In honor of the upcoming Presidential Inauguration, I would like to share with you some wonderful day trips from Washington focusing on Presidential homes. There are lots of homes to choose from, some just a few miles from each other. I have started this list with Virginia’s Presidential homes and then gone further afield to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and North Carolina. There are a number of Presidential homes in Ohio and New York, but those rank as more than a day trip!
With social distancing, masks and general quarantining, I have discovered the joys of road trips. My husband and I can spend a day exploring a new part of the mid-Atlantic with a lunch packed at home and our poodle in the back seat. Even if we can’t go in to some of these places now, we can walk the grounds, absorb a bit of American history and enjoy some fresh air. If you are home schooling your children, this list will be certainly qualify as things to do with kids in DC. I heartily recommend these places to you too!
The first two places to visit are right in Washington – certainly qualifying as a day trip.
1. Lincoln Cottage
For three summers during the Civil War President Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary left The White House to live at this small cottage on a hill in Washington, D.C. While spending time at the cottage Lincoln would contemplate the war and created the framework of the Emancipation Proclamation. Visitors to the cottage can take a guided tour inside the home and learn about the decisions made by the president while there.
Lincoln Cottage 140 Rock Creek Church Road NW, Washington, D.C. | https://www.lincolncottage.org
2. President Woodrow Wilson House
This gorgeous three-story Georgian style home was built in 1915 and in 1921, at the end of his second term, President Woodrow Wilson and his wife, Edith, moved here. Woodrow Wilson would only live here until his death in 1924, but Edith remained until her death in 1969. Today The President Woodrow Wilson House offers guided tours daily and several special events throughout the year.
Woodrow Wilson House 2340 S Street NW, Washington, D.C. | 202-387-4062 | https://www.woodrowwilsonhouse.org
3. Mount Vernon
Resting on the banks of the Potomac, Mount Vernon (home of George Washington) is just a few miles south of Washington DC and Alexandria. The building began as a one and a half story home built in 1734 by George Washington’s father. It was named by George’s half brother, Lawrence Washington.
George Washington began running Mount Vernon in 1754, and over the next 45 years slowly enlarged the dwelling to create the 21-room residence we see today. Washington oversaw each renovation, advising on design, construction, and decoration, despite being away much of the time. Conscious that the world was watching, Washington selected architectural features that expressed his growing status as a Virginia gentleman and ultimately as the leader of a new nation.
At almost 11,000 square feet with two and a half stories and a full cellar, the Mansion dwarfed the majority of dwelling houses in late 18th-century Virginia. Most Virginians lived in one- or two-room houses ranging in size from roughly 200 to 1,200 square feet; most of these houses could have fit inside the 24×31 foot New Room. The ceiligns of the Mansion vary in height. The average height on the first floor is 10’9″ while on the third floor it is 7’3″.
In addition to visiting the Mansion, you can visit outbuildings like the greenhouses and kitchens, beautiful gardens, the tombs, a working farm, heritage breed animals, the slave memorial and a great museum and educational center.
Mount Vernon 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA | 703-780-2000 https://www.mountvernon.org/
Home to Thomas Jefferson, Monticello is probably the second most famous Presidential home after Mount Vernon. Monticello was the tobacco plantation built in the Palladian style by Thomas Jefferson, our third president. Jefferson started to create the estate when he was only 26. Forever a work in progress, Jefferson was still working on the estate when he died in 1826. The property covers 2500 acres and includes beautiful garden areas and plenty of natural woodland too. Although the hilltop property is a majestic sight, Monticello’s subtle details add layers to the experience: the wine dumbwaiter in the dining room, the privacy screen outside Jefferson’s bedroom, the proximity of the Mulberry Row outbuildings to the main house, the words on the third president’s gravestone.
