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Visits by American Presidents to Mount Vernon

President John Adams: An account of Adams' visit to Mount Vernon on June 11, 1800 explained that: "His Excellency John Adams arrived at this place [Alexandria, Virginia] yesterday. He was escorted by a troop of cavalry into town. . .The President is on a visit to Mount Vernon, from whence he will return on Wednesday, and partake of a public dinner to which he has been invited by the citizens of Alexandria."1

President Andrew Jackson: Jackson visited Mount Vernon in November 1815, previous to his presidency, though after gaining notoriety at the Battle of New Orleans. In addition, Jackson also visited Mount Vernon frequently as President, to see Nellie Custis Lewis.2

President James Knox Polk: President Polk came to Mount Vernon with his wife, Sarah Childress Polk, and former First Lady Dolley Payne Madison in June of 1845.3

President Millard Fillmore: Filmore arrived at Mount Vernon in March 1851 with a group of officials to assess whether Mount Vernon would make a suitable home for soldiers. While at Mount Vernon, he cut down a tree about forty yards from the Tomb for a flag staff intended for a Mr. Duncan, "who is going to the Holy Land and wished a flag staff from Mt. Vernon on which to raise the American flag on his journeys."4

President James Buchanan: Buchanan made a notable visit to Mount Vernon in 1860, when he accompanied Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales. President Buchanan also planted a tree during one of his visits to Mount Vernon. Many years later, during a visit by First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland, Mount Vernon "persuaded her to plant at the northwest corner of the bowling-green an elm sapling, to balance the elm planted in a corresponding position at the other corner by President Buchanan. They were from then on known as the 'Cleveland Elm' and the 'Buchanan Elm,' and remained for many years the outward and visible sign of the Democratic Party, until the tornado of 1906 uprooted them.”5

President Buchanan and the British Prince of Wales visit George Washington’s tomb in October 1860, painting by James Rossiter (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

President Abraham Lincoln: Lincoln visited Mount Vernon via steamer with some friends and family members on April 2, 1862.6 John Dahlgren of the Washington Navy Yard wrote that he came to Mount Vernon that day "with the President, some members of his family, and others. I advised the President not to land, and remained in the boat with him."7

President Rutherford B. Hayes: President Hayes visited Mount Vernon unexpectedly with his wife, Lucy B. Hayes on June 18, 1878.8

Reception of the President and Lady at Mount Vernon on the evening of Saturday June 18th 1878

President Benjamin Harrison: Harrison and a large group of officials, including his Vice President Levi P. Morton, came to Mount Vernon in May 1889. President Harrison returned the following year to meet with the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association during Spring Council meetings. As reported, "President and Mrs. Harrison accepted the invitation of the Regents and Vice-regents of Mount Vernon to attend the Council of the Mount Vernon Association in 1890, and appeared to enjoy greatly the entertainment tendered them."9

President William McKinley: President McKinley arrived at Mount Vernon with his wife during Council of 1898. A description of the visit explained: "During the Council of 1898, President and Mrs. McKinley came. It distressed all present to note the frail physique of Mrs. McKinley. We could not but admire her bravery and enthusiasm. She was actually carried from room to room, but withal was cheerfully intent on seeing everything of interest." Additionally, President McKinley and his Cabinet attended the ceremonies at Mount Vernon commemorating the 100th anniversary of George Washington's death on December 14, 1899.10


McKinley speaking at Mount Vernon on the 100th anniversary of Washington's death

President Theodore Roosevelt: President Roosevelt visited Mount Vernon in 1906 with his family, and came back the following year riding on horseback. The second visit was described by Mount Vernon's superintendent: "In 1907, the President again came to Mount Vernon, this time on horseback, accompanied by Mrs. Roosevelt, Miss Ethel, Postmaster General George von L. Meyer and Captain Fitzhugh Lee, military aide to the White House. They had telephoned that they were coming and had accepted my invitation to lunch. Unfortunately, however, just before they arrived a heavy downpour of rain came on, practically without warning and the party arrived quite wet and very considerably bespattered with mud. We set about making them comfortable. Our housekeeper found wraps for the ladies as substitute for their riding habits, while the latter were being dried. The gentlemen retired to the dressing-room where we afforded, as best we could, similar service for them. I was surprised presently to hear the President calling loudly for me. 'Come, Colonel,' he shouted. 'I want you to see my Postmaster General in the tub taking a bath with his boots on.'

