From the founding of our country to modern times, the Southern states have had a close relationship with the presidency. Four of the first five presidents were from Virginia, and half of the presidents since Jimmy Carter have been from the South.
Throughout the South, the presidents are all remembered in their own ways, from their humble birthplaces, such as Lincoln’s Kentucky log cabin, to their monumental later homes, such as Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, to library-museums honoring their presidencies, such as the Carter and Clinton presidential libraries.
Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
Abraham Lincoln has become so associated with the log cabin that children’s construction logs bear his name. But in the 1800s when log cabins were the rule rather than a playtime exception, it was such a common practice to reuse the logs from one cabin to build the next, much like a child’s Lincoln Logs today, that no one is 100 percent sure where the original logs from Lincoln’s birthplace ended up.
As a result, the original one-room log cabin in which Lincoln was born has been lost, presumably reused in the 1860s to build a home for another family. But a symbolic cabin stands on the site of his birthplace in honor of the original.
Lincoln’s birthplace has been a pilgrimage site for well over 100 years, and in 1911, a memorial that still stands today was erected around the replacement log cabin with nearly $350,000 of funds collected by the Lincoln Farm Association.
The National Park Service now maintains the site, and park rangers are available in the memorial and visitors center to provide an interpretive visit, though tours are primarily self-guided. Group visits begin with a 15-minute video on Lincoln and his life in the visitors center, followed by an orientation from park interpretive staff as to the layout of the site.
The historical park includes Knob Creek, site of Lincoln’s boyhood home, a 20-to-25-minute drive from the birthplace. Lincoln’s family lived on 30 acres at Knob Creek until he was about 8 years old, and he wrote often of his earliest memories from that time on the farm. Knob Creek is now undergoing restoration work and is closed to the public until later this year.
William J. Clinton Presidential Center
Little Rock, Arkansas
Although most museums lend themselves well to guided tours offering some background on what visitors are seeing, the wealth of archival materials and layout at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center are best suited for individual exploration.
“We have an interactive eight-year administration timeline where you can look up Clinton’s daily schedule for every day he was in office,” said Kathleen Pate, the library’s education specialist. “There are ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ versions. If you want to hold the schedule in your hands, there are three-ring binders with the schedule for each day, or you can look them up on the interactive screens on the blocks that represent each year.”
The library offers options for both guided and self-guided tours of its two exhibit floors, though Pate often recommends a mixed approach even on guided tours.
“On either side of the timeline, there are galleries that look at specific issues in depth, and this is where it gets tricky on a guided tour because not everyone is interested in the same thing,” she said. “One thing we do often with our school groups is let people explore on their own and then regroup.”
In addition to the timeline, visitors can get a feel for Clinton’s presidency with full-sized reproductions of his cabinet room and Oval Office.
“You can walk around the whole thing from the outside and step through one of the doorways, and most people are surprised that it isn’t bigger,” said Pate.