Two Bears, Two Bowman
“Washington spent most of his life in pursuit of returning to Mount Vernon. He and his wife Martha are both buried there,” says University of Alabama professor and presidential historian Glenn David Brasher. “Mount Vernon has such a homey feel to it, and tourists are encouraged to sit on the back porch and relax in rocking chairs while gazing out at the Potomac. It’s hard not to feel close to Washington when you look out at the same view you know he saw.”
The home of John Adams, our second president, is located in Braintree Mass., just south of Boston on I-93. The Adams home sits on the 14-acre Adams National Historic Site, which is run by the National Park Service. Five generations of the Adams family, including two presidents and first ladies, lived here, and it is the birthplace and gravesite of presidents John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams, the sixth president.
Perhaps the most immaculate presidential residence is Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Va., in the foothills of the Shenandoah Mountains on I-64, about 30 miles east of I-81.
“Jefferson’s home is an architectural innovation of the mind that features all kinds of his inventions, including the first copy machine ever made and a clock that could not only tell time, but the days of the week,” Brasher says.
This is a “must-see” presidential home. The view from the estate and Jefferson’s interesting gadgets make it the most visited home in the United States. Perched high in the mountains, Monticello overlooks the university that Jefferson, our third President, founded in the early 1800s, the University of Virginia. As with many of Jefferson’s constructions, he designed the university’s campus layout and buildings himself. The trees on top of the mountain stay trimmed year round to expose the incredible view. A tavern located on the grounds provides excellent traditional American fare. If you can’t make it by any time soon, just take a look at a nickel, and you’ll find Jefferson and Monticello in miniature on either side.
If you’re headed toward Nashville on I-40, keep an eye out for the Hermitage, the home of our seventh president, Andrew Jackson. The Hermitage is even grander in style than the more colonial Monticello or Mount Vernon because it is a true antebellum mansion. Most of the furnishings at the Hermitage are original to the house, and the colors on the walls are precisely matched to the originals, which were extravagantly bold, as was the fashion of the day. Because each of the rooms was photographed, historians know exactly how to set up the home the way it was when Jackson resided there.
Unlike some presidential homes, Jackson’s Hermitage is located in the middle of the suburbs, not set away from civilization.
“Jackson was known as the president for the common man, and his home seems to exemplify this with its high ceilings and a very open atmosphere,” Brasher says. “Jackson was the type of man that would have loved being in the center of everyday life with the people of his country.”
Just 100 miles north of St. Louis, Mo., in Springfield, Ill., off I-55, you’ll find the home of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. This humble home was where Lincoln lived before he was president, and it is smaller than some presidential homes.
“Because he was simply a country lawyer before he became president, Lincoln’s home is less presidential than some, but it is still an impressive old home by anyone’s standards,” Brasher says.
But Lincoln is not buried there; he lies in a cemetery nearby in Springfield in an above-ground crypt.
Other impressive presidential homes include the residences of Chester A. Arthur (#21) in Fairfield, Vt., Grover Cleveland (#22) in Caldwell, N.J., Dwight Eisenhower (#34) in Denison, Texas, Gerald Ford (#38) in Omaha, Neb., Ulysses S. Grant (#18) in Richmond, Ohio, and John F. Kennedy (#35) in Brookline, Mass.
The next time you’re counting out your dollars, take a long look at the faces staring back at you. Can you see Washington as the wizened old man sitting in his rocking chair and gazing out at the Potomac after dinner? Can you picture Jefferson hard at work on his latest invention in his study? If you can’t, then the next time you find yourself near their homes, take a minute to get to know the men who shaped our nation into what it is today.