It’s no secret that Cape Cod’s incomparable beauty has captivated vacationers for years. But did you know this seaside destination has also captured the hearts of a handful of former United States presidents?
In honor of President’s Day, let’s take a look back at the distinguished leaders who visited the Cape and Islands as a peaceful retreat or to make history.
The Kennedy family and our 35th President have been synonymous with Cape Cod for nearly 100 years, since Joseph Kennedy purchased a family home now known as the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port back in 1928. There are a number of ways to explore the family’s history here, most notably a visit to the John F. Kennedy Museum in Hyannis, which provides a window into the years that JFK spent on his beloved Cape Cod. After a stop at the museum, follow the self-guided 1.6-mile Kennedy Legacy Trail around downtown Hyannis. There are 10 sites in all, and the trail finishes at the JFK Memorial overlooking Lewis Bay.
While President Kennedy’s term tragically lasted less than three years, a piece of legislation he sponsored during his tenure quite literally changed the landscape of Cape Cod forever. The Cape Cod National Seashore was created on August 7, 1961 by President Kennedy, protecting and preserving over 40,000 acres and 40 miles of coastline from Chatham to Provincetown. Over 4 million vacationers visit the National Seashore every year to enjoy its miles of pristine beaches, wooded wilderness and wetlands, hiking and biking trails, and significant historic landmarks and lighthouses. Walking the soft sands of Coast Guard Beach, visiting the site of the first wireless transatlantic communication at Marconi Station, or biking the paved path of the Head of the Meadows trail are just a few of the ways to honor President Kennedy’s lasting legacy on President’s Day.
While President Kennedy is the former Commander in Chief most often associated with Cape Cod, he was not the first to choose it as his vacation retreat.
President Grover Cleveland purchased a home in the Cape Cod town of Bourne in 1890 to satisfy his love of fishing. He named the home Gray Gables, and used it as a vacation home in late 19th and early 20th-century. The Cleveland family sold the home in 1920, and the property was converted to a hotel enjoyed by vacationers until a mysterious fire destroyed the property in 1973. The area surrounding the fallen hotel is now known as the village of Gray Gables, which contains the Museums at Aptucxet, a beach overlooking the canal that President Cleveland frequented himself, a railroad station, and a family-owned market featuring soups, sandwiches, groceries and specialty items with local flare.
President Ulysses Grant was the first President to visit Cape Cod in 1874. He arrived on Martha’s Vineyard aboard the River Queen ship at Highland Wharf at Oak Bluffs. The Dukes County Intelligencer reported that Grant and his family were greeted by a horse-drawn trolley car and transported to the Methodist Campground, where the former president was greeted by more than 30,000 adoring supporters over three days. The Martha’s Vineyard Times recounted that the 18th President then took the River Queen back to Hyannis, where he made a whirlwind tour of the towns of Hyannis and Wellfleet and the island of Naushon.
The Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown has hosted two Presidential events, the first of which involved Theodore Roosevelt laying the cornerstone of the historic monument in 1907. President Roosevelt sailed to Provincetown on his presidential yacht from his home in Oyster Bay, NY. The ship was appropriately named the Mayflower, coinciding with the dedication of a monument that honored the signing of the Mayflower Compact in Provincetown Harbor in 1620. Three years later, construction of the monument was complete and new President William Taft was on hand to dedicate it on August 5, 1910. Patrons can visit the Pilgrim Monument & Provincetown Museum to learn about these events and the role Provincetown has played in Pilgrim and American history.
President Joe Biden has continued his tradition of visiting Nantucket every Thanksgiving since 1975. N Magazine detailed that first Thanksgiving Biden spent as a single father with his two young sons and the future first lady Jill Biden. Biden wrote in his book Promise Me Dad, “We had some great years in that span, and we had some lousy years, but whatever was happening, whatever bumps and bruises we were suffering, we put it all aside and celebrated Thanksgiving in Nantucket.”
The Obamas and Clintons also have been known to enjoy annual vacations on Martha’s Vineyard. Boston Magazine detailed how Present Obama and First Lady Michelle enjoyed quiet dinners at the Beach Plum Inn and ice cream cones at Mad Martha’s with daughters Sasha and Malia. The Clintons have spent many summers on the Vineyard in and out of office, and have even crossed paths with the Obamas while on vacation. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were opponents in the 2008 Democratic Primary, but were seen together on the island at former presidential advisor Vernon Jordan’s 80th birthday party.
While President’s Day may occur during the winter month of February, there are still many ways to get outside and appreciate the beauty of Cape Cod in the same way our former fearless leaders did.