Business and pleasure alike have brought presidents to North Carolina. First and foremost was George Washington, who spent the night at a dozen North Carolina inns plus a couple of homes on his tour of Southern battlefields in 1791. Most of the structures are gone, but state historic markers note where they stood (search “Washington’s Southern Tour” for a complete list).
Historic Tryon Palace
President James Monroe revived the idea of touring the country, and his 1819 Southern tour brought him to New Bern, a city that specializes in preserving and presenting its history. Like Washington, Monroe visited St. John’s Masonic Lodge and worshipped at Christ Episcopal Church; he also was entertained at the Coor-Bishop House on East Front Street. And in 1948, Air Force One landed at Cherry Point Air Station so that vacation-bound President Harry S. Truman could worship at First Baptist Church.
Ten presidents have stayed at The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa in Asheville during in its 99-year history.
The Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa
Biltmore, George W. Vanderbilt’s palatial home, has been another popular stop on presidents’ Asheville itineraries. William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Richard M. Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama all made their way there. The mansion might even have made them feel a bit house poor: Biltmore House, America’s largest home, has 250 rooms while the Executive Residence has a mere 132.
Other mountain resorts have presidents’ names on the guest register: Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover at the Green Park Inn in Blowing Rock, Coolidge and Franklin D. Roosevelt at the 1927 Lake Lure Inn and Spa in Lake Lure, and Jimmy Carter at the Nu-Wray Inn in Burnsville. President Carter also spent the night at the Fearrington House Inn in Pittsboro after a 1996 book signing and dined with owner R.B. Fitch in the resort’s restaurant.
A passion for history brought Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Roanoke Island on Aug. 18, 1937. “The Lost Colony,” now the nation’s longest-running outdoor drama, had premiered in July, and the president attended the performance on the 350th anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in America. Roosevelt traveled to Elizabeth City by train, then to Manteo by Coast Guard cutter, and watched the symphonic drama from an open car.
Presidents have also chalked up scores of political visits — including a few of interest on the travel front. Theodore Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Gerald R. Ford and George H.W. Bush all campaigned at the State Fair, where a candidate can always find a crowd and something deep fried on a stick. And Lyndon B. Johnson took advantage of an oversize photo op when he visited Thomasville in 1960: He greeted supporters from the 10½-foot-wide seat of the town’s iconic Big Chair.
Read more about North Carolina's presidential past.
added: May 22, 2012
updated: May 23, 2012