Happening Now

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16 Things to Do in the South in 2016 (January 2016)

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So Many Fun Ways to Spend Your Holiday Gift Cash in the South (December 2014)

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Feelin’ Presidential: Presidential Sites Throughout the South (October 2012)

Eight Cool Southern College Towns (September 2012)

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Published: October 2012
Feelin’ Presidential: Presidential Sites Throughout the South  

reported by Sara Porch

While elections come and go, you can get your fix on all things commander-in-chief at the many historic presidential sites scattered across the South.

From childhood homes to presidential retreats, these historic locations allow you to get inside the mind, and sometimes the bedroom, of the men who occupied the United States’ highest office.

Texas

Eisenhower Birthplace State Historical Site allows visitors to see the humble beginnings of the United States’ 34th president. Located in Denison, the simple two-story house is the birthplace of Dwight D. Eisenhower and depicts what life was like in a burgeoning railroad town. There’s a 30-minute guided tour of the home, and afterwards you can enjoy learning more about the first Texas-born president in the Visitors Center.

When visiting the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park, you’ll see where the nation’s 36th president was born, lived and died.With a free driving pass from the visitor center, you can tour the former president’s spacious ranch, known as the “Texas White House.” The guided tour includes a look inside Johnson’s personal office. Just down the street from his home are Johnson’s birthplace and final resting place at the Johnson family cemetery. If you have more time, you can continue your tour by driving only fourteen miles to Johnson City. Here you can visit Johnson’s home from the age of five to 15 and the Johnson Settlement, a cattle driving headquarter that Johnson’s grandfather and great uncle began in the 1860s.

The University of Texas of the Permian Basin offers two presidential sites, The Presidential Museum and the George H.W. Bush House. While the Bush Home gives visitors the opportunity to see where George H.W. Bush, Barbara Bush, and George W. Bush lived during their time in Odessa, the nearby Presidential Museum gives visitors a unique insight into the office of the presidency. The museum contains campaign memorabilia, historical documents and the Leadership Library of the Presidents with over 5,000 volumes. Don’t miss the Dishong collection of First Lady miniature dolls. While on the topic of the 41st president, the George H.W. Bush Library is located on the campus of Texas A&M University. It holds over 44,000,000 pages of documents, 2,000,000 photographs, thousands of sound and video recordings, and 100,000 artifacts.

Only thirty minutes away from Odessa in Midland, is the George W. Bush Childhood Home. Tour the home the 43rd president lived in while attending elementary school and junior high. The house has been fully restored to its original 1950s appearance, when the Bush family lived there.

Georgia

Woodrow Wilson is famous for leading America through WWI and forming the League of Nations, but the Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home tells the story of a young boy growing up in Augusta during the American Civil War. The Manse, a home belonging to a Presbyterian minister, has been restored to its appearance in the 1860s, when Wilson lived there. Tours of the Manse are available to see where Wilson first heard of Lincoln’s election and the start of the Civil War. Visitors can stand in the same front yard that Wilson did as he watched Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, walk through the streets of Augusta in chains on his way to prison.

Warm Springs Historic District is a unique presidential site because it was both a place of residence and a therapeutic retreat for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. With the exception of 1942, from 1924 to 1945 Roosevelt came to Warm Springs to use its healing waters to treat his polio. Roosevelt found the waters to be so beneficial that in 1926 he bought the resort and later built a cottage nearby for him and his wives. The cottage became known as the “Little White House.”  Both are open for tours.B. He suffered a stroke while sitting for a portrait in the Little White House, and died later that afternoon. The “Unfinished Portrait” of Roosevelt still sits in the house and is the highlight of the home’s tour. Since his death, the house has remained unchanged and provides an authentic representation of the celebrated president’s life.

With a population of only 683, Plains is a small rural community that also happens to be the hometown of the 39th president, Jimmy Carter. The former president’s influence on the town is still evident at Plains High School and the train depot. Plains High School has been transformed into a museum and visitors center dedicated to the school’s most famous alumni. A classroom, principle’s office, and auditorium have been restored and furnished in a 1930s style, when Carter attended the school. The school also holds an exhibit and a video that portrays Carter’s life in Plains and his presidency. Plains’ train depot was a functioning train station from 1888 to 1951, but in 1976 it was turned into Carter’s political campaign headquarters. Now you  can take a self guided tour through the museum-depot’s exhibit on the 1976 presidential campaign. Sitting just outside of Plains is Carter’s boyhood farm, where he lived from the age of four until he left for college. Take a guided walking tour or listen to Carter himself share stories about his childhood at audio stations. Plains may be a small farming town, but it remains apart of American history as the birthplace of a president and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

The Jimmy Carter Library and Museum celebrates Georgia’s only president. Located in Atlanta, it is both a research facility and a museum. On display are photos and historic memorabilia from Carter’s presidency as well as a full scale replica of the  Oval Office during the Carter administration.

