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5 presidential pads to visit this summer

By Amy Abbott, Contributing writer
Published On: Jun 18 2012 09:13:57 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 21 2012 01:00:00 AM CDT
Road trip vacation, car on map

iStock / Bosca78

Summer is a great time to soak up American history. Whether in Mt. Vernon, Va., where you can walk through George Washington's bedroom and where he died, or Lincoln's home in Springfield, Ill., presidential homes offer history geeks the skinny about our former leader's personal abodes.

We'll take you to the homes of our first and 16th presidents as well as visit some not quite so familiar.

Sultry Nashville summers are no match for the cool porches of The Hermitage, where President Andrew Jackson lived in luxury against a backdrop of slaves working in his fields.

The LBJ Ranch in the Texas Hill Country is exactly as Lyndon B. Johnson saw it as he drove to check on his herds. You'll be surprised at the simplicity of this ranch house, though it does bear the touch of our "Keep America Beautiful" first lady.

Finally, we'll visit the gentile and formal Franklin Delano Roosevelt Springwood estate in Hyde Park, N.Y., which both FDR and first lady Eleanor loved.

Still hungry for more dish on the presidential kitchen and the rest of the house? We'll close the door on this with a link to check out some recent presidential real estate.

Mount Vernon, George Washington

No. 5: George Washington - Mt. Vernon, Virginia

Though our first president grew up on another plantation in Fairfax County, Va., most consider stately Mt. Vernon his home. The planter married wealthy widow Martha Custis in 1759 and raised her two children at the mansion on the Potomac banks that Washington inherited from his family. The red-roofed house was built in the neo-classical Georgian style in 1757.

Between wars and his eight years as president, Washington lived as a country gentleman on this estate, then 5,000 acres. Today tourists visit 50 acres that include the mansion and related buildings, gardens and crypt. The property has been a National Historic Landmark for more than 50 years and is operated by the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association. After Washington's 1799 death, the property fell into disrepair until the Ladies Association purchased it in 1858.

Tourists can visit Mt. Vernon every day of the year, but need note that spring break time through early summer are busy and may want to pre-purchase tickets online.

While the crypt that holds George and Martha's remains is popular for visitors, the wooden mansion holds a special fascination -- don't miss the dining room where the Washingtons entertained or the upstairs bedroom containing the bed in which President Washington died a few days after catching a chill working outside.

Abraham Lincoln Springfield home

No. 4: Abraham Lincoln - Springfield, Illinois

When Honest Abe and his Kentucky-born wife Mary Todd Lincoln left their Greek revival two-story home in Springfield prior to his 1861 inauguration, could they have imagined he would never live there again?

Yet he came home in the infamous funeral pilgrimage in 1865 and is now forever entombed under a 17-foot granite obelisk in Springfield's Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Today visitors can walk through the simple home at Eighth and Jackson streets, just blocks from the downtown where Lincoln practiced law. The Lincolns purchased the one-story wood frame home in 1844 and added a story in 1856 to accommodate three sons and an increasing social calendar from Lincoln's political career. Mary felt her sons would never learn manners as long as they ate in the kitchen, so the remodel added a dining room.

Before moving to Washington, D.C., the Lincolns stored many of their belongings and rented the house. Many of the original furnishings disappeared. Restorers had access to drawings of the public rooms sketched in summer 1860 by "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper." Original furnishings have been duplicated and fill the house. Did that old rocker in your basement once hold our lanky 16th president?

Visits are free, though you will need to pick up a ticket at the nearby Visitor's Center at 426 S. Seventh St. The Lincoln home is open daily except New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson, Nashville

No. 3: Andrew Jackson - Nashville, Tennessee
"Well, in 1814 we took a little trip" opens the Johnny Horton ballad "Battle of New Orleans." While not completely factual, our seventh President Andrew Jackson of Tennessee did lead 5,000 American soldiers to an 1815 victory over 7,500 Brits to save New Orleans. Jackson, popular with his soldiers, said he was "tough as old hickory" and the tree moniker stuck.

Jackson once owned another more valuable property on the Cumberland River that he sold to reduce debt, moving to another property north of Nashville. Soon Jackson dubbed his farm "The Hermitage," which means rural retreat. The 1,000-acre property had more than 40 slaves to plant and pick cotton, tend to Jackson's wife's elaborate French-style gardens and manage Jackson's racehorses.

Archaeologists preserved slave cabins to maintain this part of American history and continue historical digging on the property. While the Hermitage is one of the most beautiful homes in Tennessee it leaves the enduring sad legacy of American slavery.

In 1880, the Tennessee Legislature gave a 25-acre tract of the mansion and adjacent gardens to the Ladies Hermitage Society. The Legislature also decreed that the remaining 400-plus acres be used to house old soldiers from the Confederacy, as long as their home was kept out of sight of tourist eyes.

There are fees for entrance for all but military personnel and children under 5. The mansion and grounds are open daily.

Lyndon B Johnson ranch, LBJ

No. 2: Lyndon B. Johnson - Johnson City, Texas

Lyndon Baines Johnson, our 36th president, loved his ranch near Johnson City, Texas. He was born, died and is buried there. Johnson took the federal government home with him on 74 occasions during his presidency. His website notes he worked at the ranch 470 days -- about one-fourth of his time in the nation's highest office.

Johnson once said, "All the world is welcome here" and indeed he welcomed global leaders and Texas neighbors. His intention was for the ranch to be a public museum after the first lady's death. Since Lady Bird's 2007 death, five rooms of the "Texas White House" have been opened for 30-minute guided tours.

The "Texas White House" has been restored to its 1963-1968 condition, giving visitors a Way-Back Machine to the 1960s when most of Johnson's staff looked like the cast of "Mad Men."

The ranch is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. The only fee is $2 for people over 17 to visit the ranch house.

In order to visit the LBJ Ranch, you must obtain a free parking pass from the Johnson City Visitor's Center 14 miles east of the ranch near Stonewall, Texas. You can also see the National Park Visitor Center, LBJ's Boyhood Home and the Johnson Settlement where the president's grandparents settled in the 1860s. The parking pass comes with a map and a CD that narrates the ride from Johnson City to the ranch area.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt Springwood Hyde Park mansion

No. 1: Franklin Delano Roosevelt - Hyde Park, New York

Like Lyndon Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt was born and buried in the same spot. (However, he died at Warm Springs, Ga., in April 1945.) His father, James Roosevelt, purchased land in 1866 near the Hudson River in New York for $40,000, equivalent to more than $600,000 today.

With FDR's political cache and family growing, Roosevelt and his mother Sara Delano Roosevelt expanded the Springwood Estate house in 1915.

Roosevelt managed to make more than 200 visits to Hyde Park during his presidency. He always considered Springwood his home, and today the mansion still holds much of his vast collections of paintings, stamps, model ships, books, coins and political cartoons.

The Roosevelts entertained at Hyde Park during his presidency to such luminaries at King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of England.

Roosevelt's intention was to leave his estate to the people of the United States and since his death; the estate has been a National Historic Site. Visitors can purchase a two-day pass that offers admission to the home and the adjacent Presidential Museum and Library.

Located just two hours north of New York City, the mansion offers a guided one-hour tour.

Bonus: Check out Zillow for info on more recent presidential real estate.

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