Virginia’s Blue Ridge has a variety of history to delve into, not the least of which is specific to Presidents of the United States of America. In fact, Virginia is called “Mother of Presidents” because of the number of Presidents who were Virginians.
We’re proud to showcase destinations related to “our” Presidents and as well as those who have left a mark in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
1. Natural Bridge State Park | Natural Bridge
The Natural Bridge at Natural Bridge State Park is widely believed to have been surveyed in 1750 by an 18-year-old George Washington on behalf of Lord Fairfax. When you visit, you’ll see his initials carved into the side of the limestone arch, but there is no historical documentation to support the claim. The initials were reportedly first found and noted in 1927.
Additionally, Thomas Jefferson purchased 157 acres of land from King George III on July 5, 1774, which included the Natural Bridge. According to Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., a survey and the land purchase cost Thomas Jefferson $16, “roughly $160 in today’s money.” Jefferson called the arch “the most sublime of Nature’s works,” and is said to have maintained a nearby log cabin he hoped to use as a retreat.
2. Fort William | Botetourt County
As Colonel of the Virginia Regiment, George Washington inspected Fort William and other forts in 1756 and reported his findings and impressions to Governor Dinwiddie. Fort William was attacked by Native Americans after Col. Washington’s visit, but was a shelter for settlers in 1763 during Pontiac’s War. The fort no longer exists, but there is a historical marker on Route 220 south of Fincastle.
3. Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest | Forest
Prior to becoming the third President of the United States of America, Thomas Jefferson and his wife Martha acquired the plantation known as Poplar Forest. The 4,819 acres were Martha’s inheritance when her father died in 1773.
According to the Corporation for Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, “In 1806, Jefferson traveled from Washington to supervise the laying of the foundation for the octagonal house we see today. When his presidency ended in 1809, Jefferson visited the retreat three to four times a year, staying from two weeks to two months at a time.” Construction of Poplar Forest (the house) was “considered basically ‘complete’” in 1812 but the last of the interior plaster was not finished until 1816. Jefferson’s last visit to Poplar Forest was in 1823.
4. National D-Day Memorial | Bedford
The National D-Day Memorial was erected for the community with the most losses per capita on June 6, 1944. The term “D-Day” refers to the launch of Operation Overlord during World War II, the day Allied Forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, which was June 6, 1944. Bedford, Virginia was the community with the most losses per capita (19 from a population of about 3,200). President George W. Bush offered a dedication speech at the memorial’s opening on June 6, 2001.
“Today, as America dedicates our D-Day Memorial, we pray that our country will always be worthy of the courage that delivered us from evil and saved the free world.”
5. The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center | Roanoke
If you ever wanted to sleep where a United States President has slept, The Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center is certainly a place to consider. Built in 1882, the grand dame has hosted a share of them before, during, or after their terms, and some of them only for a special event rather than an overnight: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Donald Trump.
Whether you’re planning to visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge with intentions of exploring presidential history or you’ve simply stumbled across this cool article that has sparked an inspiration to learn more, we know you’re going to love walking in famous footsteps. From one of the natural wonders of the world to a sobering memorial to brave lives lost, there’s so much history to soak up in Virginia’s Blue Ridge.
For ideas to see a wider variety of historical offerings, see our History Itinerary.