Florida

Harry Truman’s Little White House initially served as Navy headquarters during the Spanish American War, WWI, and WWII, but became Harry S. Truman’s favorite vacation spot during his presidency. Located  in Key West,  it a tropical retreat for five other presidents. Now it acts as a museum, but is sometimes still used as a place for government business and the occasional vacation. Professional docents provide fully guided tours that focus on Truman’s presidency, the Cold War, Naval history, and the history of Key West.

Tennessee

While the 11th president of the United States, James Polk may not be the most famous of the 44 commanders in chief, the James Polk House holds a multitude of historic artifacts and an intriguing presidential exhibit. The 1816 house stands in Columbia and is a perfect example of Federal style architecture. There are over 1,000 of Polk and his wife’s, possessions on display through out the home. One of the most significant artifacts is a photograph of Polk and his cabinet. Not only is this the first photograph of a president and his cabinet, but it is also the first photograph of the inside of the White House. After touring Polk’s home and the exhibit,  walk over to Polk’s sister’s home nearby. Here you  can see daguerreotypes of the president and his wife, White House gifts, campaign memorabilia form the election of 1844, and Mrs. Polk’s inaugural fan.

At the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, you  can see two homes and the final resting place of the 17th and first impeached president. Johnson’s early home in Greenville,  displays Johnson’s life before becoming president as well as his beginning political career. After visiting Johnson’s early home, visitors can take an intimate twelve person tour through The Homestead, the house Johnson returned to after his presidency. The home has been restored to its original 1870s appearance with most of its original furnishings. Before leaving the house, make sure to find the graffiti left by Civil War soldiers on the exterior of the home. During the war, the home was occupied by Union and Confederate soldiers, and both left their mark on Johnson’s home. One legible line of graffiti reads, “Fools names and monkey faces are often seen in public places.” You  can also see Johnson’s grave at Monument Hill. It is said that this patriotic president was buried wrapped in an American flag, holding a copy of the Constitution.

Kentucky

Illinois may be known as the land of Lincoln, but at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace will quickly remind you that America’s revered 16th president started his life in a modest log cabin in Hodgenville,. At the site’s visitor center, guests can tour exhibits about Lincoln’s childhood and pioneer life. You can even see a bible that belonged to Lincoln’s parents and greatly influenced Lincoln’s own ideas. Outside of the visitor center, is the “First Lincoln Memorial.” After walking up the memorial’s 56 steps, one for each year of Lincoln’s life, visitors enter the site of Honest Abe’s birthplace. Inside the memorial stands a symbolic log cabin that reminds everyone of America’s limitless possibilities.

Virginia

Mount Vernon sits on the banks of the beautiful Potomac River, and was home to our nation’s first president, George Washington, for over four decades. The house now stands as it would have looked in 1799, the year of Washington’s death. The mansion has original furnishings and numerous Washington possessions, including Washington’s key to the Bastille and the swivel chair he used during his presidency. While touring the home be sure to visit Washington’s master bedroom on the second floor. This room was Washington and his wife’s retreat for forty years,and  the room where he died. Martha Washington closed it after his death, but now you can see this historic space. After visiting the master bedroom, you  can see Washington’s tomb. Mount Vernon is also home to the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. See the famous Houdon bust of Washington, which offers  the most accurate likeness of Washington. There are also three life size wax models of Washington at ages 19, 45 and 57. These models were made using forensic anthropology, and are a must see for anyone who wants to stand in front the nation’s first president. The center also has Washington’s famous dentures on display. Don’t be too disappointed when you learn that they made from animal teeth rather than the fabled wood.

After visiting Monticello, it should come as no surprise that Thomas Jefferson, America’s 3rd president and the writer of the Declaration of Independence, died in 1826 more than $107,000 in debt. Jefferson meticulously designed and built the 5,000 acre plantation for more than 40 years. The expansive grounds may seem overwhelming at first, but Monticello offers several different tours that can fit into any visitor’s day.. In addition to touring the  house, you can walk through the plantation’s beautiful gardens. Although most of Monticello’s flowers were destroyed after Jefferson’s death, the gardens have been restored based on Jefferson’s original sketches.

photo credit: (top left) Three Presidents, Julia Fuge, Charlottesville CVB; (top right) LBJ, Austin CVB; (middle left) FDR Little White House, Explore Georgia; (bottom right) Andrew Johnson National Cemetery, Tennessee Department of Tourism Development; (bottom left) fish pond and Monticello, Mary Porter, Charlottesville CVB

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