Rapidan’s Brown House, or the Summer White House
June 5, 2019
Before Camp David, there was Rapidan Camp. It doesn’t look like much, but Rapidan Camp is one of the best presidential sites we had yet to visit. When we visited the site, we really got a sense of what made Herbert Hoover tick.
Built in a valley at the confluence of two trout streams, Rapidan Camp is a peaceful retreat in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, a truly serene environment for rest and relaxation.
BUILDING A PRESIDENTIAL RETREAT
In 1929, Herbert and Lou Hoover bought land for a presidential weekend retreat in the Virginia mountains to escape the humidity of Washington. President Hoover had three requirements for his retreat:
- It had to be within 100 miles of Washington, D.C.
- In the summer months, it had to be cooler than Washington, D.C.
- It had to have a trout stream.
The Hoovers paid for Rapidan Camp, and the Marine Corps built it between 1929 and 1932. The 164-acre retreat included 13 cabins, stone structures, walking bridges, trout ponds, waterfalls, and rock gardens.
After his loss in the 1932 presidential election, Hoover donated the camp to Virginia. In 1935, Rapidan Camp became part of Shenandoah National Park. Today, you’ll see three of the original buildings: The Brown House, the Prime Minister Cabin, and the Creel.
In his book, Fishing for Fun and to Wash Your Soul, Hoover writes about the meditative benefits of fishing and the need to protect our country’s natural resources.
“THE REASON FOR IT ALL IS THAT FISHING IS FUN AND GOOD FOR THE SOUL OF MAN.”
-Herbert Hoover, Fishing for Fun and to Wash Your Soul
To tour the Brown House you’ll need a reservation arranged with the National Park Service here or by calling (877) 444-6777. From the Byrd Visitor Center, it’s a 2.5 hour journey (total time).
If you take the tour, you’ll hop in a van to get to the camp. You may also decide to hike the trails to reach Hoover’s retreat. It’s a 4-mile round trip hike from Milam Gap on Skyline Drive (mile 52.8).
Having our kids along for the journey, we decided to take the van tour, but several fellow tourists took the trails and met us at Rapidan. Thanks for the phenomenal tour, David!
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK
Established in 1935, Shenandoah National Park is a marvel of nature. It’s a great park to experience on foot or by vehicle. Hike a trail for a few hundred feet or for a couple miles. Or, experience the park by vehicle on Skyline Drive.
The 105-mile Skyline Drive winds along a high ridge throughout the entire park. Pull off at many of the overlooks to take in the magnificent views. On your journey, you’re sure to see deer, black bears, and other wildlife roaming the park.
Shenandoah is about 70 miles from Washington, D.C., so it’s sure to be on the way for many road trips to our nation’s capital. Get out there and go see nature and history at Shenandoah National Park.
Related: The Periodic Presidents
All photos by PJ & Jamie Creek, except where noted.
We’re the Periodic Presidents. We make history infographics, take brown sign detours, and basically try to make history cool. To read more, check us out at: periodicpresidents.com
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