Monticello 931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway, Charlottesville, VA | 434-984-9800 | https://www.monticello.org/
5. Tuckahoe Plantation
From 1730-1740 the gorgeous plantation home was built by William Randolph and his wife Maria Judith Page in Richmond, Virginia. By 1745 the Randolph’s children were left orphaned when both William and Maria died. Shortly after William’s death his good friend Peter Jefferson arrived to tend to the children, bringing with him his own two-year-old son Thomas Jefferson. Today the home is a popular wedding venue, but visitors can still take guided tours of the house and self-guided tours of the grounds during “open hours”.
Tuckahoe Plantation 12601 River Road, Richmond, VA | 804-774-1614 | http://tuckahoeplantation.com/
6. Poplar Forest
Poplar Forest (another of Thomas Jefferson’s homes) is a plantation and plantation house in Bedford County, Virginia.In 1773 Thomas Jefferson’s wife, Martha, inherited a 4,819 acre plantation in Virginia called Poplar Forest. At first Jefferson managed the plantation from his home in Monticello, but when the British invaded the area in 1781 during the Revolutionary War he was forced to seek shelter at Poplar Forest. The octagonal house was built in 1806 and Jefferson would visit 3-4 times each year as a retreat. Today visitors can take a guided tour of the house and learn about the history of the plantation, Jefferson’s architecture, and things he did while visiting the retreat.
While Jefferson is the most famous individual associated with the property, it had several owners before being purchased for restoration, preservation, and exhibition in 1984.
Poplar Forest 1542 Bateman Bridge Road, Forest, VA | 434-525-1806 | https://www.poplarforest.org
After a massive restoration completed in 2008, James Madison’s home more closely resembles the estate that the fourth president and his wife, Dolley, lived in after his two terms in office. Visitors can walk through the large Georgian-style mansion in Orange Virginia and also learn about what happened in the years after Dolley sold the home: It eventually landed with the du Pont family, which more than doubled its size and covered it in pink stucco.
The du Ponts are remembered in the new visitors center — you won’t want to miss the art deco room of Marion du Pont Scott, who was the last private owner of Montpelier. Also worth exploring: the trails through James Madison’s Landmark Forest, a large parcel of woods that has gone largely undisturbed since 1790 and is filled with trees that are two and three centuries old.
There also are trails exploring the Civil War history around Montpelier, as well as the Freedman’s Farm Trail that leads to the Gilmore Cabin and Farm, which features a restored cabin built by an emancipated slave in the 1870s.
James Monroe’s home is less grand than the other early Virginia presidents. The white wooden farmhouse, which Monroe called Highland (a later owner changed the name to Ash Lawn), often is referred to as the fifth president’s “castle cabin.” Jefferson persuaded Monroe to purchase the land near Monticello, and tour guides will tell you that, before the trees grew in, the two friends could see each other’s homes. The property changed dramatically after Monroe sold the plantation in 1825, with one of the final private owners adding a two-story house onto the side of the original farmhouse. But the 550-acre estate offers beautiful views, boxwood gardens and a number of restored outbuildings that help paint a picture of what life was like two centuries ago.
9. Berkeley Plantation
Berkeley Plantation was one of the first plantations in America, covering about 1,000 acres on the banks of the James River on State Route 5 in Charles City County, Virginia. Berkeley Plantation was originally called Berkeley Hundred and named after the Berkeley Company of England. In 1726, Benjamin Harrison IV built on the estate one of the first three-story brick mansions in Virginia, using brick fired on the plantation,. It is the ancestral home to a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, and two Presidents of the United States: William Henry Harrison, grandson of Benjamin Harrison IV, and Benjamin Harrison his great-great-grandson.It is now a museum property, open to the public.
Among the many American “firsts” that occurred at Berkeley Plantation are:
- First time Army bugle call “Taps” played: July 1862, by bugler Oliver W. Norton; the melody was written at Harrison’s Landing, the plantation’s old wharf, by Norton and then General Daniel Butterfield.
- American whiskey was originally distilled at Berkeley Plantation in 1620
- The first English Thanksgiving in America was celebrated at the Berkeley plantation.
