TRENTON, N.J. – President Donald Trump is not the first president to vacation in New Jersey.
But unlike Trump, who spent most of his “working vacation” at his private golf club in Bedminster, his 19th century predecessors sought relief along the New Jersey shore from Washington’s swamp-like summer before air-conditioning.
They joined wealthy friends, such as publisher George W. Childs and railroad sleeping car designer George Pullman, who often offered the chief executives the use of their “summer cottages.”
Seven presidents — Ulysses Grant, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley and Woodrow Wilson — spent parts of their summers in New Jersey, mostly in Long Branch. After the Civil War, it was not unusual to stroll the boardwalk and see Grant, in top hat and suit, with his family outside their 28-room cottage.
The cottages have since been torn down and replaced by mansions behind security gates. But the presidential summer vacations are commemorated at the 38-acre Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park in Long Branch, not far from where Trump attended a pre-election fundraiser at the home of the parents of his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.
Here are some details on past presidential New Jersey respites.
The nation’s 20th president visited Long Branch in May 1881 after taking office in March. That was where Republican James Garfield’s wife, Lucretia, was recovering from malaria, which had nearly killed her while in the White House, said park ranger Alan Gephardt, of the James Garfield National Historic Site in Ohio.
On June 25, Garfield’s diary shows he held a reception at the Elberon Hotel, where a predecessor, Ulysses S. Grant, visited for several minutes. “A tardy recognition of the respect due to the office he once held,” Garfield wrote.
Garfield returned to Washington and was shot at a train station July 2. One bullet grazed his arm, but the other became lodged in his back. Doctors tried to find the bullet, poking and prodding the president with unclean fingers and instruments.
Garfield had enough and on Sept. 6, he ordered that he be moved to Long Branch, where he and the doctors hoped the salt air would help, said Garfield Historic Site manager Todd Arrington.
People scrambled in Long Branch to construct siding so his rail car could reach his cottage, with some 200 men helping push the car up an incline, Arrington said.
Garfield died in the cottage Sept. 19, after only 200 days in office.
ULYSSES S. GRANT
The Civil War hero spent the most time in Long Branch of all the presidents who visited.
The Republican first visited in 1867 and continued to return after he became the nation’s 18th president in 1869.
A wealthy friend and other businessmen purchased a cottage for him, according to Mississippi State University associate professor David Nolen, who is assistant editor for the Grant presidential library.
“He conducted business and would go swimming. He also was a great horseman and enjoyed riding horseback or driving carriages through the area,” Nolen said.
While staying at the cottage after he was out of office in June 1884, he took a bite out of a peach.
“He said he felt a stinging sensation and when he drank water it burned like liquid fire,” Nolen said.
He eventually saw a doctor, who diagnosed Grant with advanced-stage cancer, which claimed his life in 1885.
Long Branch was in a bit of a funk in 1916.
“The town fathers recalled the benefit of presidential association and wanted a president to increase its profile,” Monmouth County historian Randall Gabrielan said. So they invited Democrat Woodrow Wilson, the state’s former governor and president of Princeton University.
The 28th president stayed in neighboring West Long Branch in 1916 at the mansion known as Shadow Lawn.
“Wilson insisted on paying rent, but some locals said it was a very modest fee,” Gabrielan said.
He drew a huge crowd when he made his acceptance speech weeks after his party nominated him for a second term.
Today, the site is home to Monmouth University’s Wilson Hall. The $10.5 million mansion, constructed in 1929, was featured in the 1982 film “Annie.”
WARREN G. HARDING
The Republican was not president when his mistress, Nan Britton, gave birth to a daughter in nearby Asbury Park in 1919. DNA results three years ago proved he fathered a child with her one year before he became president.
Harding was the nation’s 29th president in July 1921 when he signed the resolution that led to the treaty that officially ended World War I at the Raritan home of U.S. Sen. Joseph Frelinghuysen, where the president would go to golf.
CAPE MAY VISITS
The elite of Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia traveled to the seashore resort of Cape May by steamboat in the 1800s.
President Benjamin Harrison stayed in what today is known as Cape May Point and also at Cape May’s Congress Hall hotel.
Franklin Pierce checked in for a 10-day visit in 1855 at the hotel, which continues to operate.
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