"When I entered the room in response to this extravagant announcement, I found Mr. Meyer standing in the tub in the process of washing the mud from his boots under the shower jet. This method of caring for the situation was canny and effective, but in view of the President's Homeric enjoyment of the scene, the cabinet officer's position in the tub was extremely ludicrous. At the luncheon-table Roosevelt, his risibility all upset by his still vivid memory of the incident, dwelt at length on it, magnifying and enlarging it with such keen enjoyment that the infection spread to all of us, and the meal proceeded with an extreme hilarity that bordered on hysterics. . ."11

President William Howard Taft: President Taft placed a wreath at Washington's tomb in 1912. Later, as a former president, Taft visited Mount Vernon with a group from the American Bar Association. President Taft and his wife, Helen Herron Taft, nearly visited Mount Vernon a second time during the presidency. As described by Mount Vernon's superintendent, Harrison Howell Dodge: "After the Roosevelts had left the White House and Taft was President, he and Mrs. Taft were to have been guests of honor at an assembly of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. From the White House was telephoned information that the Presidential couple had driven to the Navy Yard and thence came word that they had embarked on the Mayflower en route for Mount Vernon. The Regent and Vice-regents were grouped on the East Portico and lawn fronting the Potomac, eagerly watching for the approach of the Presidential yacht. It resulted in considerable anti-climax, however, for word was presently received that Mrs. Taft, suddenly taken ill, had been forced to turn about and return at once to the White House."12

President Woodrow Wilson: President Wilson visited Mount Vernon on several occasions. One prominent visit was described by Dodge: "President Woodrow Wilson several times honored Mount Vernon by his presence, but quite the most spectacular event in which he took part was on July 4, 1918, when he brought as his guests, on the Mayflower, fifty or more delegates representing the thousands of foreign-born citizens of the United States, wishing, by this public commemoration of our Declaration of Independence, to testify their loyalty to America. Each delegate bore a handsome wreath distinguished by his respective national colors, the collection quite filling the Tomb. It was estimated that nearly 20,000 persons were present on that notable day: 'The Star Spangled Banner' was sung by John McCormack, who insisted on being accompanied by a Steinway Grand piano. The instrument, so inappropriate beside the Tomb of Washington, was entirely screened from view by hastily planted cedars." At the event, Wilson also gave a speech where he explained his goals for involvement in ending World War I.13

President Calvin Coolidge: Coolidge visited Mount Vernon twice during his administration. The first visit, on October 6, 1923, included "Mrs. Coolidge and house-guests," and the group inspected "the Mansion, gardens and relics." During a second visit on November 8, 1925, President and Mrs. Coolidge "escorted the Prince Imperial and Princess Imperial of Japan, incognito as Comte Asa and Comtessse Asa."14

President Herbert Hoover:  President and Mrs. Hoover made an "unheralded" visit on George Washington's birthday in 1930, where they spent a few minutes inside Washington's tomb "paying silent tribute." Mount Vernon Superintendent Harrison Howell Dodge described the visit: "President Herbert Hoover and Mrs. Hoover commemorated Washington's birthday, 1930, motoring down and placing a wreath in the Tomb. Mrs. Hoover, very charming and gracious, has found occasion to bring house-guests frequently."  Two years later, the Hoovers visited Mount Vernon to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Washington's birth.15 

President and Mrs. Hoover at Mount Vernon in February 1932

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt: The Roosevelts made many visits to Mount Vernon, the first of which occurred in 1933. On April 14, 1939, the Roosevelts escorted Nicaraguan President Anastasio Samoza and his wife on a visit to Mount Vernon. Three years later, on January 8, 1942, Roosevelt brought British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Mount Vernon. And on August 6, 1942, Roosevelt brought Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands to see Washington’s Tomb. The following year, on Washington's birthday, the President and First Lady returned to Mount Vernon with Madame Chiang Kai-Chek.16

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, January 8, 1942 (Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association)

President Harry S. Truman: President Truman visited Mount Vernon in 1947.17

President Dwight D. Eisenhower: During his presidency, Eisenhower visited Mount Vernon in 1958.18

President John F. Kennedy:  President Kennedy hosted a state dinner at Mount Vernon for President Mohammad Ayub Khan of Pakistan on July 11, 1961. The event was the first state dinner held at a location other than the White House. In his remarks at the event, President Kennedy explained that Mount Vernon was "a great object of regard and respect by our fellow citizens. It is intensely felt by the Members of the Congress and members of the Government, and therefore for all of us, not only from abroad but from home who come to Mount Vernon, we feel the greatest pride in it."19

