Harry S. Truman’s Little White House in Key West, Florida. (©Historic Tours of America)
By Jennifer McKee
The origin of President’s Day dates back to 1880s, when the birthday of George Washington (Feb. 22) was first celebrated as a federal holiday. In 1968, Congress moved the celebration of federal holidays to Mondays, and the intent was to honor Washington and Abraham Lincoln (whose birthday is Feb. 12). It is now celebrated on the third Monday of February and honors all former U.S. presidents.
Join us on a tour of presidential legacy down the East Coast. While this list touches on many presidential homes and sites, we don’t broach Philadelphia or Washington, D.C., which are larger-than-life presidential topics on their own.
With the election of our nation’s 46th president, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., now’s a great time to visit his home state of Delaware. Both the welcome center in Newark and the Amtrak station in Wilmington (Biden’s hometown) showcase his name, and there are many great places throughout the state to visit.
In Wilmington, The Charcoal Pit has become a Delaware tradition. The burger joint became so popular when it opened in 1956 that it quickly grew from a small space with four tables to a 115-seat restaurant. It’s now just as well-known for its ice cream, which President Obama tried in 2014 when he visited at the recommendation of Biden.
Also a favorite of Biden’s is Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop (multiple locations) which was first introduced in Wilmington by a brother and sister who wanted to create a sandwich for “real turkey lovers.” That sandwich, the Bobbie, is like Thanksgiving dinner in a bun—it’s stuffed with slow-roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and mayonnaise, and is tops with Biden.
Staying overnight? Hotel Du Pont has welcomed presidents, movie stars and sports greats. John F. Kennedy stayed here, as did Joe DiMaggio, Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn.
Even though many presidential libraries and museums are closed due to the pandemic, there are still many places you can visit when you decide to hit the open road. Fleetwood RV, a top name in the industry for its innovative, quality, family-friendly features, has put together a list of must-visit spots for those who love presidential history.
Pay homage to America’s first president, George Washington, with a visit to Mount Vernon. George and his wife Martha lived in this two-story historic home overlooking the Potomac River on an estate that was originally 8,000 acres.
Step back into history and tour the plantation home, a blacksmith shop, stable, smokehouse, slave quarters and other outbuildings that supported daily life. An extensive museum shares background on Washington’s life prior to becoming president and the legacy he left behind. The site also includes a memorial to the hundreds of enslaved men, women and children who worked the plantation.
Whether you want to hook up an RV or want to stay in a glamping pod or tent, the family-owned and operated Cherry Hill Park is a great choice. It is also the closest campground to Arlington, Virginia.
Visit the gravesites of presidents William Taft and John F. Kennedy at Arlington National Cemetery. Taft, the 27th president, was the first president to be buried at Arlington. Kennedy, the 35th president, was laid to rest there after his assassination, the cemetery’s website says, because Jacqueline Kennedy wanted her husband’s gravesite to be accessible to the public.
Also buried at Arlington are Robert F. Kennedy, veterans of the Revolutionary War, military leaders, Supreme Court Justices and many others.
A short drive southwest is Monticello, home of Thomas Jefferson, our country’s third president and author of the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson was passionate about architecture and not only designed the Virginia State Capitol building but spent 40 years designing, redesigning, building and rebuilding Monticello. The estate has 43 rooms, 13 skylights and eight fireplaces; in addition, 60 percent of its furnishings are original to the home. The former president was also keenly interested in botany, thus the extensive network of flower, vegetable and fruit gardens.
Enjoy the beauty of the area when staying overnight at the Misty Mountain Camp Resort, nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville, Virginia, which is also close to Montpelier.
A short drive from Mount Vernon and Monticello is Montpelier, the lifelong home of James Madison, fourth President of the United States, who is also known as the Father of the Constitution. Exhaustive work is being undertaken to restore Montpelier to the time period in which James and his wife, Dolly, lived at the plantation. There’s also a groundbreaking exhibition on slavery that explores how the legacy of slavery impacts today’s conversations about race, identity and human rights.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our 32nd president, guided the country through the Great Depression and World War II. To soothe his polio, he soaked in the natural springs and eventually established a vacation home in Warm Springs, Georgia. The home was nicknamed the Little White House and is one of Georgia’s most visited historic sites.
RVers can spend the night at Pine Mountain RV Resort. Nestled in the beautiful Georgia pines, the resort is packed with amenities, including a fitness room, pool, hot tub, steam showers, as well as an on-site concierge.
While a Georgia, a visit to Woodrow Wilson’s boyhood home, in Augusta, is in order. This National Historic Landmark was recently renovated, and explores the life of the 28th president as a boy growing up in Georgia during the Civil War.
Augusta’s Heritage RV Park is conveniently located off the freeway and is known for catering to Masters patrons—so to avoid the first week in April is advisable.
20 minutes outside of Nashville lies the home of seventh president Andrew Jackson, the Hermitage. The mansion, which has been carefully restored with most of Jackson’s original belongings, is open for tours. Visitors can also explore the grounds of Jackson’s cotton plantation that includes historic buildings and markers, the tomb of Andrew and his wife, Rachel, as well as the field quarters and a hiking trail.
Located on a peninsula with beautiful views of Percy Priest Lake, RVers will love Safe Harbor RV Resort.
He may be most closely associated with Illinois, but Abraham Lincoln, our 16th president, rose from humble beginnings in Kentucky. The Kentucky Lincoln Heritage Trail showcases notable sites where Lincoln spent the first seven years of his life. There’s a replica of the tiny log cabin Lincoln was born in, the farm along Knob Creek, where he lived with his parents and the Lincoln Museum, which highlights the major events in Lincoln’s life through life-size dioramas, period artifacts and a collection of wax figures.
The Elizabethtown Crossroads Campground, great for RVers, is close to a variety of attractions, including Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, Mammoth Cave National Park and Louisville.
Our most southern and final stop honors Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States. He spent 175 days of his presidency at the Little White House in the warm climate of Key West, Florida. The home was originally built in 1890 as housing for naval officers. Guided tours of the home and Florida’s only presidential museum are conducted regularly.
Travelers can kick back in style at the luxurious Bluewater Key RV Resort, close to a golf course, the Shipwreck Museum and Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum.