Andrew Johnson National Historic Site


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0DSC05207We stopped at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greeneville, Tennessee on our road trip down to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This site encompasses a couple of blocks in the town, preserving Johnson’s early home, tailor shop, presidential museum and his larger homestead.


Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, chose Johnson, an anti-secessionist Southern Democrat, as his running mate for his re-election campaign in order to promote his message of unity following the Civil War. Their ticket easily won the election. Johnson became the 17th president of the United States, only six weeks after being sworn in as VP, following Lincoln’s assassination.


Johnson was deeply unpopular, at odds with the Republican Congress over Reconstruction policies. His strict constitutionalism and opposition to civil liberties for the freedmen ultimately culminated in his impeachment by Congress. He was acquitted by one vote and served the duration of his term as a ‘lame duck.’



We began at the visitor center where we signed up for the next guided Homestead Tour. We watched the short film and browsed the adjoining presidential museum while we waited.  Johnson’s original, tiny tailor shop is contained within the Memorial Building.


Then we walked a couple of streets over to the Homestead for the ranger-guided tour. Andrew Johnson owned this large home for 24 years. The home was occupied by soldiers during the Civil War and pretty much trashed. When Johnson and his wife returned from Washington they renovated the home and redecorated in a Victorian style.


The Homestead passed on to two more generations and was then donated to the National Park Service with many original furnishings and memorabilia.


On our way back to the car, we stopped in the ‘Early Johnson Home’ across the street from the Visitor Center. The Johnsons lived here before moving to the larger Homestead in 1851.


I had mixed feelings about this park unit. It’s easy to write off the man who opposed the 14th amendment (giving citizenship to the freed slaves) as the worst president in history. But the park service does a good job in presenting all facets of this man who raised himself up out of extreme poverty, with no education, to become a defender of the Union and of the Constitution. They leave it to the visitors to judge him by casting a ‘vote’ in the impeachment trial after touring the site.


Location: 101 N College St, Greeneville, TN

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designation declared: 12/11/1963

Date of my visit: August 12, 2013


Sagamore Hill National Historic Site


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Sagamore Hill was Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Cove Neck, NY.  Known for being the 26th President of the United States, Roosevelt grew up in New York and accomplished much here before taking on Washington DC. He served as NYC Police Commissioner (where he  initiated sweeping reforms in the police department) and Governor of New York before moving into national politics.


Of all Roosevelt’s achievements, he was proudest of his work in conservation. He created the first National Parks and signed into law the Antiquities Act (under which the president may designate National Monuments.)  So it is fitting that the National Park Service manages the home where he lived from 1886 until his death in 1919. The Sagamore Hill National Historic Site includes the mansion and also the Theodore Roosevelt Museum in a separate building on the grounds.


The mansion was originally 22 rooms, was built for his first wife Alice Lee and named Leeholm after her. But she died before the home was completed, soon after the birth of their daughter. When Roosevelt remarried and moved into the home with his new family, he changed the name to Sagamore Hill (Sagamore is the Algonquin word for chieftain.)


Ranger-led tours of Sagamore Hill can be reserved on the NPS website or purchased on a first-come basis at the visitor center. The North Room, part of a 1905 expansion, is filled with Roosevelt’s keepsakes and safari trophies. This room, along with others on the first floor, served as the ‘Summer White House’ for part of Roosevelt’s presidency. We were awed by this room, though struck by the irony of all the animal trophies in the home of one of our countries foremost conservationists.


The site had just reopened at the time of our visit after an extensive multi-million-dollar, 4-year restoration project. It is beautifully preserved and most of the furnishings are original. The ranger’s narrative gave us a real feel for the dynamic leader and family man Roosevelt must have been.


Location: 20 Sagamore Hill Rd, Oyster Bay, NY 11771

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designated or established: 7/25/1962

Date of my visit: 2/7/2016

This windmill is a modern replica of the one Theodore Roosevelt originally installed. Because there was no electrical service here in those days, the windmill was used to pump water to a holding tank on the 3rd floor to provide running water for household needs.
A bathroom with running water was a luxury at the time. The house was expanded to include the bathroom in 1905.
One of the daughter’s bedrooms
The kitchen, with running water
Quentin Roosevelt was Theodore’s youngest & favorite son He was killed in action in WWI and awarded a Harvard degree posthumously,

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site


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The British Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort Vancouver in 1825 as the headquarters of the company’s fur trade, controlling the fur business from Alaska to Southern California, and out to the Rocky Mountains. Vancouver was the main colonial settlement in the Pacific Northwest, located in what is now Washington State, right across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon. It was the center of trade for the region and for settlers traveling the Oregon Trail west from Missouri, it was the last stop for supplies before setting up their homestead.


In 1846, the Oregon Treaty set the Canadian-US border at the 49th parallel, putting Fort Vancouver within American territory.

