A trip to Mt. Vernon and Monticello in Virginia earlier this month piqued my interest in presidential history so much that I have been consulting Wikipedia on some point or another every day since we returned.
I’m not really a history buff, but there’s something about seeing places firsthand that makes me want to return to 7th grade American History and pay more attention this time.
My presidential history button was pressed by the guide on the Monuments by Moonlight tour we took in D.C. He gave this nugget of information: John Tyler, our 10th president, has two living grandchildren.
How is it that today’s generation of Amazon Prime and Instagram is only two generations removed from a president born in 1790? Tyler fathered 15 children, including one at age 63. That son, Lyon Gardiner Tyler, fathered children well into his seventies. Two of them, born in 1924 and 1928, are still living.
One of the Tyler sons still maintains the family plantation, Sherwood Forest near Williamsburg and Jamestown.
Of course, Mt. Vernon and Monticello are better known and among the Top 10 most visited homes in America. They are both incredibly well preserved and beautifully set — Mt. Vernon on the bank of the Potomac and Monticello in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Their gardens are amazingly designed and each has a sad history of slave labor. (Jefferson’s is especially intriguing now that DNA testing affirms that he is the father of slave Sally Hemings’ six children. That information is now part of the official Monticello tour).
Detailed descriptions of the homes are available at their respective websites–monticello.org and mountvernon.org. It’s about two hours and twenty minutes between the two, but the drive is lovely along the Shenandoah Valley with its wineries and large family farms handsomely divided by white fences. I think the next time I’m in the area, I am going to make it a presidential sweep and visit these Virginia places as well:
Poplar Forest: Jefferson’s secluded retreat 90 miles away from Monticello. It features some of the same neo-classical architecture that inspired his main home.
Montpelier: Home of 4th President James Madison, a close friend of Jefferson’s. It’s 30 miles away.
James Monroe’s Highland: Formerly known as Ash Lawn, this property is only three miles south of Monticello.
Berkeley Plantation: Birthplace of 9th President Willam Henry Harrison, whose 32 days in office make up the shortest term of any president. Berkeley is 104 miles southeast of Monticello.
Sherwood Forest Plantation: Home of John Tyler. Grounds are open daily but home tours are only arranged by calling a week in advance to make an appointment.
Woodrow Wilson’s Birthplace and Museum, Staunton, Virginia. The only 20th century president thrown into the mix. His birthplace, also known as The Manse, is 41 miles west of Monticello.