Photos and Words By Shuan Butcher
The District of Columbia was not the nation’s first capital. Technically, there were eight cities carried the designation before that city, albeit most of them were on a very temporary basis. But since 1790, the seat of our country’s government has been located here. Since then, most American presidents have called 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., their home. A handful of presidents, though, have had permanent residences located within a short drive from The White House. All are worth visiting, for the history, the architecture, and the ambiance.
Let’s start with the first POTUS. George Washington’s Mount Vernon sits approximately 13 miles down the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. The mansion and its stately rooms have been preserved to the same state as they were in 1799. You can also check out the gardens, the farm, museum and grounds.
Two of the founding fathers had homes in Charlottesville, Va. Your first stop must be Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, third president and noted architect and inventor. Jefferson began construction on his “little mountain” home in 1769 and, after remodeling and enlarging the house, finally finished 40 years later in 1809.
Jefferson’s friend and neighbor James Monroe owned Highland, along with his wife, Elizabeth Kortright Monroe, from 1793 to 1826. It acted as their official residence from 1799 to 1823. Highland is a historic house museum and 535-acre working farm of the former president and Revolutionary War veteran.
Another founding father’s home known as Montpelier is located near Orange, Va. It was the lifelong home of James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” and fourth President of the United States. The mansion core was built by Madison’s father circa1 760. The house has been newly restored to the way it looked when James and Dolley Madison returned from Washington in 1817, following Madison’s two terms as President. The 2,650-acre estate features the Madison mansion, 135 historic buildings, a steeplechase course, gardens, forests, the Gilmore Cabin, a farm, two galleries and an education center with permanent and changing exhibits, many archaeological sites and an archaeology laboratory.
Other presidents lived in the Commonwealth of Virginia, including John Tyler and William Henry Harrison (you can visit those sites as well). In addition, Teddy Roosevelt’s had a private cabin called Pine Knot in the state and President Hoover owned a hunting cabin there as well.
But one place outside of Virginia that is definitely worth visiting is the Eisenhower home in Gettysburg, Pa. It was purchased by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, in 1950 before he served as the 34th president. It became a weekend retreat and then the permanent home after the couple left the White House and allowed Ike to practice golf, host world leaders, and manage a successful cattle operation. A visit here will be like stepping back into the 1950s and 1960s, just as if they left everything for all of us to enjoy.