In 1866, the fort burned to the ground. What can be visited today is a reconstruction built on the footprint of the original fort.


We were lucky to get to the Fort an hour before they closed and hop on a ranger-led tour…and it was free for the National Park Service’s Centennial Celebration. We’d been to the Mcloughlin House in Oregon City prior to the fort, so we’d already set the historical context for what this fort was about, otherwise we would have needed more time here.

Grapevines adorn The Chief Factor’s House

The ranger took us inside some of the buildings that wouldn’t normally be open. The tour began at the Chief Factor’s House, the residence for the fort’s high-ranking officers.

Bedroom in the Chief Factor’s House

This building was designed to impress. The officers entertained important people and clients in the large dining room and parlor.


In the mercantile was a man dressed in period costume talking about the beaver fur trade. Trappers would come here to trade pelts for household supplies.


There is a lovely garden at the entrance where we paused for some photos as we were leaving. Historically the garden covered five acres and was designed to be aesthetically pleasing as well as provide fruits and vegetables for the fort. The Hudson Bay Company shared seeds, cuttings and agricultural knowledge with local settlers and Native Americans.

Cupboards in the Chief Factor’s House stocked with fine china from the mercantile.

The carpenter and blacksmith were not in their shops as it was a scorching hot day, so we peered in the windows and then moved on.

Location: 612 E Reserve St, Vancouver, WA 98661

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designation declared: 6/30/1961

Date of my visit: August 2016


Martin Van Buren National Historic Site


Welcome back to National Parks & other public lands with T! If you are seeing this on Twitter or Facebook, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking the link.

The Martin Van Buren National Historic Site is in Kinderhook, NY.  Van Buren was the 8th president of the United States, the first American-born president, and a founder of the Democratic Party.


He moved here to the home called Lindenwald in the mid 1800s after serving out his presidential term and losing his bid for re-election. It was a tumultuous time in our history, as our nation teetered on the brink of civil war. Van Buren had no intention of retiring in Lindenwald. He enlarged the home and ran two more presidential campaigns using the mansion as his campaign headquarters, before ultimately conceding defeat and becoming a ‘gentleman farmer’ on the 220 acre estate. The home was again expanded to 36 rooms, complete with modern conveniences such as running water when Van Buren’s son moved into Lindenwald with his family.


My husband and I stopped at the visitors center several years ago on our way up to Lake Placid. The only way to see the inside of the home is on a ranger-guided tour, so we took the tour. We didn’t know much about Martin Van Buren or his presidency and so we enjoyed the ranger’s informative talk as we walked through the mansion.


The Ogee arch originated in the Arab world and later became popular in medieval England


The home has many interesting architectural details, like the Ogee Arch in the formal parlor and the Palladian window in the second floor bedroom and the stair tower that connects the old and new portions of the home. The home was designed to impress as Van Buren frequently entertained his political guests here.

Location: Kinderhook, NY

Designation: National Historic Site

Date designation declared: 10/26/1974

Date of my visit: 7/25/2011

In the mid 1800s, having a tub with running water and a flush toilet was quite unique
The winding staircase connecting old and new sections of the house
The guest bedroom on the second floor. Servants quarters were on the 3rd floor.

John Muir NHS

The historic Muir/Strentzel home in Martinez, California

Location: 4202 Alhambra Avenue, Martinez, California

Designation: National Historic Site

Date NPS designation declared: 8/31/1964

Date of my visit: Sept 2017

The John Muir NHS is must visit for fans of the National Park Service, since John Muir was considered the father of the NPS. He was a naturalist and writer who inspired the creation of the National Park Service and was the first president of the Sierra Club. He was responsible for the preservation of Yosemite and several of our other natural treasures as National Parks.

We visited the site during an awful heat wave in the Bay Area ( I think it was 108F that day!) We were grateful for the air conditioning in the visitors center and thoroughly enjoyed the 20 minute film about John Muir’s remarkable life.

People were TINY in the 1800s!

After we’d watched the film we trudged uphill (the hill seemed almost vertical, but then it was seriously HOT) to take a ranger-led tour of the historic home. The NPS website says tours are only of the ground floor, but our ranger, a self-professed John Muir groupie, did take us to some of the rooms upstairs. The home has been beautifully restored and maintained  by the NPS and the ranger was full of anecdotes and factoids that made history come alive for all in our group.

Water wagon?

There are other things to do on this site…we were told we could pick fruit in the orchards, take a cell phone tour of the grounds and climb Mount Wanda…but again…HOT. With a disabled family member along for the tour, we had to save this for another day.

In spite of the unpleasant weather, we loved visiting John Muir NHS. If you are in the bay area, it’s definitely worth the side trip to this off-the-beaten-path gem. There are also a few other lesser known NPS units out this way, like Rosie the Riveter, which I will review separately.