helped bring much needed public awareness to this once taboo topic.  She also lobbied for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.  Hilary Clinton, the only first lady to date with a law degree, has broken barriers for women through her own political career.  Laura Bush has made education a primary focus and is the honorary chair of the Preserve America initiative. Only time will tell what shape the role of the first lady will take in the future.

The home of First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley is at the center of the First Ladies National Historic Site.  The earliest section of this multi-part building is the two-story, gable roofed house c. 1841.  Ida Saxton’s father, a socially prominent and prosperous banker, added to the house c. 1865 (a later addition dates to 1920). The front entry and spiral staircase, the formal parlor, and the third floor ballroom feature fine period finishes. A spiral staircase reconstructed from black walnut winds from the stair hall to the second and third floors of the house. A massive porch wraps around the exterior of the porch, recreated using early photographs of the house.

The Saxtons were among the most prominent families in Canton, and the now renovated ballroom on the third floor held many elaborate parties. At one masquerade ball, Ida dressed up as the Queen of Hearts and won the costume contest. The ballroom now houses the collection of First Ladies' photos. Historic photos provided the documentation for the restoration of Ida McKinley’s second floor sitting room and bedroom and William McKinley’s study.  Docents costumed as various first ladies give tours through the restored public rooms, highlighting the period the McKinleys lived here.

Ida Saxton lived here from her birth in 1847 to her marriage in 1871.  Educated in Europe, Ida returned to Canton as one of the most fashionable young women in town. Working as a cashier in her father’s bank, she met Major William McKinley.  They married in 1871 and were deeply devoted to each other for the rest of their lives.  By 1876, after the early deaths of their two daughters and serious health problems caused by phlebitis and epilepsy, Ida was a semi-invalid.  During the years William McKinley served in the United States House of Representatives, he and his wife made their permanent home in the Saxton house.  When an assassin shot McKinley in 1901, his first thought was of his fragile wife:  “My wife—be careful . . . how you tell her—Oh, be careful.”  Ida Saxton McKinley returned to Canton after her husband’s death, visiting his grave almost every day.  She died six years later and lies next to her husband in Canton’s McKinley Memorial Mausoleum.

The handsome Romanesque seven-story City National Bank Building, a block north in Canton’s historic commercial center, houses the Education and Research Center of the National First Ladies’ Library.  The marble banking room, with its restored large skylight and partially restored glass block floor, is now a large meeting/reception/ exhibit hall.  Also on the first floor is a small library room, with a spiral staircase leading to a book collection on the mezzanine.  This library has a collection of books that replicates the library that First Lady Abigail Fillmore created.  Approximately 500 artifacts, including 150 original dresses and accessories, provide a look at each first lady’s personal style and the fashions of the time.  The second floor contains the research library.  Visitors can view films and documentaries on the first ladies and attend author lectures and live presentations in the 91-seat Victorian Theatre on the lower level.  The First Ladies’ Library uses the renovated upper floors of the building as conference spaces, research rooms, archival processing and storage space, and offices.

The First Ladies National Historic Site is a unit of the National Park System. The Saxton McKinley House is located at 331 S. Market Ave., Canton, OH. The Education and Research Center is located at 205 S. Market Ave. Both the Saxton House and Education and Research Center are open only for guided tours.  Tours are offered Tuesday–Saturday on the half hour from 9:30am to 10:30am and from 12:30pm to 2:30pm.  From June 1–August 31, tours are also offered on Sundays on the half hour from 12:30pm to 2:30pm.  An admission fee is charged.

For more information visit the National Park Service First Ladies National Historic Site website or call 330-452-0876.  The National First Ladies’ Library website also has a wealth of information on programs and events as well as biographies of each First Lady.  The Library’s interpreters and educators provide a variety of tours, programs, and classes at the site and in local schools.



Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, New York

“Val-Kill is where I used to find myself and grow.  At Val-Kill I emerged as an individual.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Val-Kill, the retreat about two miles from Springwood, the “big house” at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Hyde Park, was the only place that Eleanor Roosevelt ever could call her own.  In the large, comfortable “Val-Kill Cottage” preserved at the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, she could entertain whoever she wanted, stay up reading as late as she liked, and be alone if she chose. The site contains two main buildings, Val-Kill Cottage and the Stone Cottage.  Originally built as a factory that housed Val-Kill Industries, Val-Kill Cottage soon became Eleanor’s cottage. Eleanor Roosevelt was a highly dynamic, broadly effective, and controversial first lady. While her husband was alive, she used the cottage as her personal retreat.  When he died, she made it her permanent home.  An active partner in FDR’s political career, she became an important Democratic Party leader and humanitarian in her own right after his death.  Harry Truman, who appointed her the United States representative to the newly formed United Nations in 1945, called her the “First Lady of the World.”  Deeply committed to equal justice for all, she was proudest of her participation in the creation the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948.

Born in New York City on October 11, 1884, to the wealthy and aristocratic Roosevelt family, Anna Eleanor was a shy, quiet child. Orphaned by the age of 10, she lived with her brothers in her grandmother’s strictly run household until she went away to school at the age of 15.  She thrived at Allenswood boarding school in England and gained her love of travel and compassion for the oppressed there.  Her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt, escorted her down the aisle at her marriage to her distant cousin, handsome, young Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1905.  Early in her marriage, Eleanor took on the expected role of a proper society wife and mother to her five children. The family split their time between a brownstone in New York City and the house at Hyde Park.  Sara, Franklin’s strong-willed mother, presided over the Hyde Park household until her death in 1941.  As Franklin Roosevelt’s political career advanced, taking them to Albany and Washington, DC, Eleanor became increasingly involved in public life.

The attack of polio that transformed Franklin Roosevelt’s life in 1921 profoundly affected Eleanor’s life as well.  Sara wanted her son to retire to Hyde Park, but Eleanor and FDR’s political advisor, Louis Howe, thought it important for him to stay in politics.  Howe pushed Eleanor to keep Roosevelt’s name and ideals alive by participating in Democratic Party politics herself.  In 1922, she joined the Women's Division of the Democratic State Committee.  Painfully shy, she forced herself to make speeches and official appearances and discovered, to her surprise, that she was not only was good at politics but that she liked it.  The society matron who once opposed woman suffrage was soon actively supporting that and other liberal causes.

Late in the summer of 1924, while picnicking at one of the family’s favorite spots next to the small Fall Kill (Valley Stream, in Dutch), Eleanor lamented that she and her friends from the Democratic State Committee would not be able to come to Hyde Park after Sara Roosevelt closed the big house for the winter.  Franklin suggested that she and her friends build a cottage nearby, where they could visit year-round. Eleanor and her two closest friends, Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman, enthusiastically accepted the offer.  Franklin gave them lifetime use of several acres of the Hyde Park estate and happily helped architect Henry Toombs design the Dutch Colonial Stone Cottage.  Marion and Nancy immediately moved into the cottage. Eleanor visited her friends on weekends and holidays.

In 1926, the three women, along with Caroline O’Day, another friend from the Democratic State Committee, established an experimental furniture factory at Val-Kill.  They hoped to train local people in craft skills that they could use to supplement their income from agriculture without having to move to the city.  The high quality reproduction Early American furniture Val-Kill Industries produced did well in the 1920s.  The original two-story factory acquired a number of additions, including a forge, whose purpose was to create reproduction pewter pieces.

When Franklin became president in 1932, Eleanor was comfortable in politics and refused to accept the traditional role assigned to the president’s wife.  She became her husband’s “eyes, ears, and legs,” visiting the bread lines and coal mines that he could not and bringing back first hand reports on how the New Deal was affecting ordinary people.  She broke precedent by holding her own press conferences and candidly expressed her opinions, which were often controversial.  My Day, the popular syndicated newspaper column she wrote six days a week from 1935 to the year she died, reached millions of Americans, who felt they knew her personally.  During World War II, she visited wounded American soldiers in hospitals in England, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean.

Eleanor Roosevelt was an early champion of civil rights.  African American educator and activist Mary McLeod Bethune, whom she met in the 1920s, first helped her understand the difficulties and discrimination black people encountered every day.  Eleanor played an important role in the creation of an executive order that prohibited discrimination in industries engaged in military production early in World War II.  She supported the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II and joined the board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.  More liberal that her husband in some areas, Eleanor commented that she sometimes “acted as a spur, even though the spurring was not always wanted.”

