Presidential ties to Charleston

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President Donald Trump visiting Boeing in North Charleston | Source: North Charleston via Wikimedia Commons

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Though we may be 500+ miles away from the nation’s capital, our city has its fair share of close ties to the White House – starting with the fact that the White House itself was designed by a Charlestonian.

In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt went as far as to declare CHS to be the “Presidential Port” for its convenient location + hospitable accommodations. And FDR is by no means our only fan: Over one-third of our Commanders in Chief hold some kind of tie to the Holy City.

George Washington (#1)

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Washington at the City of Charleston | Public domain image

It was our nation’s very first president, George Washington, who set the precedent for visiting Charleston when he stopped here for about 10 days as part of his Southern Tour. The Revolutionary War had just ended, and he was curious to see the impact it had on Charleston – a city that had been occupied by the Redcoats for nearly three years.

To commemorate the president’s visit to Charleston, artist John Trumbull was commissioned by the city to paint the scene of George Washington’s arrival. Leaders were unhappy with the first attempt, though, and asked Trumbull to give it another go.

Was Trumbull offended by the constructive criticism? Perhaps. Some speculate that’s why the view of the city is partially blocked by a certain part of Washington’s horse.

James Monroe (#5)

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The city of Charleston commissioned Samuel F. B. Morse to paint a portrait of President James Monroe during his 1819 visit | Image credit: White House Historical Association (White House Collection)

The nation’s fifth president, James Monroe, visited Charleston as part of his own tour of the South in 1819. In true Charleston fashion, the city celebrated the president’s arrival with a BBQ – but rather than the classic pulled pork or beef brisket, they barbecued an ox. While here, he stayed at St. Andrew’s Hall (which was later destroyed by a fire) and visited both the Confederate Home (62 Broad Street) and the Laurens-Rutledge House (117 Broad Street).

During his visit, artist (and the inventor of the telegraph) Samuel F. B. Morse painted Monroe’s portrait. Today, the painting hangs in Charleston’s City Council Chambers (alongside that portrait of Washington). A replica hangs in the Blue Room of the White House.

Abraham Lincoln (#16)

Lincoln himself never made it to Charleston, but he gets an honorable mention here on behalf of his granddaughter, Jessie Lincoln Randolph. Randolph bought the famous Sword Gate House (Legare Street) in 1930 with the intention of making it her summer home. The home is back on the market today. The asking price? Just under $15 million.

Theodore Roosevelt (#26)

In 1902, Teddy Roosevelt visited Charleston in order to attend the South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition. While here, he visited the Mills House hotel, Villa Margherita, + had dinner at the Lowndes’ Grove Plantation House.

William Howard Taft (#27)

Taft visited his good friend, then-mayor R. Goodwyn Rhett, during his presidency. He climbed to the top of the newly constructed Peoples Building (a.k.a. Charleston’s first skyscraper) and had dinner with Rhett at his house (now the John Rutledge House Inn). It was for that very dinner that Rhett’s cook, William Deas, invented she-crab soup.

Click here to read the full origin story of she-crab soup.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (#32)

FDR was a frequent visitor of the Holy City, as he was a close friend of former mayor Burnet R. Maybank. In 1935, he visited The Citadel. When he took a cruise to visit South America in 1936, his ship departed from Charleston. During WWII, Roosevelt spent four weeks in Georgetown County at Hobcaw Barony – the longest vacation he took throughout his four terms as president.

More on the historical significance of Hobcaw Barony here.

Dwight D. Eisenhower (#34)

Ike was a longtime friend of famed Citadel president Mark Clark. In April 1955, he received an honorary degree from the school.

Gerald Ford (#38)

President Gerald Ford also received an honorary degree from The Citadel.

John F. Kennedy (#35)

JFK was stationed here during his time in the U.S. Navy. While in Charleston, he carried out an (pre-Jackie O) affair with a woman named Inga Arvad – a Danish immigrant who, at the time, was suspected to be a Nazi spy (in part because of her ties to Adolf Hitler). When the two spent the night together at the former Fort Sumter Hotel (room 132, to be exact), it was bugged by the FBI. An agent covertly followed them around town during their visit as well.

More on that wild tale – as well as more fascinating history behind the hotels of Charleston’s past here.

Jimmy Carter (#39)

President Jimmy Carter made a quick stop in Charleston in July 1977 to address the Southern Legislative Conference at the Gaillard.

George H.W. Bush (#41)

Charleston held a special place in the heart of President George H.W. Bush. His wife, First Lady Barbara Bush, was studying at Ashley Hall when the two met + fell in love. The couple was married just under 73 years– right up until both of their deaths in 2018– making their marriage the longest in presidential history. I guess what they say about Charleston being one of the most romantic cities in the world is true.

George W. Bush (#43)

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President George W. Bush at Charleston Air Force Base in 2006 | Source: White House Archives

Just three months after the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush spoke at The Citadel to rally support for the War on Terror. He returned in 2006 to speak at the Air Force Base on the same issue.

Barack Obama (#44)

obama speaking at reverend clementa pinckney's funeral

President Obama delivering the eulogy at Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s funeral in 2015 | Source: White House

In his acceptance speech, President Barack Obama famously stated his campaign “was not hatched in the halls of Washington – it began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston.He was speaking literally; during his campaign, Obama visited Charleston, delivering a speech at a fundraising event from the piazza of 21 King Street. Long before that (and before even becoming a household name), in 2002, Obama spoke to a CofC political science class as a state senator from Illinois.

During his presidency, Obama traveled to Charleston in 2015 to deliver the eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney in the wake of the shooting at Emanuel AME. In his remarks, the president honored all nine victims whose lives were lost in the attack, and even sang “Amazing Grace.”

Though Obama makes no secret of his Chicago roots, he does have a couple of interesting ties to Charleston. One – the iconic “HOPE” posters used during his campaign were created by Charleston’s own Shepard Fairey. Additionally, while former first lady Michelle too hails from Chicago, her ancestry can be traced back to slavery in Georgetown, S.C.

Donald Trump (#45)

Just weeks after his inauguration, President Donald Trump visited Boeing’s facility in North Charleston to stress his “America First” policy.

The real-estate-mogul-turned-politician previously had ties to industrial property in North Charleston, though the property changed hands in 2018. Even more interestingly, in a report by The Post and Courier in 2019, developer Michael Bennett claimed the Trump family expressed interest in buying the rights to put the Trump name on the newly-opened Hotel Bennett – but Bennett insisted on keeping his own family name on the luxury hotel. In other words, Charleston could’ve had its very own Trump Tower.


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