Hubert Humphrey Fellow Sophia Khumukcham says that tours of historic presidential homes illuminate their owners’ histories and provide insights into their leadership.
Sophia Khumukcham’s visit to President Jimmy Carter’s home in Plains, Georgia, was quite unique. It included a glimpse of how President Carter lived as a child; the farm his father kept, the day-to-day tasks he completed; and, an opportunity to see and hear from the man himself.
“We got a chance to attend an evening in his church wherein Mrs. [Rosalynn] Carter was also present,” says Khumukcham, who lives in New Delhi and toured the grounds of President Carter’s estate as part of the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2013-14. This is a Fulbright exchange program for young and mid-career professionals sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.
President Carter shared “details about his life and what he remembers of our respective countries,” says Khumukcham.
The visit, especially the time spent in the former president’s boyhood home, led Khumukcham to see him as “one of us.” And by being in his home, “you sort of get to live through his achievements and hard work,” she says. “A sense of encouragement gets into you.”
A public health professional, Khumukcham also found fascinating the estate in Warm Springs, Georgia, which includes the home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. President Roosevelt first traveled to Warm Springs in 1924 in search of a cure for polio, which he had been suffering from for the past three years. Immediately after swimming in the waters at Warm Springs, he felt some improvement in his condition, according to the National Park Service. He returned to the site almost every year for the rest of his life. In 1932, he completed constructing his home there, called the Little White House.
“Polio has recently been eradicated in my country and it did help me see some connection there,” says Khumukcham, who serves as a program officer at the Department of AIDS Control, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare in India. She designs policy and implements programs to prevent H.I.V. infection among injecting drug users.
The visits to both President Carter’s and President Roosevelt’s homes left lasting impressions on Khumukcham.
“The visits to these places have helped me work on leadership skills and, above all, to be visionary,” she says.
Travelers to the United States looking for similar inspiration, or those simply interested in presidential history, can tour homes of many former leaders. Be sure to check the National Park Service website, as some homes are privately maintained and not open to the public. The following are additional suggestions.
Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Lincoln, lived in this home in Springfield, Illinois, for 17 years, until he became president in 1861. It’s the only house he ever owned. The National Park Service restored the home to its 1860 appearance and opened it to the public in 1887. The site includes four blocks surrounding the house and several other buildings important to the President Lincoln era, which covers the Civil War and emancipation of slaves. Visitors can tour two museums showcasing exhibits that highlight the culture of the period and depict events from President Lincoln’s life.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
President Johnson, who assumed office in 1963 after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and led the country during the Vietnam War, called the Texas Hill Country home. This park includes both his grandfather’s ranch, the LBJ Ranch, and part of the small town of Johnson City, founded by his family. President Johnson returned to the site multiple times throughout his political career in Washington, D.C. He retired when his presidential term ended in 1969 and died in this home in 1973. A visit to the park, located about 80 kilometers west of Austin, Texas, tells the story of his life and political legacy. Tours of his boyhood home are available daily.
There are other options too, from the homes of Ulysses S. Grant, a famed Civil War general and subsequent president, to President Ronald Reagan, an icon of the 1980’s. So, don’t hesitate to get out there and explore a little history—like Khumukcham, you might just be inspired, too.
Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York City-based freelance writer.