Check out this cool car. It’s President Woodrow Wilson’s 1919 Pierce-Arrow limousine, which was waiting for him when he returned to the United States after signing the Treaty of Versailles. It’s one of the highlights of a visit to his birthplace in Staunton (pronounced “Stan-ton”, the “u” is silent), Virginia.
You can see the car at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, just a few steps from the house where our 28th president was born. The car features the presidential seal along with a AAA symbol, as Wilson was the first commander-in-chief to have a membership in the American Automobile Association (I would think if the car broke down, he probably wouldn’t need to call AAA himself). And, in honor of Wilson’s alma mater, the car once had a Princeton Tiger hood ornament, which later went missing.
I made a quick Nerd Trip pit stop in Staunton (right off I-81) on my way to my aunt’s house for Easter. I arrived just in time for the 40-minute house tour (no photos inside).
President Wilson’s father was a Presbyterian minister, so the house is technically called a “manse.”
Although I associate President Wilson with the early 20th century and World War I, he was actually born before the Civil War (December 28, 1856). His family had several “servants,” slaves who were leased to work at the house.
The house tour begins on the lower level, you enter through the garden in the back. On this first level, you’ll see the kitchen, scullery, children’s dining room (President Wilson had two older sisters) and the cook’s room.
The main level has original floors, period furniture and some Wilson family pieces, including the bed where President Wilson was born and the crib where he slept.
There was also a really cool clock, a gift from the doctor who delivered little Tommy. (We know him as Woodrow, but his family called him Tommy since his name is actually Thomas Woodrow Wilson). The tour guide said it is sign of wealth that a doctor, not a midwife, delivered the future president.
In another sign of wealth, the Wilsons displayed a sewing machine in the parlor window. The machine was worth $300, about an average year’s pay, according to our guide. The president’s father earned $1,000 a year, and a year after Tommy’s birth was offered $3,000 to take a job in Augusta, Georgia, so the family relocated. (Yes, there’s a Wilson house you can visit there).
Back in Stanton, our charming tour guide, Ray, allowed us to ring the front doorbell, which was kind-of fun since you’re usually never allowed to touch anything! The house tour focuses mostly on life in pre-Civil War Virginia. We also learned a lot about President Wilson’s family, including his father, whom Wilson credited with giving the future president his best education. This statement comes from our only president with a PhD (from John Hopkins in 1885).
We got quite an education about President Wilson during our stop in Stanton. In our next post, we’ll take you on a tour through the presidential museum, which includes some amazing White House artifacts and a recreation of a World War I bunker (I felt like I had fallen into an episode of Season 2 of Downtown Abbey).
And I picked up one of the “cutest” presidential souvenirs I have ever seen! Also, the “On the Map” page has more info on this site.