Presidential Treats and Retreats

Traveling in the footsteps of the POTUS
By Joanne Cosker
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"West Wing" transports us weekly into the life of a fantasy president; the fantastic legacies of the real great ones live on in their libraries, homes, and haunts throughout this great land.

George Washington
Mt. Vernon, the stately estate on the banks of the Potomac just south of Washington, D.C., is, of course, the Mecca for any admirer of our first president. But start in D.C., site of the newly restored Washington Monument, to literally walk (or bike or drive) in our founding father's footsteps. Take the George Washington Memorial Parkway, stopping at presidential sites from Great Falls to Mt. Vernon along the same route our first president once traveled by horse. Old Town Alexandria, the mid-point, oozes colonial charm. Travel a bit further to Virginia's George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Virginia's Northern Neck; or Pennsylvania's Moland House, where George Washington and his troops slept for thirteen of the waning days of the Revolution. The truly dedicated will venture across the ocean to Sulgrave Manor, in Banbury, England, the ancestral home of the Washington family.
Thomas Jefferson
The Jefferson Memorial—currently getting a cleaning—is a natural stop, especially during cherry-blossom season, but nowhere do you get inside the head—and the life—of a president more fully than at Monticello, Virginia's mountaintop retreat. The Jeffersonian era is evident elsewhere in the Piedmont: Poplar Forest, a favorite retreat of our third president, and the University of Virginia, his monument to higher learning and architectural accomplishment. (President Monroe's family home is right down the road.) The College of William and Mary (further south, in the other colonial enclave of Williamsburg) is alma mater to four U.S. Presidents including Jefferson. You'll find the seeds of The Library of Congress, which Jefferson founded, at Monticello; the main building in Washington, D.C., is rightly named after the scholar and president.

Abraham Lincoln
You can pretty much follow the life of Abraham Lincoln from his birth right through to the minute of his death— and beyond! As one of our best-loved presidents, virtually all spots connected to Lincoln have been preserved, restored, or immortalized—from his birthplace in Kentucky and his boyhood home in Illinois to his former law offices and family tomb in Springfield. (While in Illinois, you can even trace the route of the 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.) Washington, D.C.'s Ford's Theater still rings with vibrant performances despite the fatal shots of that April evening; stop next door at Petersen's Boarding House where the President spent his final moments. (Tours even trace the escape of Booth through the Maryland countryside.) The Lincoln Memorial, resonant with the history of emancipation even its namesake couldn't have foreseen, still stands watch over the National Mall.

Published: 27 Oct 2000 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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Best Hotels in Washington, DC

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Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square
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Palomar Washington DC, a Kimpton Hotel
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InterContinental THE WILLARD WASHINGTON D.C.
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Park Hyatt Washington

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