Thursday, October 20, 2016

Woodrow Wilson Museum and Presidential Library Staunton, Va.

Woodrow Wilson's Museum and Presidential Library is located in the city of Staunton, Va. His father, a first generation American of Scotch-Irish ancestry was the Presbyterian minister in the city. He accepted the post in 1854 and brought his wife and two daughters to live here in 1855. They were from the north but adapted easily to the southern way of life. His mother, Jessie Woodrow, was a Scot who had been born in England where her father, also a Presbyterian minister, was serving. Her family immigrated to Ohio when she was a child.

Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born on December 28, 1856,  at 12:45 Staunton. In April 1857 Jessie wrote the following to her father about her new son “The boy is a fine healthy fellow. He is much larger than either of the other ones were and just as fat as can be. Everyone tells us he is a beautiful boy. What is best of all, he is just as good as can be, as little trouble as it is possible for a baby to be.”

The family only stayed here for a few years but it always remained in the heart of the future president. He returned to visit Staunton after he was elected president but before he took office. He spent his 56th birthday in the home where he was born. After his death, Mary Baldwin College decided it wanted to set up a memorial in the city of his birth and they purchased the manse. The rest, as they say, is history. Today not only is there the historic birth site but a museum and the Presidential Library.

If it has been a few years since you visited or if you have never visited you will be delighted with what you will find here. Your visit begins in the Visitor Center where the shop is also located. There is a 12-minute film to watch to prepare you for your visit to the museum and the manse. After watching the film, head to the museum building to purchase your ticket and to sign up for the guided tour of the manse. You enter the manse through the basement and it is disturbing to find out that the Wilson family had three slaves helping at the manse when they were here.

Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and encouraged us to ask questions. The tour is not too long, maybe a half hour; it covers the basement and first floor of the house. You then head back to take your time enjoying all the information that is on display in the museum. The presidential Pierce Arrow is one of the most popular exhibits. The museum is very well organized and the information is well displayed and explained. Allow at least a half-hour and a lot more if you are a history buff.

As presidential sites go, this one is pretty darn interesting. We spent quite a long time here and left feeling as if we knew Woodrow Wilson a lot better than we had when we walked in. Pictures are allowed in the museum but not inside the manse. A parking lot is located behind the buildings which is accessible from E. Frederick Street.

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