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With Hotels Dating Back to the 17th-century, National Trust
Historic Hotels of America Often Played Host to Presidents
and Sometimes the President Leaves
Behind an Interesting Tale


WASHINGTON, D.C., February 11, 2004--Every four years, presidential candidates criss-cross the country in search of votes. In their wake, they often leave behind impressions-and stories-that become part of local lore. For more than two centuries, members of National Trust Historic Hotels of America have played host to presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush, plus a host of presidential hopefuls. As we gear up for the 2004 election, Historic Hotels of America shares some memorable presidential anecdotes.

The Footsteps of Founding Fathers

Although George Washington was but a colonel when he frequented Virginia's 18th century capital of Williamsburg, the city has hosted a legion of dignitaries, both foreign and domestic. President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially opened the restored city on October 20, 1934. In 1946, Dwight D. Eisenhower escorted Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill to the Williamsburg Inn. Upon introduction to his hosts, Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, III, the witty Churchill couldn't resist remarking, "Very Interesting. In our country we number kings. You number Rockefellers." In the intervening years, the Inn hosted debates between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford; Ronald Reagan and the International Summit of Industrialized Nations in 1983; and a campaigning Bill Clinton.

Lincoln's Legacy

In 1863, The Equinox in Manchester Village, Vt., was visited by Mrs. Abraham Lincoln and her two sons, solidifying its reputation as "the premier summer resort" of the day. Following the conclusion of America's searing Civil War in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was anticipating a relaxing and rejuvenating vacation with his family at The Equinox. Unfortunately, Lincoln was cut down by an assassin's bullet and never fulfilled his reservation. His son, Robert Todd Lincoln, returned as an adult and built his summer home, Hildene, in Manchester Village.

Roosevelt's Ride through History

The Equinox Resort and Spa
Historic Route 7A
Manchester Village, Vermont
In 1898, Teddy Roosevelt recruited his famed Rough Riders, the first American volunteer cavalry, in the bar at The Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. Many of the Rough Riders were members of New York's elite society, including Hamilton Fish and Cornelius Vanderbilt, who saw action in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

As president, Roosevelt earned the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to negotiate the Treaty of Portsmouth Peace Conference, which brought an end to the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Russian and Japanese delegates stayed at Wentworth-by-the-Sea in New Castle, N.H. At the hotel's reopening in 2003, Japanese Consul Masuo Nishibayashi spoke of his countrymen's continued affection for the hotel that played such an important role in their history.

Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to visit the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, initiating its first presidential suite. The hearty Teddy had come to Colorado to hunt bears in the spring of 1905. Following a successful 25 days in the country around Glenwood Springs during which he killed 25 of the creatures, he came to Denver by train to speak to businessmen of the city at an elaborate banquet at the Brown Palace Hotel. Security for a presidential visit was tight even in those innocent years, and the general public was not admitted above the fifth floor of the hotel after he arrived.

A Weighty Visitor

A man of substantial girth, President William Howard Taft made the rounds of many historic hotels.

Taft was a frequent guest of the home of Charleston, S.C., Mayor Goodwyn Rhett, now the John Rutledge House Inn. To liven up a dinner party in Taft's honor, Mayor Rhett asked the family butler to dress up the pale crab soup they usually served. The butler added orange-hued crab eggs for color and flavor, thus creating Charleston's famed "she-crab soup."

The year after its opening in 1910, Nashville's Hermitage Hotel hosted an elaborate dinner for President Taft. The public could purchase tickets for $7 per plate and the evening's highlights included a menu of Southern favorites and entertainment by a Hungarian orchestra that was brought down from New York. A sampling of the presidential feast includes Tennessee celery, sweet bread patties with green peas and mushrooms, breast of Tennesse chicken, Holland House salad and petit fours.

In 1930, former president Taft visited The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa in Asheville, N.C. Although having lost 80 pounds pounds from his frame, the seventy-three year-old then-Supreme Court Chief Justice was in failing health and still weighed a robust 240 pounds. He was limited to little more than daily walks and short car rides in his custom-designed automobile. Daily constitutionals and visits to local physician Paul Ringer could not improve Taft's health. He returned to Washington and died of heart disease just a few weeks later.