Berkeley Plantation 12602 Harrison Landing Road, Charles City, VA | 804-829-6018 | http://www.berkeleyplantation.com/
10. Sherwood Forest Plantation
In 1720 one of the longest frame homes in the country was built on a plantation in Charles City, Virginia. In 1842 President John Tyler, still serving in office at the time, purchased the property from his cousin. After leaving office Tyler moved to the property and remained until his death in 1862. Visitors today can take a guided tour of the house, by appointment only, and self-guided tours of the grounds. Sherwood Forest Plantation is just a short drive from Berkley Plantation so you can visit both in one day!
Sherwood Forest Plantation 14501 John Tyler Memorial Highway, Charles City, VA | 804-829-5377 | http://www.sherwoodforest.org/
11. Rapidan Camp
Shortly after Herbert Hoover was elected president in 1928 he began a search for a place to build a retreat within one hundred miles of Washington, D.C. He eventually selected a site at the headwater of the Rapidan River inside what would later become Shenandoah National Park. Hoover spent his own money to purchase the land and building materials for the construction of a small camp including The Brown House, a lodge where he would spend quite a bit of time during his presidency. Today visitors to Shenandoah National Park can participate in a 2.5-hour guided ranger trip to Rapidan Camp to explore several of the buildings.
Shenandoah National Park 540-999-3500 | https://www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm
12. The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum
A trip to visit Woodrow Wilson’s Presidential Library and Museum takes you to Staunton Virginia, a charming town at the end of the Skyline Drive. There are lots of reasons to visit Staunton, including a wonderful regional Shakespeare theater and beautiful scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in 1856 in the manse, a term used to describe the residential home owned by the Presbyterian Church for their pastor. The three-story brick house, built in 1846, is maintained today as part of The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum. Visitors can take a guided tour of the birthplace home and explore the museum where they will see Wilson’s 1919 Pierce Limousine on display.
The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum 20 North Coalter Street, Staunton, VA | 540-885-0897 | https://www.woodrowwilson.org
14. Grover Cleveland Birthplace State Historic Site
In 1832 the First Presbyterian Church in Caldwell, New Jersey built a home as a “manse”, or home where the church’s pastor would live. From 1834-1841 the Reverend Richard Falley Cleveland lived in this house and in 1837 Grover Cleveland was born. In 1907 a group of Cleveland’s friends purchased the house and six years later opened it has a birthplace museum. Today visitors can tour the house, browse through the gift shop, and learn about the life of President Grover Cleveland.
Grover Cleveland Birthplace State Historic Site 207 Bloomfield Avenue, Caldwell, NJ | 973-226-0001 | https://www.nj.gov/dep/parksandforests/historic/grover_cleveland/gc_home.htm
15. Eisenhower National Historic Site
In 1950 General Dwight D. Eisenhower purchased almost 700 acres of farmland adjacent to Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. After becoming president in 1953, Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, demolished and rebuilt the main home on the property. After completion of the house he would spend a total of 365 days of his presidency on the property and would retire to the home after leaving The White House. Today visitors can take a guided tour of the house that has been kept furnished and styled as it would have been in the 1960s.
Tours of this historic site are administered through Gettysburg National Military Park.
Gettysburg National Military Park 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, PA | 717-334-1124 | https://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm
16. Independence National Historical Park
The Germantown White House, built in 1752 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, sheltered George Washington twice during his life. In 1793 Washington went to the home to escape the yellow fever epidemic sweeping through Philadelphia, and the very next year he returned to escape a heat wave. Today visitors to the house can take a guided tour to see its original 18th century appearance and learn about the various other people who were once sheltered here.
Independence National Historical Park 526 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA | 215-965-2305 | https://www.nps.gov/inde/index.htm
In 1848 Secretary of State James Buchanan purchased “The Wheatlands”, a 22.5-acre property with a gorgeous mansion in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The very next year he moved his family to Wheatland and, other than the four years he served as president, lived there until his death in 1884. Today visitors to the historic site can take a guided tour of Wheatland, explore the museum, and walk the ground and gardens.
Wheatland 230 North President Avenue, Lancaster, PA | 717-392-4633 | https://www.lancasterhistory.org/visit/