There are 13 Presidential Libraries and one Museum in the U.S. Presidential Library System, administered by the Office of Presidential Libraries, representing the 13 most recent presidents in U.S. history: Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, William J. Clinton and George W. Bush. Gerald Ford’s Library and Museum are in two separate cities in Michigan, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. They are all operated and overseen by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The George W. Bush Presidential Library, which is temporarily located in Lewisville, Texas, is number 13. The permanent Presidential Center, still under construction, will be located on the campus of Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, the alma mater of First Lady Laura Bush. Both the Kennedy and the Carter libraries are slated for upgrades and facelifts.
And although not officially sanctioned and maintained by NARA, libraries have been organized for several Presidents who preceded the official start of the Presidential Library Office. They are operated by private foundations, historical societies, or state governments, including the William McKinley, Rutherford Hayes, Calvin Coolidge, Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson libraries. For example, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is owned and operated by the State of Illinois. The homes of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams have been preserved as museums or historical sites as well. Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello, which Jefferson designed, along with nearby University of Virginia was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, as well as being a U.S. National Historical Landmark. The Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts, preserves the home of Presidents of the United States John Adams and John Quincy Adams, of U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain Charles Francis Adams, Sr., and of the writers and historians Henry Adams and Brooks Adams.
The national historical park’s eleven historic structures tell the story of five generations of the Adams family (from 1720 to 1927) including Presidents, First Ladies, U.S. Ministers, historians, writers, and family members who supported and contributed to their success. In addition to "Peacefield," home to four generations of the Adams family and also called the “Old House”, the park’s main historic features include: John Adams birthplace (October 30, 1735), the nearby John Quincy Adams birthplace (July 11, 1767); the Stone Library (built in 1870 to house the books of John Quincy Adams and believed to be the first presidential library) containing more than 14,000 historic volumes. United First Parish Church, where both Presidents and the First Ladies are entombed in the Adams Crypt are not now nor have they ever been administered by the National Park service. The Church is owned by the active congregation of Unitarian Universalists. The congregation has used its own resources including its endowments to preserve the building. In the past 10 years the congregation has invested almost $2 million to preserve the building for the next several generations of citizens and members of the congregation.
The Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace was not originally part of the presidential library system. The Nixon Presidential Materials Staff, which administers the Nixon presidential materials under the terms of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act, was part of NARA; the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace was run by a private foundation. In January 2004, Congress passed legislation that provided for the establishment of a federally operated Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, CA. In March 2005, the Archivist of the United States and John Taylor, the director of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation, exchanged letters on the requirements to allow the Nixon Library to become the twelfth federally funded Presidential library to be operated by the NARA, by 2007.
On October 16, 2006, Dr. Timothy Naftali began his tenure as the first federal director of the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace, and in the winter of 2006 NARA began transferring the 30,000 presidential gifts from the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff in College Park, Maryland to Yorba Linda, California. On July 11, 2007, the Nixon Foundation deeded the Library and Birthplace to the government of the United States. On the same day, the newly-renamed federal Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum officially opened.
Presidential Libraries can be found across the country. Visiting one gives you, your family or your students the opportunity to explore the rich history of our nation and the leaders who helped shape our society. At Presidential Libraries you will find an array of things including museums with interactive exhibits, information on a large variety public programs, important educational and historical events and vast archives and artifacts of our country’s history. The Museum at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, in partnership with NASA’s Johnson Space Center and Space Center Houston, tell the story of America’s exploration into space, the final frontier. The Reagan Library exhibits his retired Air Force One and movie memorabilia from Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Davis Reagan’s Hollywood years as well as artifacts and archives from Reagan’s years as Governor of California and President of the United States. The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library contains historical information highlighting the careers of Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Senator Edward M. Kennedy and U.S. Ambassador to England Joseph P. Kennedy as well as the lives of President Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy.
If you live close to a presidential library or museum it is worth a yearly trip or visits for special events. If you don’t live close to one it is a worthwhile vacation destination or should at least be a major stop on your vacation trip. Local schools would all benefit from a visit to any of the libraries or museums while studying U.S. History and especially the president whose library they are near. Online visits are also helpful to students.
With the exception of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter, every American president since Hoover is or has chosen to be buried at their presidential library. Kennedy is buried at Arlington National Cemetery; Johnson is buried at his ranch in the hill country of Texas, west of Austin; Carter plans to be buried near his home in Plains, Georgia.
Having had the privilege to visit several of these wonderful libraries and sites it would be my hope that every American visits at least one. It would also be my hope that national government would sponsor a general all encompassing Presidential Library highlighting those presidents who do not have individual libraries.
The greatest teacher and guarantee against repeated failure is a good understanding of the past!
By Marion Algier/Ask Marion