Whether you’re leading a group filled with history buffs, true-blue patriots or simply folks curious about the men who have steered this country since its birth, presidential landmarks offer a peek behind the curtain of one of the most powerful offices on the planet.
These sites tell the compelling stories of our nation’s great leaders, exploring their personalities and backgrounds, as well as the events that shaped their tenures in the Oval Office — and the fate of the free world. Spread throughout the United States, the following locations range from a legendary national monument to a spectacular presidential library, as well as a few fascinating former homes of our country’s change makers. They’re all such crowd-pleasers you just might find your group joining in a chorus of “Hail to the Chief” after a visit.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
Rapid City, South Dakota
One of America’s most iconic attractions, Mount Rushmore National Memorial is an undeniably showstopping sight. Rising up a granite mountainside in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the massive monument depicts the faces of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. Each likeness, carved mostly by dynamite, measures some 60 feet tall. The project, which kicked off in 1927 and was completed in 1941, required not only the talents of celebrated sculptor Gutzon Borglum, but nearly 400 workers.
Today, the memorial hosts 2 million visitors a year.
“We hear ‘This is on my bucket list’ every day,” said Earl Perez-Foust, Mount Rushmore’s interpretation and education program manager. “Just the other day there was a woman who came to the visitor center, and she was in tears. She said, ‘I’ve been trying to get here for 42 years.’ The sculpture is an extraordinary achievement that people want to see.”
Programs available to groups vary depending on the season but may include ranger talks and tours. Otherwise, the visitor center features a 15-minute film as well as exhibits about Rushmore’s presidents and the sculpture’s early carving period. The Sculptor’s Studio, open from May to October, includes an impressive 1/12th scale model of Mount Rushmore, while the photo-ready Avenue of Flags grandly flies all of the nation’s state flags.
William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum
Little Rock, Arkansas
Located in Little Rock, Arkansas, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum offers groups a perspective that no other place can, according to Ben Thielemier, senior manager of communications and marketing.
“It’s the only place where you can experience history at the end of the 20th century, into the 21st century, through the lens of a presidential administration that had incredible success in improving the economy and education, and putting people first,” he said. “President Clinton was very much focused on thinking about how we find common ground and move forward together, so there are important lessons here that are still very applicable to our world today.”
Popular museum exhibits sure to engage group visitors include a full-scale replica of the Oval Office, where visitors are welcome to sit behind the Resolute Desk for a winning photo op. There’s also a reproduction of the White House Cabinet Room featuring interactive exhibits built into the table that recount Clinton Administration Cabinet members and major decisions made during the Clinton presidency.
The library and museum are part of the Clinton Presidential Center, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary next year, though details of any events marking the occasion have yet to be released. The center welcomes groups with reduced rates and tours led by its famously hospitable docents.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Unquestionably our nation’s greatest president, Abraham Lincoln spent 17 years in a Springfield, Illinois, house, which offers free guided tours for groups with reservations made through the city’s convention and visitors bureau. Eight rooms, including the president’s bedroom, a formal parlor and a dining room are on display, while the visitor center offers a 25-minute film and changing Lincoln-related exhibits. According to Timothy Good, the site’s superintendent, visitors usually spend an hour or two there, learning about the life of the man who held our country together during its darkest hour.
“We typically describe the home as the only one Abraham and Mary ever owned,” Good said of the historical treasure. “When they move into the house, he’s relatively unknown, just starting to get into law practice. But over time he rises to become one of the most prominent Republicans in the state. And it was in the house that he was officially informed that he had won the Republican nomination, and it was also while living here that he found out that he had won the 1860 presidential election.”
The home, which has been fully restored to its 1860 appearance, is surrounded by a four-block historic area groups may also want to wander around. It contains 13 other houses that date from the Lincoln era, including several with exhibits.
Eisenhower National Historic Site
Purchased as a retirement home by Dwight Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, in 1950, the bucolic 189-acre Pennsylvania farm on the edge of the Gettysburg Battlefield would soon host movers and shakers from around the globe.
“History kept calling,” said Alyce Evans, Eisenhower National Historic Site guide, “and General Eisenhower would become our 34th president in 1953. So, this retirement home was transformed into a presidential retreat for the eight years he was in office. He used it as a great tool for diplomacy, bringing a lot of very important world leaders here, including Winston Churchill and Nikita Khrushchev.”
The site, which is open seasonally, on certain days, provides an unparalleled look into both the political and private lives of the popular World War II hero, whom many historians now rank as one of our finest presidents. Leaders should note that ranger talks and tours are available to group visitors, but there is no on-site bus parking. Groups are usually shuttled over from the Gettysburg Tour Center.
The extra step is worth it. Along with the house, sights include a show barn detailing Eisenhower’s prize-winning Angus operation, as well as the old milk house, which was turned into the Secret Security headquarters. The garage showcases vehicles used by the Eisenhowers, including a 1955 Crown Imperial limousine.
Jimmy Carter National Historical Park
Groups in search of a heaping dose of inspiration should look no further than the Jimmy Carter National Historical Park, a multi-site landmark established in Plains, Georgia, in 1987. It encompasses not only the school that Jimmy and his wife, Roselyn, attended more than 80 years ago — which now contains a museum and visitor center — but also the former train depot that served as his 1976 presidential campaign headquarters. In 2000, the farm the president and Nobel Peace Prize winner was raised on was added to the park.
Taken together, these simple spots, homey and unassuming, prove that the American dream of equal opportunity for all is still alive and well in America.
“Little Jimmy’s teacher told him that he could grow up to be president one day, and he took that seriously and he did,” said Jill Stuckey, the park’s superintendent. “It shows that even this poor farm boy from south Georgia could become president, so his story is encouraging for anybody to know they can do just about anything if they set their mind to it.”
Stuckey notes the park can provide special tours and programs focusing on different facets of the beloved president who made faith and family a priority. She also recommends groups begin their visit in style, with a trip to Plains aboard the historic SAM Shortline Railroad, which originates in Cordele, Georgia.