Before presidential libraries, there were presidential houses, and every New England state has at least one.
Massachusetts, of course, was the birthplace of the most presidents: the two Adamses, John F. Kennedy and George H.W. Bush. You could almost count Calvin Coolidge, as he lived in Northampton for years, and even George Washington spent nearly a year in Cambridge as commander in chief of the colonial military.
Coolidge, though, was born in Vermont, and New Hampshire gave us Franklin Pierce. No president came from Rhode Island, though Dwight Eisenhower spent considerable time in Newport. And if it weren’t for the Bushes, Connecticut and Maine would have little claim to presidential roots.
So in celebration of President’s Day, we bring you six presidential houses. If you know of another, please mention it in the comments section.
37 Hillhouse Ave.
The housing shortage after World War II forced Yale University to convert an Italianate mansion into housing for married student veterans. George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara lived there while he studied at Yale and they started their family. George W. Bush lived there until he was two, and then the family moved to Texas.
The elder president had left Yale as a sophomore to serve in the Navy. Of his living conditions, he wrote, “Not to make too much of the postwar housing shortage, but there were a dozen other veterans’ families sharing the house with us — each with one child, except for Bill and Sally Reeder, who had twins. That made 40 in all.”
It couldn’t have been that much of a hardship. Both Mark Twain and Charles Dickens described Hillhouse Avenue as ‘the most beautiful street in America.’
Today, Yale uses the building for its Economics Department.
Americans grew familiar with the Bush compound during the presidency of George H.W. Bush, who held news conferences while staying there. His son, George W. Bush, also stayed at the home during his presidency. So did a half dozen world leaders — and George H.W. Bush’s political opponent, former president Bill Clinton.
The Bush family has used the Walker Point estate since the days of George H.W. Bush’s great-grandparents.
Walker Point juts out into the Atlantic Ocean in Kennebunkport, Maine, and includes a large Shingle Style house, eight other residences, tennis courts, a dock and a sports field. Though the Bushes still own it, tourists enjoy the scenic drive along Ocean Avenue, where they can glimpse the property.
Massachusetts has produced more presidents than any other New England state and can claim the most presidential houses: John and John Quincy Adams, who lived at Peacedale in Quincy. John F. Kennedy, of course, was born in Brookline, summered in Hyannis Port and lived in Boston. George H.W. Bush was born in Milton, but his family soon moved to Greenwich, Conn.
Massachusetts also has quite a presidential houses known as summer White Houses. Calvin Coolidge, who lived the greater part of his life in Northampton, spent a summer in Swampscott. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama summered on Martha’s Vineyard. Less well-known summer visitors include Franklin Pierce, who spent time in Andover, Mass., and Grover Cleveland, who vacationed in Marion and Bourne on the South Shore. Cleveland’s summer home in Bourne, Gray Gables, was torn down but rebuilt to resemble the original.
William Howard Taft summered twice in Beverly until his hostess floated her house to Marblehead to discourage him. (She didn’t like the crowds he attracted.)
We won’t even count the presidents who lived in Massachusetts while attending Harvard. Okay, we will: the Adamses, Kennedy, Obama, both Roosevelts and Rutherford B. Hayes.
But since two presidents lived most of their lives in Quincy, we chose Peacefield, the Adams Family homestead. Built by a Loyalist in 1731 and abandoned during the American Revolution, John and Abigail bought the house in 1787. They lived in London at the time, and found the house disappointing when they returned. Abigail said it looked like ‘a wren’s nest.’ But she spent years renovating and expanding it while John attended to his political duties.
John Quincy Adams also lived at Peacefield, as did his son, the statesman Charles Francis Adams and his grandson, historian Henry Adams.
Peacefield today belongs to the U.S. government as the Adams National Historical Park. It comprises 11 buildings, including the birthplaces of John and John Quincy Adams.
For more information, click here.
Franklin Pierce Homestead
Franklin Pierce grew up in the gracious home his father built after serving in the American Revolution. He may even have been born there in 1804, the year his father built the house.
Benjamin Pierce had bought 200 acres in Hillsborough, N.H., after the new state turnpike opened nearby. Benjamin Pierce ran a tavern, and on Christmas Eve in 1824 hosted a dinner for 21 Revolutionary War veterans. Franklin probably attended — or helped serve — the dinner. Benjamin Pierce later served two terms as New Hampshire’s governor.
Franklin lived in the family home until for 23 years until 1834, when he married. He had spent seven years away at school, college and law study in Portsmouth.
His wife, Jane Appleton, didn’t like Hillsborough, and they moved to Concord. Benjamin Pierce died in 1839 and left the house to his son-in-law. Franklin’s sister, Elizabeth, married John McNeil, Jr., a general in the War of 1812.
After his disappointing single term as president, Franklin Pierce briefly returned to his childhood home in Hillsborough.
New Hampshire actually has two Franklin Pierce presidential houses: the one in Hillsborough, and the Pierce Manse in Concord, also a house museum. For more information, click here.
In 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower and his wife Mamie summered in Newport, R.I., during his presidency in 1958 and 1960. At first in 1958 he stayed at the Naval War College on Coasters Harbor Island, but he wanted to be closer to the golf course at the Newport Country Club. He moved to a mansion at Fort Adams.
Now called Eisenhower House, it was built in 1873 for Gen. Henry Jackson Hunt, a Civil War artillery officer. The house has stunning views of Narragansett Bay and Newport Harbor.
Another of Rhode Island’s presidential houses, Hammersmith Farm, was the site of John F. Kennedy’s marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier. As president, Kennedy occasionally visited the farm, still in private hands.
Eisenhower House is now part of Fort Adams State Park and available for weddings and social events. For more information click here.
Plymouth Notch, Vt.
Calvin Coolidge’s birthplace is such a throwback to the way Vermont used to be that some people call it “Vermont’s Brigadoon.” Coolidge cannily used it as a backdrop to hone his image as a thrifty Yankee.
Coolidge was actually sworn in as president of the United States while vacationing at his boyhood home in Plymouth Notch, Vt.
His father, a notary, swore him in at 2:47 a.m. on Aug. 3, 1923, hours after President Warren G. Harding died.
Coolidge often visited his family home, a modest white frame farmhouse in the classic New England style of big house, little house, back house, barn.
The Secret Service detail assigned to him slept in tents on the property and a dance hall nearby served as his office in the summer of 1924.
Today Coolidge’s birthplace and surrounding buildings comprise the Calvin Coolidge Homestead District, which includes the Cilley General Store, the Post Office, the Wilder Restaurant (serving lunch), the church, several barns, the dance hall and the Plymouth Cheese factory. For more information click here.
If you really want to know what a president and first lady were like, find out what they ate. The New England Historical Society’s new book, Eat Like a President, tells you about the six New England presidents, their servants, their families, their friends and how they struggled to make the White House presentable for public entertainment. Click here to buy the ebook; here for the paperback.
Images: Graves-Gilman House By Eumenes12 – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5447836. Walker Point, By Zollernalb – own work, eigene Arbeit, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2730841. Franklin Pierce Homestead By User:Magicpiano – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20697770. Plymouth Notch By Magicpiano – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34788716. Peacefield by By Daderot, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3162095.
This story about presidential houses was updated in 2023.