Where presidents went for summer vacation

Stewart D. McLaurin

As students head back to school and are asked the classic “what did you do on your summer vacation” query, consider how those with one of the most stressful jobs in the world – America’s president – may have answered that question.

While former first lady Nancy Reagan once observed that “presidents don’t get vacations, they just get a change of scenery,” here’s how some tried to escape the pressures of 24/7 work and summer heat.

Although the responsibilities of the office of the president never cease regardless of location, visiting these places today reminds us that in our democracy, history is made anywhere.

A presidential staycation

Washington, DC: The Soldiers’ Home

  • Presidents James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln and Rutherford B. Hayes

The first “official” presidential summer retreat was just 4 miles from the White House, at the Soldiers’ Home. Buchanan, besieged by political storms in the lead-up to the Civil War, came to dread official dinners at the White House, where Northern and Southern guests were likely to square off across the table.

In this 2010 photo of the Soldiers' Home, the piazza can be seen as returned to its earlier appearance.

Although Buchanan loved taking longer breaks at Pennsylvania spas, he traveled for short retreats from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to the Soldiers’ Home on 500 acres of green countryside just north of the Capitol. Wagonloads of White House furniture were hauled there and lace curtains hung while presidents were in residence.

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