Calvinism, Pure and Simple

The story goes that during President Calvin Coolidge's visit to the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club in St. Petersburg, Fla., he found the food in the dining room too rich for his Yankee tastes. With help from a bellman, Coolidge located the employee cafeteria where the simple fare was more to his liking.

President Coolidge, when a candidate for Massachusetts lieutenant-governor, was left behind at The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Mass. A nearby rally was scheduled and the party was underway when Congressman Treadway (the inn's owner at the time) suddenly exclaimed, "Where's Cal?"

Nobody knew and a chauffeur was dispatched to find him. Coolidge was found sitting on The Red Lion Inn's front porch, puffing a cigar. He is said to have calmly remarked, "I thought you would come back for me."


Less than two weeks after The Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park, Calif., opened in 1927 and two years prior to his presidency, Herbert Hoover checked in. After a day of fishing in the Merced River, Hoover returned to the hotel in his dirty, worn clothes. The disdainful doorman was reluctant to allow such a disheveled guest enter the hotel and had to be persuaded that Hoover was indeed a VIP. Despite the incident, Hoover returned to the property several times before and after his tenure as President.

"Dewey Defeats Truman"

In 1948 presidential candidate Thomas Dewey attended the Governors' Conference at Wentworth-by-the-Sea in Portsmouth, N.H.-but almost did not stay because he didn't like his room. To protect the association with the man then popularly thought to be a shoo-in for the next president, hotel owner and operator, Jim Smith quickly switched room assignments with then-South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond who had not yet arrived. When all of the governors and their wives assembled on the shore for a clambake, the skies opened drenching everyone and the food. The governors ended up toasting hot dogs in the hotel kitchen because Smith had released the hotel staff for the night.

Totally Truman

Leo Montgomery, a bell captain with the Boston Park Plaza Hotel for 40 years, escorted President Harry S. Truman to his room. The president poured a shot of whiskey from his flask and offered it to Montgomery. The bellman hesitated, as drinking on the job was not allowed. Sensing his hesitation, Truman asked "You're not saying no to the president, are you?" Not wanting to offend the leader of the free world, Montgomery obliged and had his first-and last-drink on the job.

A Taste of Camelot

The Kennedy clan has long-standing ties to the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston. Mayor John "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald cut the ribbon at the hotel's opening in 1912. His daughter, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy made her social debut at the hotel as did her children including John F. Kennedy. The future president frequently stopped by the hotel, often to have his shoes shined in the hotel lobby. He was also enamored with the hotel's fish chowder.

During the 1960 Democratic Convention, Kennedy set up his campaign headquarters in the Music Room of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Reporters described the scene at the hotel as one of the "largest gatherings of political luminaries under one roof," with Kennedy in the Music Room, Johnson in the Renaissance (Emerald) Room and Adlai Stevenson in the Galeria.

While resting between two dam dedications in August 1962, President John F. Kennedy stayed at The Ahwahnee in Yosemite National Park, Calif. Nothing was overlooked to ensure his safety and pleasure. President Kennedy's orthopedic bed was moved to The Ahwahnee, a White House switchboard was installed, all guests were evacuated from the second floor, an expert fisherman was assigned to catch trout and extra red fir bark was collected for the spectacular 

The Ahwahnee
Yosemite National Park, California

nightly Firefall from Glacier Point. According to stories, the Firefall organizers delayed the nightly event-starting usually at 9:00 p.m. sharp-when they heard Kennedy's dinner at The Ahwahnee was behind schedule. Just as the people in the meadow and at Curry Village grew anxious and worried that this nightly tradition would not take place, the presidential dinner broke up and they were able to start by 9:15 p.m.

