Finding POTUS

Places in D.C. that honor and reflect the lives of U.S. presidents

It’s possible to walk into The White House again! (Access shut down after 9/11 and then budget crisis.) But a visit requires planning far ahead, applying through one’s member of Congress or foreign delegation. Only official guests see President Obama or enter the Oval Office; only an intimate few see the private quarters.  
      This month marks the birthdays of three presidents—Ronald Reagan on the 6th, Lincoln the 12th and George Washington the 22nd. Each is likely to be commemorated at sites related respectively to him—an international trade center, a memorial and a riverside estate. Look in vain for evidence of infamous leaders—the impeached Johnson (Andrew), “Tea Pot Dome” Harding or “Watergate” Nixon, or for living ex-CEOs like Carter, Clinton and Bush II. Yet traces of most past presidents surface somewhere here—in places noble and mundane.

FDR

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial welcomes visitors 24/7, so even the pre-dawn joggers can connect with the longest-serving president and his pet in bronze. A more rustic destination for early risers? The nature preserve dedicated to Franklin’s older cousin, Theodore Roosevelt Island on the Arlington, Virginia, side of the Potomac River. Bronze Teddy here greets the birdwatchers.

Mount Vernon

George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate stays open until 4 p.m., when shadows start to cross the lawns and gardens. Highlights here: the two high-tech education centers, the tomb of George and Martha and tours of the mansion itself. A food court has lunch, but “period” servers at the nearby Mount Vernon Inn present G.W. favorites like hoecakes and peanut-chestnut soup.

Jefferson

Between the Tidal Basin and the Potomac River, the third president occupies a neoclassical temple—the Jefferson Memorial. Diplomat, farmer and inventor, author of the Declaration of Independence and yet slaveholder, the man seems marked by contradiction. Until midnight every day, Thomas Jefferson draws late-night strollers up the stairs to his towering bronze figure and the marble walls incised with his revolutionary words.