Last Updated on February 5, 2021 by Jim Ferri
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
by John Kobets
If you have an interest in history, as I do, some of the most fascinating places to visit in America are the presidential libraries and museums. There are 13 of them spread across 11 states.
Presidential libraries and museums are interesting places to visit because they give you a glimpse into the man and his personality, the historical decisions he had to make, and the issues of the times that we’ve lived in. I’ve visited only four, but each was so different it provided a unique experience.
While all contain an array of presidential memorabilia, photographs, flags, gifts from various foreign leaders, etc., as well as all the archives for presidential scholars, it’s usually other things that give you a real sense of the man who was in the Oval Office.
Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, for example, is a very impressive and dramatic library and museum, which sets it apart from other libraries I have visited. Set in Simi Valley outside of Santa Barbara, it provides beautiful and dramatic panoramic views of the Santa Barbara area and the surrounding mountains. The museum is fascinating; In addition to an exhibit exploring his relationship with General Electric early in his career, it also contains a piece of the Berlin wall and the Air Force One he utilized during his presidency.
Richard Nixon Library and Museum
Further south, the Richard Nixon Library and Museum in Yorba Linda details the life of the very controversial and consequential president. Although there’s a lot here detailing his presidential life — the SALT treaty with the Soviet Union, his groundbreaking visit to China, etc., as well as his campaign against Kennedy — one of the things I found interesting wasn’t inside the main complex at all. Outside is Nixon’s boyhood home, which was purchased by Nixon’s father as a kit from Sears and Roebuck. Only about 1200 square feet in size, it was moved to the site, and then restored. Tour it and you’ll get a sense of Nixon’s formative days as a young boy.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum
On a visit to my sister in New England, I managed to squeeze in a side trip to Boston to see the Kennedy Library. It’s set in a nice location overlooking the bay, although it didn’t seem nearly as large as the Reagan complex. Covered in glass on the outside, once you enter you realize the exhibit is on several levels, and like at the others covers his campaign for the presidency and contains a lot of gifts from foreign leaders to the president and Mrs. Kennedy. I didn’t see the rocking chair there, which surprised me, but maybe I just missed it.
Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum
Of the four presidential libraries and museums I visited, the biggest surprise for me was the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum. Renting a car in Kansas City, Kansas for the one-hour drive to Independence, Missouri, I first went to the Truman home, which was originally owned by his mother-in-law.
Inside it’s furnished exactly as it was in 1952 when Truman returned here from Washington, which also adds to its realism. And its setting, on only a quarter-acre, or so, piece of land gives it a more intimate feel. It’s also about the same size as those many Americans have lived in during some time in their life, and not fancy or anything, just very simple, attesting to Truman’s humble background. When you step out the front door you see neighbors going about their business as they do every day, just as Harry must have.
The Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, however, is across town and is the smallest of the presidential libraries. Since it was one of the earlier libraries it doesn’t have the high-tech multimedia components that you find in the Reagan, Nixon or Kennedy libraries, which makes it kind of interesting as well as simpler and more straightforward. Truman and his wife Bess are buried in a garden area on the grounds of the library.
If you go:
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
210 Parkside Drive
West Branch, IA 52358
Adults: $6 (62 years+ $3)
Franklin D. Roosevelt Library
4079 Albany Post Road
Hyde Park, New York 12538
Harry S. Truman Library and Museum
500 W. US Hwy. 24
Independence, MO 64050
Tel. (816) 268-8200
Adults: $8 (65 years+ $7)
Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum
200 S.E. 4th Street
PO Box 339
Abilene, KS 67410
Adults $10 (62 years+ $8)
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Boston, MA 02125
Adults $12 (62 years+ $10)
Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum
2313 Red River St.
Austin, TX 78705
Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Birthplace
18001 Yorba Linda Boulevard
Yorba Linda, California 92886
Adults: $11.95 (62 years+ $8.50)
Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum
1000 Beal Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
303 Pearl Street NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504-5353
Adults: $7 (Seniors $6)
Jimmy Carter Library and Museum
441 Freedom Parkway
Atlanta, Georgia 30307-1498
Adults: $8 (60 years+ $6)
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum
40 Presidential Drive
Simi Valley, California 93065
Adults: $15 (62 years+ $12)
George Bush Presidential Library and Museum
1000 George Bush Drive West
College Station, TX 77845
Adults: $10 (62 years+ $9)
William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum
1200 President Clinton Avenue
Little Rock, Arkansas 72201
Adults: $7 (62 years+ $5)
George W. Bush Presidential Library (temporary facility)
1725 Lakepointe Drive
Lewisville, TX 75057