David and Kay Scott, special for USA TODAY
- Some served as long-time residences, others are birthplace or boyhood homes
- Tours are generally organized as small groups led by a park ranger or park volunteer
- Each park unit offers special events, often on the president's birthday and national holidays
The mention of national parks most likely brings to mind images of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Death Valley, and the many natural wonders administered by the National Park Service.
Less well known are the many former presidents' homes administered by the National Park Service. Some served as long-time residences for presidents prior to and/or following their service in Washington, D.C. Others are birthplace or boyhood homes where the future presidents lived for only a short time. All offer visitors an opportunity to learn about our nation's history.
In time for Presidents' Day, here are some former presidents' homes managed by the National Park Service and open to the public at nominal cost. Tours are generally organized as small groups led by a park ranger or park volunteer. Tour tickets are typically sold on a first-come, first-serve basis, although reservations are sometimes necessary depending on the location. Most of the homes are open for visitation year-round with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
Each park unit offers special events, often on the president's birthday and national holidays such as Presidents' Day and the Fourth of July. Call or check the park's website for scheduled events at a particular park.
Adams National Historical Park (Quincy, Massachusetts; nps.gov/adam). The park includes the birthplace homes of president John Adams and his son, president John Quincy Adams, plus the later home of four generations of the family including both presidents. A trolley departs from the visitor center at 1250 Hancock Street for two-hour guided tours of both birthplace houses and the family home. The homes are open seasonally from mid-April to mid-November.
Eisenhower National Historic Site (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania; nps.gov/eise). The five-star general and his wife, Mamie, purchased this 189-acre farm adjoining Gettysburg Battlefield in 1950 during his presidency of Columbia University. The home was extensively renovated by Ike who enjoyed bringing dignitaries here during his two terms as president. In 1961, following the end of his second term, Ike and Mamie retired to their Gettysburg home. Eisenhower died in 1969 at age 78, while Mamie continued to live here until her death in 1979. The grounds and home, the latter of which contains most of its original furnishings, are accessible only via a shuttle that begins at the visitor center and museum of Gettysburg National Military Park. National Park Service rangers offer guided walks and talks from spring through fall.
James A. Garfield National Historic Site (Mentor, Ohio; nps.gov/jaga). James Garfield, our 20th U.S. president, purchased this home in 1876. Within four years he had nearly doubled its size and added a front porch from which he would famously campaign for president. Reporters who camped in his yard while covering the campaign called the home "Lawnfield," a name that stuck. Garfield, a dark horse candidate, won the 1880 election but was shot the following June and died two months later. Guided tours are offered daily from May through October, and on weekend afternoons the remainder of the year. Special tours are offered the first and third Saturdays of each month.
Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site (St. Louis, Missouri; nps.gov/ulsg). Purchased in 1820 by his father-in-law, White Haven served as home to Grant who joined wife, Julia, there beginning in 1854 following his resignation from the U.S. Army. Although the couple left the farm three years later in order to earn a living in St. Louis, General Grant and his wife always considered White Haven as their home. Grant had purchased the home and 650 acres by 1870. Guided tours of the home require about a half hour. The national historic site also includes a visitor center, museum, and a quarter-mile trail. The farm has been restored to a late-1870s appearance.
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site (Greeneville, Tennessee; nps.gov/anjo). Andrew Johnson served as alderman, mayor, state representative, state senator, U.S. representative, governor, U.S. senator, and vice-president of the USA before assuming the U.S. presidency upon the death of Abraham Lincoln. A tailor by trade, Johnson was self-educated. The Greenville home purchased by Johnson in 1851 served as his residence for the remainder of his life. In addition to the main residence, the historic site includes a visitor center and museum, Johnson's original tailor shop, his boyhood home, a national cemetery. Guided tours of the main residence are offered each hour, while Johnson's boyhood home is open for self-guiding tours. A replica of his birthplace home is adjacent to the historic site.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park (Johnson City, Texas; nps.gov/lyjo). LBJ's ranch, sometimes called the Texas White House, is part of this historical park that also includes the former president's boyhood home, a reconstructed replica of his birthplace cabin, the family cemetery where LBJ and Ladybird are buried, and an exhibit center. The park is comprised of two separate areas 14 miles apart. A tour of the ranch and their home makes it easy to understand why LBJ and Ladybird decided to return here following his presidency.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site (Springfield, Illinois; nps.gov/liho). The only home owned by the 16th president is part of a four-block section of Springfield that has undergone a Lincoln-era restoration. Ranger-guided tours of the home are free. Although not included as part of the historic site, Lincoln's tomb on the edge of town is also open to visitors. The old state capitol where Lincoln gave his "house divided" speech is within walking distance of Lincoln's home. Visitors can easily spend a half-day taking tours and exploring the neighborhood.
Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site (Hyde Park, New York; nps.gov/hofr). Springwood, the birthplace and lifetime home of our 32nd president, is open for hour-long guided tours ($14 for adults, free for children 15 and under). The estate, along with its early 1800s farmhouse, was purchased in the mid-1800s by FDR's father. The home was extensively expanded and modernized by FDR and his parents. A self-guiding tour of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum is included as part of the admission.
Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (Oyster Bay, New York; nps.gov/sahi). Theodore Roosevelt built this large Victorian home in 1884-85 following the death of his first wife. Roosevelt moved in 1887 to Sagamore Hill where he and his second wife, Edith, raised six children over a period of more than 30 years. The 26th U.S. President died in 1919 at age 60, while Edith continued to live in the home until passing away at age 87 in 1948. In addition to the home, the historic site contains a visitor center, a museum, and a trail leading to a natural wildlife refuge. Tours have been curtailed while the house undergoes major rehabilitation. The museum and visitor center remain open Wednesday through Sunday.
Harry S Truman National Historic Site (Independence, Missouri; nps.gov/hstr). Our 33rd president lived in this home, built in 1867 by Bess's grandfather, from the time of his 1919 marriage until his death in 1972. Belongings in the home are original to when the Truman's lived here. It is open daily except during winter months when it is closed on Mondays. Two adjacent homes of relatives are also open for visitation. Tickets for guided tours are sold in the visitor center at the corner of Truman Road and Main Street. The 1894 farmhouse in the nearby town of Grandview where Truman lived as a child is open weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Martin Van Buren National Historic Site (Kinderhook, New York; nps.gov/mava). Lindenwald, purchased in 1839 by our 8th U.S. president during the third year of his only term, served as his primary residence from 1841 to 1862. Van Buren renovated and expanded the home, added a large garden, and dammed a stream to create two large ponds. The home is open for guided tours from mid-May through the end of October. A 3/4-mile trail with 10 interpretive markers loops through the grounds. A nature area with multiple trails is adjacent to the historic site. A 1 1/2-mile trail interprets the role of Dutch farming from its beginning at the Kinderhook parking lot to its terminus at another farm owned by the county historical society.
The National Park Service also administers a number of presidential birthplace and boyhood homes including those of Bill Clinton (Arkansas), Herbert Hoover (Iowa), John F. Kennedy (Massachusetts), Abraham Lincoln (Kentucky and Indiana, Theodore Roosevelt (New York), William Howard Taft (Ohio), and George Washington (Virginia). Private foundations administer several presidential homes including Thomas Jefferson's Monticello (Virginia), George Washington's Mount Vernon (Virginia), Andrew Jackson's Hermitage (Tennessee), and James Madison's Montpelier (Virginia).
David and Kay Scott reside in Valdosta, Ga., and are authors of Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges (Globe Pequot). Visit their website at valdosta.edu/~dlscott/Scott.html.