Lots of people wait in line to visit the White House, but there is little waiting for those who make the trek to the Brown House, President Hoover’s summer retreat in the Shenandoah National Park. The Hoovers built the cabin as a getaway, but there was no getting away from the problems of the Great Depression. The house featured a separate bedroom where the president could stay up late to work and not disturb his wife.
The Hoovers bought the property in April 1929, the stock market crashed in October. While the camp offered a relaxing retreat with activities such as hiking, fishing and horseback riding, it also provided an informal setting away from Washington where the 31st president and his advisors could meet.
The Brown House is one of three remaining buildings at Rapidan Camp (also known as Camp Hoover), the first site designed specifically as a presidential retreat. The 13 building complex included a communal mess hall where everyone gathered to eat. The other surviving buildings are the Prime Minister’s cabin and the Creel, where Park Service employees now stay.
You can also see an outdoor fireplace, mainly used during the Hoover administration for photo opportunities with visiting dignitaries. It is here that we got a photo op with a current camp resident – this snake. Our guide Jonathan assured me would the snake not hurt us (I wasn’t so sure).
You can take lots of photos of the snake (I recommend zooming in), but pictures are off-limits in the president’s house. You can take photos the Prime Minister’s cabin, which featured exhibits on Hoover’s presidency and life at the camp. There are lots of noteworthy camp visitors, including Charles Lindbergh and British Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald. Why else would they call it the Prime Minister’s cabin?
You cross a small bridge to reach the cabin. The camp sits where two streams converge to form the Rapidan River, so the Marines constructed several bridges on the very rocky property. One engineer said it was one of the hardest projects he ever worked on.
Both the Prime Minister’s cabin and the Brown House have decks where you can sit outside and enjoy the natural surroundings, just as the Hoovers and their guests did.
For exploring the indoor spaces, you can check out the Prime Minister’s cabin on your own. You’ll need a guide to visit the Brown House; an on-site park volunteer took us on a drop-in tour (no waiting). As I mentioned in a previous post, a more formal tour (offered spring through early fall) includes a shuttle bus leaving from the Byrd Visitor’s Center.
If you’re up for a hike (or shuttle bus ride), the Brown House definitely offers a unique presidential experience. While I do not necessarily share the Hoovers love of the outdoors, I do love to visit quirky historical sites like Camp Hoover. Plus, we saw a spectacular sunset in the Shenandoah National Park. Maybe an outdoorsy Nerd Trip has advantages besides the lack of waiting.
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