Bush League

When baseball lover George Bush was president, he threw out the first pitch at a Mets game, to catcher Gary Carter. They shook hands afterward, talked for a while and eventually developed a friendship. When Carter learned he was been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., he wrote the former president a letter asking him to attend. Bush made the trip to Cooperstown in 2003 and held a private, 15-minute meeting in Carter's suite at The Otesaga Resort Hotel.

A Patriotic Centerpiece

In 1897, President William McKinley and his wife celebrated the Fourth of July at the private residence of Wyndhurst in Lenox, Mass., today The Cranwell Resort & Golf Club . A large party was arranged. As the meal began, the butler whisked away the American flag from the table's centerpiece to reveal an enormous replica of a bald eagle. The whir of clockwork was heard, and in a persistent and almost malignant manner, the eagle began to nod and wink directly at Mrs. McKinley. With each nod, its wings ascended and came down with a jerk looking as if the eagle was about to take off. A startled Mrs. McKinley rose to her feet swaying and was escorted gently from the room.

President Taft Sleeps Through WWI Armistice

Former President William Howard Taft was staying at The Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee on November 11, 1918, when armistice was declared for World War I. The streets were filled with people celebrating this joyous occasion. Local media eager to get the former president's reaction woke Taft who responded that he slept through the commotion and had missed the declaration.

FDR's Roost

In 1931 at the National Governor's Conference, Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced his presidential candidacy at the French Lick Springs Resort in French Lick, Ind.

President Roosevelt also stayed at the Hotel del Coronado in Coronado, Calif., on October 1, 1935, for San Diego's California Pacific International Exposition. During his stay, Roosevelt flew the presidential flag making the hotel the official White House during Roosevelt's visit. The local newspaper reported, "The chief executive enjoyed an inspiring view of the broad Pacific, where a goodly part of the United States fleet rode at anchor, the lights from the warships shedding their glow over the temporary White House."

A Truman Tale

President Harry S. Truman visited Mount Rainier National Park on June 22, 1945. Following dinner at Paradise Inn, the grateful president treated the hotel's staff by playing the historic cedar piano in the lobby. The piano, built in 1919, is still in the inn's lobby today.

Paradise Inn
Mt. Rainier National Park
Ike's Gone Fishing

The Brown Palace Hotel in Denver enjoyed frequent visits from Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower loved to fish. To please the president, the hotel created an ice carving of a mountain complete with pine trees and a miniature lake at the base of the mountain in which swam three tiny trout.

Ike was completely enchanted with the creation and could hardly keep his eyes off the lake and its tiny inhabitants. When one trout suddenly flipped out of the pool and onto the carpet, Ike leaped to the rescue nearly upsetting the table in his eagerness to save the fish.

Nixon's Inaugural Ball

The Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. has been host of inaugural balls since the days of Coolidge. President Richard Nixon arrived at The Mayflower after midnight for his 1969 inaugural ball. Addressing the 3,000 celebrants, he said his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, confided that he ordered his tickets for the ball eight weeks ago. "I told Ike that I had made my reservations eight years ago," Nixon said.

A Presidential Entrance

President Bill Clinton stayed at The Driskill in Austin, Texas, in May 1999. The hotel was in the midst of a renovation and had just restored the lobby including a custom-made marble floor. The Secret Service requested that the presidential limo be pulled through the main doors and into the lobby. The hotel declined this request fearing damage to the marble floor but offered to tent the main entry portico. A few weeks later, Hillary Clinton stayed at the hotel. Upon arrival, she informed the hotel's manager that she was happy that he had refused to have the president's limo driven in the glorious lobby.

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National Trust Historic Hotels of America is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. HHA has identified more than 200 quality hotels that have faithfully maintained their historic integrity, architecture and ambience. To be selected for this program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old, listed or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places or recognized locally as having historic significance.

National Trust Historic Hotels of America
Mary Billingsley
Director of Public Relations
1785 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: 202-588-6061
Also See: Former Castles, a Fire Station and Local Landmarks Added to National Trust Historic Hotels of America; 15 New Members / October 2003
Designers Provide Tips on Historic Integrity and Ambiance; Designing for the Ages, National Trust Historic Hotels of America® / December 2003

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