Read Now, Travel Later
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President Woodrow Wilson is just about my favorite president for a very special reason: he loved road trips. The 28th president of the United States was instrumental in creating the U.S. Highway System and took frequent trips motoring through Rock Creek Park in his Pierce Arrow limousine. Can you see why he’s just about my favorite?
Woodrow Wilson also moved around a lot as a child. As the son of a Presbyterian pastor, Wilson moved four times before he was fifteen years old. Fortunately, many of these homes are preserved today and open to the public as house museums.
Here is a list of seven intriguing places to discovery the history of President Woodrow Wilson.
1. The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in 1856 in the manse, a term used to describe the residential home owned by the Presbyterian church for their pastor. The three-story brick house was built in 1846 and by 1854 the Reverend Joseph Wilson moved into the home with his wife, Jessie, and their two daughters.
When the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace Foundation was established in 1938 their first act was to purchase the house from Mary Baldwin College who had held it in trust for nearly fifteen years. An extensive restoration was started a couple of years later. In 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave the opening speech and dedicated the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace.
Today the birthplace home is part of The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum campus. Daily guided tours are offered through the house where visitors will learn about the early days of Wilson while enjoying some historical artifacts from the family. Visitors can also choose another tour including behind the scenes, the history museum, and themes surrounding the history of the area.
The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum 20 North Coalter Street, Staunton, VA | 540-885-0897 | https://www.woodrowwilson.org
Where to Stay in Staunton, VA
Book a night at the Berkeley House Bed & Breakfast and you’ll be right across the street from the Woodrow Wilson President Library & Museum! This comfy B&B in a restored Queen Anne style house has several rooms to choose from, but I recommend the King Suite with a private balcony!
The Stonewall Jackson Hotel is the best place to stay downtown within walking distance to everything. The hotel features beautiful rooms, an indoor swimming pool, and an on-site bar.
A budget-friendly option is the Best Western located near Exit 222 off Interstate 81. This hotel has a rather nice indoor swimming pool and free continental breakfast.
The Quality Inn & Suites was a fantastic place to stay and my top recommendation for families. Located near Exit 222 off Intersate 81, this hotel has a One Bedroom Queen Suite with a couch and desk in the living area and two queen beds.
2. The Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson
When Woodrow Wilson was just two years old his father moved the family to Augusta, Georgia to work as the pastor for the First Presbyterian Church of Augusta. Initially the family moved into an existing manse about a block away on Greene Street. In 1860 the church purchased a new home on a corner across the street from the church and the family moved into the two-story brick house.
Today that house is operated by Historic Augusta as The Boyhood Home of President Wilson house museum. Daily guided tours are given of the house where Woodrow Wilson spent 12 years of his childhood living. The tour includes information about his early childhood, the effect the Civil War in the South had on his upbringing, and some of his achievements later in life.
The Boyhood Home of President Woodrow Wilson 419 Seventh Street, Augusta, GA | 706-722-9828 | https://www.wilsonboyhoodhome.org
Where to Stay in Augusta, GA
My top recommendation for hotels in Augusta is the Augusta Marriott Hotel at the Convention Center. It’s located right in the middle of downtown, walking distance to lots of great restaurants, and it’s waterfront along the Savannah River. The hotel features a heated pool, on-site restaurant and bar, and two types of suites with either king or queen beds and a sleeper sofa.
Another great downtown hotel is the Hyatt House. It’s located at the end of Broad Street, the main street through downtown, and within walking distance of great restaurants and shopping. The hotel has on-site parking and a rather nice breakfast included.
A budget-friendly option would be the Baymont Inn & Suites on Riverwest Drive. The hotel is located just ten minutes from downtown along the scenic Riverwatch Parkway. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, free on-site parking, and a wonderful free breakfast.
3. The Woodrow Wilson Family Home
In 1870 the Reverend Joseph Wilson once again moved his family, heading to Columbia, South Carolina. This time, however, the family lived in a private home built by Wilson’s parents. The two-story Italian Villa style home included a formal garden in the front yard, working gardens behind the house, and remained the home of the Wilson family for four years.
Today the home is the location of The Museum of Reconstruction owned and operated by Historic Columbia. It’s the only museum in the country dedicated to interpreting the Civil War Reconstruction period and is the only remaining presidential home in South Carolina. Guided tours are offered throughout the week, along with tours of two other historical homes nearby.
The Woodrow Wilson Family Home 1616 Blanding Street, Columbia, SC | 803-252-1770 | https://www.historiccolumbia.org
Where to Stay in Columbia, SC
My top recommendation for downtown hotel in Columbia is the Hyatt Place on Gervais Street. This fantastic hotel was my home away from home for an entire week and I could not have been happier. The hotel features free on-site parking, an indoor swimming pool, and a full-service restaurant and bar.
