Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Washington DC

My parents have both told me that their families used to huddle around the radio regularly for Franklin Roosevelt’s “fireside chats.” Roosevelt was president through twelve years of unremitting crisis, first economic depression and then world war. There were more than a few times during that period when it must have seemed to many people in the country that the jig was up. Certainly one of Roosevelt’s achievements as president was to inspire confidence and simply cheer people up with his infectious optimism. Appropriately, the Roosevelt Memorial focuses on his words, from his pledge of a “new deal” to the “Four Freedoms.” The famous 10-foot statue shows him, as the public never saw him in his lifetime, in a wheelchair.

Located along the famous Cherry Tree Walk on the Tidal Basin near the National Mall. Interstates 66 and 395 provide access to the Mall from the south. Interstate 495, New York Avenue, Rock Creek Parkway, George Washington Memorial Parkway, and the Cabin John Parkway provide access from the North. Interstate 66, U.S. Route 50 and 29 provide access from the West. U.S. Routes 50, 1, and 4 provide access from the East. There are several Metro train routes from the suburban areas surrounding the city. The Smithsonian Metro stop comes out on the National Mall.

The White House

DSC01787President John Adams, the first official resident of the White House, moved into the house in November 1800. The house was still not quite finished after nine years of construction. (It was a government contract, after all.) In 200 years, the house has endured arson (by British soldiers in 1815), one plane crash, numerous redecorations and renovations, far too many mediocre presidents, and the midnight soliloquies of Richard Nixon. The exterior, a significant example of Federal architecture, remains much as it was in 1800. The guided tours of the famous first-floor rooms show off more historic memorabilia than you will ever be able to absorb.

The White House Visitor Center is located at 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, between 14th and 15th Streets on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Visitor Center is inside the north end of the Department of Commerce Building.

Declaration (Graff) House, Pennsylvania

This reconstructed house was originally built in 1775 by Philadelphia bricklayer Jacob Graff, Jr. During the summer of 1776 Thomas Jefferson, a 33-year-old delegate from Virginia to the Continental Congress, rented two second-floor rooms and drafted the Declaration of Independence there. The first floor contains exhibits and a short film on the drafting of the Declaration. On the second floor, the bedroom and parlor that Jefferson occupied have been recreated and contain period furnishings. Also included are reproductions of Jefferson’s swivel chair and the lap desk he used when he wrote the Declaration. Declaration House, as it is now known, is part of Independence National Park in Philadelphia.

Located on the southwest corner of 7th and Market Streets, Philadelphia.

James K. Polk Memorial State Historic Site, North Carolina

James K. Polk was one of the most successful American presidents, at least in his own terms. He set out so complete the annexation of Texas, acquire California from Mexico, settle the boundary of the Oregon Territory, and lower the tariff. He accomplished these things, and went home at the end of one term to Tennessee. Unfortunately, his acquisition of the southwestern territories from Mexico ignited the last stage of the long dispute over the expansion of slavery, and resulted in Civil War just eleven years after Polk left office. Polk himself died less than four months after leaving office. This site is located on land once owned by Polk’s parents. The memorial commemorates significant events in the Polk administration: the Mexican War, settlement of the Oregon boundary dispute, and the annexation of California. Reconstructions of typical homestead buildings-a log house, separate kitchen, and barn-are authentically furnished. The Visitor Center features a film on Polk’s life and civic contributions.

The James K. Polk Memorial is located in near Charlotte, North Carolina. From Interstate 77 south of Charlotte take Interstate 485 east (Exit 2). At the Pineville exit take U.S. 521 south through the town of Pineville for about one and one-half miles. The Polk Memorial is on the left.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, California

A lot of us still don’t get what it was that gave Ronald Reagan such a broad appeal to the American electorate, to say nothing of the adulation accorded to him by one part of that electorate. (OK, I at least don’t get it.) Maybe that means we especially need a visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. The complex houses the usual collection of presidential and official records and exhibits of Reagan memorabilia. The Ronald Reagan Library is part of the presidential libraries system administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.

From Los Angeles and points south, take the 405 North to the 118 West. Exit at Madera Road South. Turn right on Madera. Proceed 3 miles to Presidential Drive. From Santa Barbara and points north, take the 101 South to the 23 North, Exit at Olsen Road. Turn right on Olsen. Proceed 2 miles to Presidential Drive. Follow Presidential Drive up the hill to the Library, follow signs for parking.

Harry S Truman National Historic Site, Missouri

Harry S Truman (1884-1972), 33rd President of the United States, lived from 1919 until his death in a white Victorian house at 219 North Delaware Street in Independence, Missouri. The house was known as the “Summer White House” during the Truman administration (1945-1953). Harry S Truman National Historic Site includes the Independence home and the Truman Farm Home in Grandview, Missouri, both within the Kansas City metropolitan area. Built in 1894 by Harry Truman’s maternal grandmother, the Farm Home is the centerpiece of a 5.25-acre remnant of the family’s former 600-acre farm. Mr. Truman worked the farm as a young man, from 1906-1917.

The visitor center is located at the intersection of Truman Road and Main Street, in historic Fire Station No.1. From the north or south, take I-435 to the Truman Road exit. Travel east on Truman Road three miles (you’ll pass the Truman Home at Delaware Street). From the east or west, take I-70 to the Noland Road exit. Travel north on Noland Road four miles to Truman Road. Turn west on Truman Road and travel two blocks. To Grandview: The Truman Farm Home is located amid the retail and commercial district along Blue Ridge Boulevard. From the east or west, take I-435 and exit southbound on Route 71. From the north or south, travel Route 71 and take the Blue Ridge Boulevard exit. Travel west one mile. The Farm Home is on the left, set back from the road.

Carter Center, Atlanta, Georgia

The Carter Center is unique among twentieth century post-presidential institutions. Like other ex-presidents, Carter has established the requisite presidential library and museum (right next door to the Center). The Carter Center, however, has been the institutional vehicle for Carter’s activist post-presidential life. And Carter’s only rival for distinguished post-presidential service is John Quincy Adams, who led the fight in Congress against suppression of antislavery petitions, no less. The institution’s own mission statement declares that “The Carter Center, in partnership with Emory University, is guided by a fundamental commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering; it seeks to prevent and resolve conflicts, enhance freedom and democracy, and improve health.” To these ends, the center runs health and peace programs internationally, and claims accomplishments like successful election monitoring and refugee relief. The Carter Center itself is open to the public by business appointment or for special events. The museum of the adjoining Jimmy Carter Library is open to the public daily, as are the grounds surrounding the complex. By the way, the Carter Center is also one of the top venues in Atlanta for hosting special events, weddings and receptions, and bar/bat mitzvahs.

Location and Directions

Links: Jimmy Carter Library and Museum