John F. Kennedy, Begum Nasim Aurangzeb, Jacquelyn Kennedy and Mohammad Ayub Khan

President Gerald R. Ford:  President Ford came to Mount Vernon both as a member of Congress in 1961, and again in 1976, during his presidency. (1976)20


President Ford and Mrs. Thomas Turner Cooke, Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association


President Ronald Reagan: President and Mrs. Reagan visited Mount Vernon to commemorate the 250th birthday of George Washington in February of 1982.21



President Reagan speaking at Mount Vernon on George Washington's 250th birthday celebration


President George H.W. Bush:  President Bush flew to Mount Vernon in the presidential helicopter with Jordan's King Hussein for a short visit on April 19, 1989.22

President Bush and King Hussein of Jordan outside of the mansion at Mount Vernon

President George W. Bush: President Bush visited Mount Vernon with Mrs. Bush on the Presidents' Day holiday in 2007. Bush came back to Mount Vernon in November of the same year to meet with the new president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy. The meeting was described in the MVLA's annual report:  "These two powerful allies and a handful of their most trusted advisors sequestered themselves in Washington's Large Dining Room [the New Room] to discuss conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere. The press conference that followed had the Mansion’s cupola, with its symbolic Dove of Peace weathervane, as an appropriate backdrop."23

President George W. Bush and Mrs. Laura Bush are seen inside the tomb of President George Washington and Martha Washington, Monday, Feb. 19, 2007 (White House photo by Shealah Craighead)

Notes

1. The Virginia Herald [Fredericksburg, Virginia], 13 June  1800, and The Centinel of Liberty or George-Town and Washington Advertiser, 13 June 1800. For another reference to Adams visiting Mount Vernon, see David McCullough, John Adams (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), 543.

2. "Dolley Payne Madison to John Payne Todd, 14 June 1845," The Selected Letters of Dolley Payne Madison, edited by David B. Mattern and Holley C. Shulman (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003), 380. 

3. For Jackson's 1815 visit, see Joseph Manca, George Washington's Eye: Landscape, Architecture, and Design at Mount Vernon (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). For visits to Nellie Custis Lewis, see Robert Remini, Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Democracy, 1833-1845 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).

4. Quoted in Jean B. Lee, Experiencing Mount Vernon: Eyewitness Accounts, 1784-1865 (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2006), 190-2. 

5. Harrison Howell Dodge, Mount Vernon: Its Owner and Its Story (Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott, 1932), 99-100, 124. 

6. The New York Herald, April 3, 1862, page 7, column 2. 

7. Memoir of John A. Dahlgren, Rear-admiral United States Navy (Boston: James R. Osgood and Co., 1882), 362.

8. Hans Trefousse, Rutherford B. Hayes: The American Presidents Series: The 19th President, 1877-1881 (New York: Macmillan, 2002), 105.

9. Dodge, Mount Vernon: Its Owner and Its Story, 124-5.

10. Ibid., 125.

11. Ibid., 125-131 

12. Ibid., 125-8. 

13. Ibid., 136 

14. Ibid., 138.

15. Ibid. 

16. Harriet C. Towner, "Annual Report of the Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1942," The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union Annual Report 1942 (Mount Vernon, VA: The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1942), 10; for the visit by Madame Chiang Kai Shek, see "Annual Report of the Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1943," 317. For the Somoza visit, see "Annual Report of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1939."

17. "Annual Report of the Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1947," (Mount Vernon, VA: The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1942), 32.

18. "Annual Report of the Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1958," (Mount Vernon, VA: The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1958), 4.

19. Dennis Kux, The United States and Pakistan, 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies (John Hopkins University Press, 2001), 121. The text of Kennedy's full speech can be found at John F. Kennedy: "Toasts of the President and President Ayub Khan at the State Dinner at Mount Vernon.," July 11, 1961. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=8234.

20. "Annual Report of the Regent of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1976," (Mount Vernon, VA: The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1976), Je: 3.

21. Ronald Reagan, "Remarks at a Mount Vernon, Virginia, Ceremony Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Birth of George Washington," February 22, 1982. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

22. Annual Report, The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union (Mount Vernon, Virginia: The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, 1989), 11.

23. Boyce Lineberger Ansley, "Annual Report of the Regent," The Annual Report of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, 2007 (Mount Vernon, Virginia: The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, 2008), 7, 8, 14 and 15; For the meeting with Sarkozy, Public Papers of George W. Bush (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2007), 1444.