Thursday, March 10, 2011

Presidential Retreats in Virginia

OldPresidentialSealMany Americans know of the rustic presidential retreat at Camp David, nestled in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland.  Very few, however, recall the modest retreats used in the early 20th century by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover in rural Virginia.

For more than thirty years, Roosevelt took refuge in his large home, Sagamore Hill, on Oyster Bay, Long Island.  It was an active house, where government business was conducted and his brood of children romped to the delight of the energetic president. 

But TR was a dedicated outdoorsman with a long history of hiking, horseback riding and bird watching.  To help him pursue these interests, his wife acquired a 15-acre property in north central Virginia, near Charlottesville, in 1905. 

Known as Pine Knot, this property includes a primitive cabin which hosted the Roosevelt family on eight occasions.  These visits were usually around Christmas or Thanksgiving holidays, when TR cooked for his family.

Roosevelt relaxed at his hideaway amid the Blue Ridge Mountains.  He sat and read on what was grandly called a piazza.  He also enjoyed the birds and the animals, and once was visited by his great friend and naturalist John Burroughs; together, they identified 75 birds.

The property is the epitome of solitude—remarkable even a century ago—and the absolute antithesis of the pomp of Washington, D.C., and the White House. 

The two-floor cabin is also amazingly spartan. The lower level is a common area, once warmed by two fireplaces, and where meals and conversation flowed.  By ascending a plain staircase, the family was able to repair to three cramped sleeping areas. 

Pine Knot today is preserved and being modestly renovated by a nonprofit associated with The Theodore Roosevelt Association.  Additional information is available at:  http://www.pineknot.org/

The other Virginia presidential retreat, also located in the Blue Ridge, is Rapidan Camp, used by President Hoover from 1929 to 1932.  Situated in the Shenandoah National Park and on the Rapidan River, the site has been owned by the National Park Service for more than 75 years.

At the beginning of his administration, Hoover was looking for a cool and pleasant retreat where he could engage in his favorite pastime of fishing and still be within one day’s travel of the nation’s capital.  Although secluded, the retreat was effectively a compound of 13 fairly basic buildings.  It was a forerunner to Camp David.

Reminiscent of camps in the Adirondacks, it included various sleeping quarters and a basic dining facility.   Among other things, Hoover and First Lady Lou Henry Hoover enjoyed horseback riding and entertaining various notables.

It also was a site where government officials met with the president.  And, in fact, an airplane would transport mail to Hoover when he was present.   The most memorable event was the visit of Prime Minister Ramsey MacDonald of Great Britain in 1929.  His cabin can be visited today.  See: http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/presidents/hoover_camp_rapidan.html

From George Washington with his beloved Mount Vernon onward, U.S. presidents have sought periodic respite from their duties.  Sometimes these have been permanent residences and at others only temporary accommodations.  Pine Knot and Rapidan Camp represent two similar, but different, rustic presidential hideaways perched in the Virginia mountains.

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