The Homestead Resort, located in Hot Springs, Virginia, sits in a scenic and tranquil mile-wide valley in the Allegheny Mountains. It dates to 1766 when Captain Thomas Bullett* (who served in George Washington’s Virginia regiment during the French and Indian War) built an 18-room lodge on acreage he received as part of a colonial land grant.
He died two years after the lodge was completed but his family continued to operate it for nearly seven decades. Since then it has passed through the hands of J.P. Morgan, the Ingalls family (who helped bring rail service to the area) and three corporate owners.
Given how much my family enjoys vacationing here, it is fortunate that The Homestead oozes presidential history. 22 sitting presidents** (from Jefferson to Clinton) have visited the resort and most, if not all, of their portraits can be found hanging near the Great Hall. And I’ll admit to having read more than one presidential biography while enjoying the serenity of the Washington Library which is located on the main floor under the iconic clock tower.
But of all the presidents who have visited the resort, perhaps none enjoyed the comfortable solitude it offers more than William Taft. In July and August of 1908, while he was the Republican nominee for the presidency, he and his family escaped to The Homestead to relax and prepare for the final push of his campaign.
Following his election, Taft made numerous trips to The Homestead to unwind and escape the relentless demands of the presidency. He was reportedly the first commander-in-chief to wholeheartedly embrace the game of golf (a past-time I’ve not yet adopted) and is believed to have played more rounds on The Homestead’s historic Old Course than anywhere else.
Even though the Wright brothers proved that powered flight was possible in 1903, Taft never journeyed to The Homestead by plane – he invariably made the trip by railroad. No sitting president until FDR flew by plane, and the Hot Springs, VA airport (which stretches dramatically along a mountain ridge) wasn’t even open until 1931. But if commercial air travel had been feasible during his presidency there is no doubt Taft would have enjoyed the view between Washington and Hot Springs – it is spectacular.
And given his uneasy relationship with the press, Air Force One would certainly have been a journalist-free zone.
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* Thomas Bullett’s surname seems to have evolved at some point to “Bullitt”
**Sitting presidents who have visited The Homestead: Jefferson, Madison, Van Buren, Tyler, Fillmore, Pierce, Benjamin Harrison, McKinley, Taft, Wilson, Coolidge, Hoover, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George HW Bush and Clinton.
From what I can tell, George Washington visited the area prior to his presidency, and Teddy Roosevelt seems to have visited The Homestead prior to leaving office…though I can find only anecdotal proof.