WAMC's Ian Pickus speaks with Hugh Howard, whose new book is Houses of the Presidents: Childhood Homes, Family Dwellings, Private Escapes, and Grand Estates.
From Monteplier to Monticello, Sagamore Hill to Simi Valley, presidential homes and museums offer an often fascinating insight into the private lives of the public men and women whose turns as the nation’s First Family immortalized them in our nation’s history.
Some presidential abodes, particularly in the nation’s earliest days, were sprawling plantations whose grandeur helped define the new America’s architectural sensibilities for decades — and, it bears noting, whose slave quarters help to define the antebellum union for modern-day citizens.
Others, like Lincoln’s Springfield home, were smaller family houses that became intriguing points of study only through the eyes of history, as conservationists and visitors alike search for clues to help unlock the mystery of presidential life.
For many presidents, the homestead has served as a retreat during the White House years and a retirement home after politics, when correspondence and family took precedence. In the modern era, the home has served as a getaway from Washington and permanent political base for presidents like LBJ and George W. Bush.
Author Hugh Howard, who lives in nearby East Chatham — which is close to several presidential homes, like Grant’s cottage, Martin Van Buren’s Lindenwald, and the Calvin Coolidge Historic Site in Vermont — has written extensively on art, history and architecture.