National Historic Landmark
By Hope S. Philbrick
It may be that people’s favorite U.S. President is based on where they grew up: Odds are whichever one was born (or lived) in (or near) your state is the one you heard most about in school and, as sociologists say, “familiarity breeds liking.” I was born and raised in Illinois and so it follows that I’m a Lincoln fan. (Okay, so maybe everybody loves Lincoln.)
Whether or not you’re a Virginian and/or Wilson fan, the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum in Staunton, Virginia, is enlightening and entertaining—so much so that one visit may have you shuffling your virtual list of Presidential rankings to raise Wilson higher.
He was a pretty cool dude.
Thomas Jefferson taught us what democracy is. Abraham Lincoln taught us how democracy works. And Woodrow Wilson taught us to protect democracy, at home and abroad. —Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum
Whether you’re a history buff, humanitarian, art enthusiast, or simply adore a love story, this place has something of interest.
Wilson is the only U.S. President to have earned a PhD—despite the fact that he couldn’t read a book until he was age 12! He conceived of the League of Nations, won the Nobel Peace Prize, is credited with the Child Labor Act, founded the Federal Reserve, signed the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, launched Mother’s Day, and much more.
Each 35-minute guided tour starts in the Presbyterian Manse (circa 1846) where little Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born, the third child and first son to a pastor and his wife. Tour guides take you back to 1856 when Wilson was born and discuss his family, upbringing and the lifestyle of the period: The church provided the family with three slaves. The railroad arrived in Staunton two years before Wilson was born.
Though Wilson lived just two and a half years in Staunton before his family moved to Augusta, Ga., he always considered Staunton home. “A man’s rootage is more important than his leafage,” he’s quoted as saying. He returned to the house to celebrate his 56th birthday as President-elect. His widow purchased the house after he died in 1924 with the intent of it becoming a museum.
You’ll learn a lot about his Presidency, but also about Wilson as a man: He had two wives (his first wife died while they were living in the White House), three daughters and the highs of true love and lows of heartbreak.
After the guided tour ends, you can stroll through the museum and explore President Wilson’s life through seven galleries. Among the displays is the President’s original 1919 Pierce-Arrow limousine—his favorite car—and a recreated World War I trench complete with lights and sound. You can also walk through gardens behind the Manse that were designed by Charles Gillette.
Before departing, stop in the gift shop. Wilson was highly quotable, and his quips now adorn mugs and T-shirts and fill books. You’ll want something to commemorate your new favorite President.
Odds of Encountering Children: It’s all just a matter of timing and luck. The museum welcomes school children on field trips and some parents will inevitably drag their children here against their wills—we’ve yet to meet the child who begs his parents to take him to a history museum—but it’s quite possible to tour without seeing any youngsters, as was the case on our weekday visit.
Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum
18 N. Calter St.
Staunton VA 24401
- Read about where to stay in Staunton
- Read about where to eat in Staunton
- Read about Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton
- Presidential Trail of Virginia — 8 U.S. Presidents were born in Virginia and it boasts more than 25 Presidential landmarks representing 13 U.S. Presidents!
@21plusTravel Tip: Also visit Woodrow Wilson’s boyhood home in Augusta, Georgia.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion.