View of the facade from afar

photo by: Gordon Beall

April 27, 2020

Presidential Accommodations: A Virtual Tour of Five National Trust Historic Sites

Welcome to the fifth installment of National Trust Historic Sites virtual tours. This week we tour five of the National Trust's sites that are houses with a connection to U.S. presidents or presidential history. It will come as little surprise that all five sites are located in or near Washington, D.C. Ranging from a Colonial-era country estate to a stylish urban townhouse, these sites represent America's birth as a nation, Emancipation, and the emergence of the United States as a world power.

The first site on tour this week is the oldest of the National Trust's Historic Sites with a connection to the United States presidency—James Madison's Montpelier, constructed circa 1760. A blend of Georgian and Federal styles, the two story brick mansion was the lifelong home of James Madison, fourth president of the United States, father of the Constitution, and architect of the Bill of Rights; and his wife, Dolley, America's first "First Lady."

Next on tour, we visit Woodlawn, a 126-acre estate that was originally part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The main Federal-style house was designed by the architect of the U.S. Capitol, Dr. William Thornton, and constructed between 1800 and 1805 for Washington’s nephew, Major Lawrence Lewis, and his wife, Eleanor “Nelly” Custis Lewis.

Next, we travel to the heart of Washington, D.C. As one of the earliest residences in our nation’s capital, Decatur House has always had a front row seat to politics. Located next to the White House on Lafayette Square, the house features a grand entrance, a hidden brick courtyard, and stately entertaining parlors that have hosted many of the nation’s most prominent figures.

The fourth stop on our virtual tour is also located in Washington, D.C., on a hillside with a view of the Capitol. What is now known as President Lincoln's Cottage, is the most significant historic site directly associated with Lincoln's presidency aside from the White House. The Cottage is where Lincoln lived for over a quarter of his presidency and made some of his most critical decisions.

The final house on tour is The President Woodrow Wilson House, a historic site devoted to teaching about the early twentieth century and President Wilson’s legacy of ideas that remain relevant today. President Wilson changed the president’s role in the government, the government’s role in American society, and America’s role in the world. He imagined the world at peace and proposed the League of Nations to achieve that vision. He led the United States during World War I. However, the site also examines President Wilson’s shortcomings, especially relating to race and civil liberties.

We hope you enjoyed this week's tour of presidential accomodations. Please join us next week as we explore Modernism.

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Dennis Hockman is editor in chief of Preservation magazine. He’s lived in historic apartments and houses all over the United States and knows that all old buildings have stories to tell if you care to find them.

Join the movement to save and sustain historic African American places. The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund will help every American see themselves, their history, and their potential in our collective story and national cultural landscape.

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