February 14, 2021 at 4:15 pm EST | by Valerie Blake
The history of presidential homes
Double L, Diego's Hideaway, Fourth, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, gay news, Washington Blade
Rehoboth Beach is now a presidential retreat as Joe Biden owns a home in the gay-popular resort town. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

When I lived in what was West Germany in the late ‘80s, my job allowed me to travel frequently throughout Western Europe. I learned that you can’t go to Salzburg, Austria without running into something Mozart related.

The house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born was built in the 12th century. The family lived in an apartment on the third floor. The building is now a museum and there are more sites honoring his talent throughout the city.

It seemed that the public wanted to get in on the action too because I found no less than six other houses in the city that sported a historical marker reading Mozart Geburtshaus (Mozart’s Birthplace) which, like “Bill Clinton slept here,” was a very popular sign.

If you lived in the DMV pre-pandemic, chances are you’ve been to or taken friends to Mount Vernon Estate, George Washington’s home in Fairfax County, Va. The Palladian home was built in 1734 and expanded several times. Although I have searched three times, I still can’t find any remnants of that cherry tree he purportedly chopped down.

The tradition of letting the public visit the home is more than 200 years old. George, a great host, is said to have announced, “I have no objection to any sober or orderly person’s gratifying their curiosity in viewing the buildings.”

Upon their return from London in 1788, John Adams and his wife, Abigail, lived at Peacefield, an historic estate and farm in Braintree, Mass., which was renamed Quincy in 1792. When John became president, Abigail embarked on a 12-year renovation project to expand the home from a small, low-ceiling house to a comfortable, Georgian-style residence.

John Quincy Adams was born in Braintree (later Quincy) on 7/11/1767 and continued to live at Peacefield, as did two additional generations of the Adams family (not to be confused with the Addams family), until it was gifted to the National Park Service in 1946.

Fun fact: 186 years, almost to the day, after the birth of John Quincy Adams, I was also born in Quincy, and my father became the town’s city manager in the mid-1950s.

Virginia has been a popular place for our presidents to live. Thomas Jefferson had his Monticello in Charlottesville, James Madison’s home, Montpelier, in Orange County was registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

James Monroe lived at Highland, a plantation adjacent to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello until accumulated debts forced him to sell in 1825. Berkley Plantation in Charles City County was the ancestral home of two presidents: William Henry Harrison and his grandson, Benjamin. It is said that American whiskey was distilled there in 1620.

John Tyler’s birthplace was also in Charles City County, Va. He was raised on Greenway Plantation in a manor home his father had built. Rounding out the Virginians, Gerald Ford’s home was an unassuming Colonial in Alexandria, with an enclosed garage that served as an office for the Secret Service while he was president.

After growing up in the famous log cabin in Illinois, President Abraham Lincoln chose a Gothic Revival cottage on the grounds of the Soldier’s home in Washington, D.C., as his local getaway. That same cottage was also selected by James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Chester A. Arthur as their summer White House retreat.

Both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had California properties that were referred to as the Western White House. Nixon’s was a large, beachfront, Spanish-style, Mission Revival called La Pacifica (House of Peace), located in San Clemente, Calif.

Reagan’s retreat north of Santa Barbara in the mountains was named Rancho de Cielo (Heaven’s Ranch). Toward the end of his term as governor of California, he bought the ranch for $527,000 (valued at roughly $2.7 million in January 2020). After Ronald Reagan’s death, his wife, Nancy, sold the property to the Young Americans Foundation, a conservative youth organization in Herndon, Va.

Now, I know you don’t want to hear more about Mar-a-Lago, so since this three-day weekend encompasses both Presidents’ Day and Valentine’s Day, I suggest we drive up to the Bidens’ house in Greenville, Del. If they’re not there, we can head to their vacation home in Rehoboth Beach.

Be sure to wear a mask. Bring flowers and candy for Dr. Jill and treats for Major and Champ. We can send out for No Contact food via Door Dash or Uber Eats. See you there!

Valerie M. Blake is a licensed Associate Broker in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia with RLAH Real Estate. Call or text her at 202-246-8602, email her via DCHomeQuest.com, or follow her on Facebook at TheRealst8ofAffairs.

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