Being the President of the United States is stressful. Just like any hardworking American, sometimes presidents need a vacation—to rest and recharge. Today, many of the U.S. presidents’ vacation homes are preserved as historic sites and national parks where you can learn about their lives and legacies. Visit one of these Presidential Retreats from New Brunswick down to Texas Hill Country for your own revitalization and education.
Franklin D. Roosevelt spent his childhood summers running, playing, bicycling, picnicking and swimming on the 2,800 acres of Campobello Island, a seaside resort for wealthy Victorian families, and he and Eleanor continued the tradition from 1909 until 1921—the year President Roosevelt contracted polio. He returned three more times during his presidency.
The island, accessible by bridge from Lubec, Maine, was opened as Roosevelt-Campobello International Park in 1964 for its historic significance and as a symbol of cooperation between the U.S. and Canada. Today, visitors can explore the Roosevelt’s “Red Cottage” during the summer or visit year round for the hiking trails, beaches, bogs and lighthouses that call the island home. Road Scholar participants get exclusive access to lodge on the island in historic summer cottages as they learn about Franklin and Eleanor.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
South Dakota State Senator formally invited President Calvin Coolidge to the Black Hills with a glowing review of the natural beauty of the area, and in 1927, the State Game Lodge became the president’s Summer White House. His family, secret service and staff planned a three-week visit but stayed for three months. President Eisenhower also came in 1953 for a quick stopover.
Visit Custer State Park to fish and ride horses just like President Coolidge and stay in his room (or Eisenhower’s room) at the historic State Game Lodge. Go on a buffalo safari and swing by Mount Rushmore nearby — dedicated by President Coolidge during his summer in the hills.
Bedford County, Virginia
Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha inherited a 4,819-acre plantation in Bedford County, Virginia from her father in 1773, and Thomas built a home of his own on the plantation from 1806-1816. Thought to be the first octagonal house in America, the house is renowned as a work of architectural brilliance.
A nonprofit was created in 1983 to restore and preserve the plantation and its landscaping, and it remains a restoration in progress. Visit to admire Jefferson’s architectural legacy, learn about daily life in the 19th century for both elite and enslaved people or enjoy a nature hike, beer or wine tasting or visit with historical interpreters.
Texas Hill Country
During his presidency, Lyndon B. Johnson spent 20% of his time in Texas Hill Country at the ranch that would become known as The Texas White House. When his wife, Lady Bird Johnson, donated the ranch to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park, she insisted that it remain a working ranch — a living demonstration of ranching “the LBJ way.”
Head on down to Stonewall, Texas to visit the ranch and its prizewinning Hereford cattle, descended from LBJ’s herd. See his reconstructed birthplace, his first school and the Johnson Family Cemetery. In nearby Johnson City, you can visit President Johnson’s boyhood home to learn about 1920s life in rural Texas and his grandfather’s log cabin settlement to learn about surviving cattle ranching in the 19th century!
Cape May, New Jersey
Once the premier seaside resort in the U.S., Cape May is known for its Victorian homes and historic celebrity visitors. Five U.S. presidents visited Cape May during their presidencies, each of them staying at the renowned Congress Hall resort. But none brought as much acclaim to the peninsula as Benjamin Harrison, who made the first floor of the hotel his Summer White House in 1891.
A full restoration from 1995 to 2002 returned the hotel to its historic glory, and it is now a full-service resort open to visitors. President Harrison’s Cape May summer home did not survive, but you can still walk the halls of his Summer White House.
Key West, Florida
What became known as “The Little White House” was first built in 1890 as first officers’ quarters by the U.S. Navy. When President Harry Truman’s doctor recommended a warm vacation during his 19th month in office in 1946, the president headed for Key West. During his 11 winter visits to “The Little White House,” President Truman hosted cabinet members and officials for fishing trips, poker games and official state business. The house was visited by five other presidents, as well as other important historical figures like Thomas Edison.
On your visit to Old Town Key West, stop in and see this home and now public museum, restored to its 1949 appearance when President Truman resided there.
Find out where else you can learn about the American Presidents with Road Scholar!
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