Eleanor expanded Val-Kill during her husband’s presidency, when Roosevelt frequently hosted informal outdoor dinners there for foreign heads of states and other guests visiting Hyde Park.  When Val-Kill Industries closed in 1936, she renovated and enlarged the factory into Val-Kill Cottage, her personal retreat. Val-Kill Cottage grew to contain two living rooms, a dining room, seven bedrooms, a dormitory for young guests, two large porches downstairs, and a sleeping porch upstairs, as well as a small caretakers’ apartment.  The Roosevelts also added swimming pools, a picnic ground, gardens, and a stable for the horses she loved to ride.  Nancy Cook and Marion Dickerman made their home at nearby Stone Cottage until 1947.

When a reporter asked her about her plans after her husband’s death in April 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt answered, “The story is over,” but she was wrong.  In December 1945, President Truman appointed her as the first U.S. delegate to the newly organized United Nations General Assembly.  There, Eleanor put her attention and leadership skills toward helping to found UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund. She became chair of the U.N. Human Rights Commission. She supported and helped edit the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted unanimously, with some abstentions, in 1948.  She thought this was the most important work of her life.

Eleanor turned the main house at Hyde Park over to the United States, as FDR intended, but she kept Val-Kill, purchasing the land from the Roosevelt estate and making Val-Kill Cottage her permanent home.  She continued the tradition of casual entertaining, hosting world dignitaries such as Winston Churchill, Marshal Tito, Haile Selassie, and Jawaharlal Nehru.  Democratic Party politicians came seeking her advice and support, including presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy.  She loved having large family gatherings at the cottage, including as many as possible of her 22 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. Every summer 150 youngsters from the interracial Wiltwyck School for troubled city boys would visit for picnics, games, and readings of Kipling’s Just So Stories by Eleanor herself. When not busy entertaining, Eleanor enjoyed quiet time alone to read, keep up correspondence, and work on her continued fight for social justice.  She died in 1962, mourned by millions of people as the “First Lady of the World.”

Val-Kill Cottage was divided into four rental units after Eleanor’s death. In 1975, concerned citizens organized a drive to preserve the site from development. In May 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed the bill creating the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site “to commemorate . . . the life and work of an outstanding woman in American History.”

Val-Kill Cottage is a large rambling, stucco-covered, L-shaped building, reflecting its piece-meal construction during its career as a factory.  Stone Cottage is a one and one-half-story fieldstone building designed in the Dutch Colonial Revival style that Franklin Roosevelt loved.  The first floor contains a living room with a ceiling open to the rafters and a massive fieldstone fireplace, a dining room, kitchen, den, bedroom, bath, and laundry.  There are three bedrooms and a bath upstairs.  A few minor alterations occurred in 1950, but the house has since then remained largely unaltered.  Also on the grounds is the Dollhouse, which Eleanor had moved from its original location near the main house for the use of her grandchildren.

The Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, a unit of the National Park System, is located on Route 9G in Hyde Park, NY, about 90 miles north of New York City and 70 miles south of Albany. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos.

Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site is open daily May-October from 9:00am to 5:00pm.  From November to April, Val-Kill is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Tours of Val-Kill Cottage and Stone Cottage (if not in use) are given Thursday thru Monday at 1:00pm and 3:00pm.  The site is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.  An entrance fee is charged for tours. The grounds are open daily year-round from dawn to dusk.  For more information visit the National Park Service Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site website or call 800-337-8474.
  
The site is the subject of an online lesson plan, First Lady of the World: Eleanor Roosevelt at Val-Kill. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home pageVal-Kill, the Val-Kill Factory, and the  Stone Cottage have all been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.  Visit the National Park Service Virtual Museum Exhibit on Eleanor Roosevelt: American Visionary.  Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site is also featured in the National Park Service Places Where Women Made History Travel Itinerary.

Today the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill, a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization, uses the site it was formed to save as a living memorial, a center for the exchange of ideas, and a catalyst for change and the betterment of the human condition.


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