In Alexandria, Virginia, visitors can dine in the tavern that George Washington frequented. In Springfield, Illinois, guests can slide their hand up the same banister Abraham Lincoln held onto while climbing the stairs in his home. And in Abilene, Kansas, groups can dine at the restaurant where Dwight D. Eisenhower got a birthday paddlin’ from the owner.
Whether it was his boyhood home or his de facto hometown, a U.S. president called each of these cities home.
Alexandria and Mount Vernon, Virginia
Mount Vernon was Washington’s home, but Alexandria was where he owned a town house, filled prescriptions and sold produce from his farm.
“This is where he took his horse and buggy to do business,” said Lorraine Lloyd, senior vice president of sales for Visit Alexandria.
For visitors to the area, Mount Vernon is “foremost on their agenda,” but many people don’t realize that Alexandria has 140 Washington-related historic sites, including three museums on Market Square. Groups can dine at Gadsby’s Tavern after exploring its museum, an establishment Washington frequented and where he twice attended a birthday ball in his honor. The apothecary where Washington and his family filled prescriptions is now the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop Museum. Among its items is a receipt with Martha Washington’s signature. The Washingtons also frequently visited the mansion that is now the Carlyle House museum.
Every Saturday, Market Square is the site of the Old Town Farmers Market, thought to be the oldest market in the nation and where produce from Mount Vernon was sold. Nearby is Washington’s reconstructed town house and the church where visitors can “sit in the pew where he would have sat,” said Leah Spellman, communications manager. Groups can take in views of the Potomac River and Washington, D.C., from the observation deck at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, which is “really a museum to his life,” Lloyd said.
At Mount Vernon, guests can explore Washington’s mansion, gardens and several outbuildings; see Washington’s tomb; and visit the Mount Vernon Museum and Education Center.
Lincoln is easily Illinois’s most famous resident, and the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is “absolutely at the top of the list” for visitors to Springfield, said Jeff Berg, client services manager for the Visit Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.
In the museum’s two 250-seat theaters, “Lincoln’s Eyes” is a special-effects program that gives a 4-D overview of his life, and “Ghosts of the Library” uses holographic projections that leave you wondering “if the actor was ever there in the first place,” he said.
At the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, park rangers lead free tours that highlight Lincoln as “a family man as opposed to a president.” The house includes many of its original furnishings, and when going upstairs, guides ask guests to grab the stair railing because it’s the same railing Lincoln held onto.
Groups can also visit the Old State Capitol, where he served in the legislature, the Presbyterian church where the original Lincoln family pew is preserved and the train depot where he departed for Washington after winning the election.
A couple of miles north, the Lincoln Tomb and memorial is where Lincoln; his wife, Mary; and three of their four sons are buried. “History Comes Alive” is a program that features weekly performances and period actors at Lincoln sites throughout the summer.