Another great downtown hotel is the Hampton Inn across Gervais Street. The hotel includes free on-site parking, an outdoor swimming pool, and the best free breakfast in the city.
The Hampton Inn & Suites in the Fort Jackson area is a more budget-friendly option with the same great features. The very nice hotel features a swimming pool, free on-site parking, and a fantastic free breakfast.
The best budget-friendly place to stay is the Comfort Inn & Suites in the same area. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, free on-site parking, and has a Queen Suite with two queen beds and a sleeper sofa.
4. Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
From 1902-1910 Woodrow Wilson served as President of Princeton University. Wilson rather fiercely took control of the university and instituted new requirements for a core curriculum and attempted to break the social caste system of the students. After meeting resistance to many of his proposals Wilson decided to leave the university for his next adventure: he was elected Governor of New Jew Jersey.
The Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library was built in 1976 to house the archives of Princeton University. Part of the massive collection in the library are papers and documents that once belonged to President Woodrow Wilson, including much of his correspondence as president of the university. The library is open for research opportunities for visitors.
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library 65 Olden Street, Princeton, NJ | 609-258-6345 | https://library.princeton.edu/special-collections/mudd
Where to Stay in Princeton, NJ
You’re gonna pay a little bit to stay near Princeton University. The best option is the Hampton Inn on US Highway 1. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, free on-site parking, a fantastic breakfast in the morning, and most of their rooms can comfortable sleep 3-4 people.
5. Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum
Edith Bolling Galt was born in 1872 in a row house in the small country town of Wytheville, Virginia. After Woodrow Wilson’s first wife died, he married Edith Bolling Galt in 1915. Sadly, it was a short-lived marriage after Wilson had a stroke in 1919 and passed away in 1924. Edith Bolling Wilson lived to be 89 years old, passing away on the day the Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac River was dedicated.
Today the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum is a small museum in Wytheville dedicated to preserving her birthplace and expounding on her life’s adventures. The museum includes artifacts like diaries and letters written by the first lady. The second floor of the adjacent building is the still-unrestored place where she lived as a child.
Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum 145 East Main Street, Wytheville, VA | 276-223-3484 | http://www.edithbollingwilson.org/
Where to Stay in Wytheville, VA
My top recommendation for lodging in Wytheville is the appropriately named Bolling Wilson Hotel across the street from the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum. The boutique hotel features a restaurant and bar and the only rooftop seating in the small town.
Another option is the Hampton Inn located about ten minutes from the museum at Exit 41 off Interstate 77. This hotel features an indoor swimming pool, fantastic free breakfast, and a King Studio with sleeper sofa, making this hotel my top recommendation for families.
The Best Western, also located at Exit 41, features a rather fantastic outdoor swimming pool with handicap access. A wood burning fire pit in the dining room and free buffet breakfast make this a great budget-friendly hotel.
6. The President Woodrow Wilson House
This gorgeous three-story Georgian style home was designed and built by architect Waddy Butler by 1915. At the end of his second term in 1921 President Woodrow Wilson and Edith Bolling Wilson left the White House and moved into this town home on Embassy Row. Woodrow Wilson would remain here until his death in 1924, and Edith would remain until her death in 1969.
Upon her death the home was left to the National Trust for Historic Preservation with the condition that it could only ever be used as a house museum. In 1964 the Woodrow Wilson House opened to the public. Today visitors can take guided tours of the house throughout the week or attend one of the special events held several times throughout the year.
Woodrow Wilson House 2340 S Street NW, Washington, D.C. | 202-387-4062 | https://www.woodrowwilsonhouse.org
7. Washington National Cathedral
Officially called the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington, the National Cathedral was part of the original 1792 plan for Washington, D.C. to include a nondenominational place of worship. Instead, in 1893 Congress authorized the Episcopal Church to design and build a national church. Construction began in 1907 and would last until the “final finial” was added in 1990.
When President Woodrow Wilson died on February 3, 1924, he would become the first and only president to be interred in Washington, D.C. Wilson was interred in a sarcophagus in the Wilson Bay on the Main Level of the cathedral. When Edith Bolling Wilson died on December 28, 1961 she was also interred at the cathedral beside her husband.
Washington National Cathedral is an active house of worship, but they also have “sightseeing hours”. During those times visitors can take guided tours of the cathedral to learn about the history of the national church and the significant events that have taken place in those halls.
Washington National Cathedral 3101 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. | 202-537-6200 | https://cathedral.org