The Presidential faces of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln, scaled to men who would stand 465 feet tall, gaze out over the Black Hills from Mount Rushmore. This stop along South Dakota's Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway is sure to awe the most skeptical of visitors, filling each visitor with a sense of curiosity as to why these four American Presidents deserve such reverence. But the histories of these noble men are not confined to South Dakota alone. Encompassing both East and West, spanning from North to South, the America's Byways are rich with presidential history.
Theodore Roosevelt, twenty-sixth President of the United States, was a great conservationist. Pay homage to his contributions by visiting one of the National Parks he created. Hike or picnic at beautiful Crater Lake, located along Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway in Oregon. Alternatively, head south to Mesa Verde National Park, which is found on Colorado's portion of the Trail of the Ancients byway. You'll discover archaeological sites dating from AD 550 that cast light on the ancient culture of the Ancestral Puebloans that once thrived in this rugged desert environment.
Roosevelt fans in the Gulf States can visit Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge -- the first sanctuary of its kind in the United States. The Refuge lies on Indian River Lagoon National Scenic Byway in Florida and is a prime place to observe birds of various plumage, including a dozen federally listed threatened and endangered species.
Steer north for two more Roosevelt sites. Theodore Roosevelt Island on the George Washington Memorial Parkway was once a summer resort for wealthy Virginians. Additionally, check out "Teddy's" inauguration site, located on the Great Lakes Seaway Trail in New York. Features include tours, an exhibit gallery, and a gift shop.
A second Rushmore face, President Lincoln, also has his fair share of historical sights near America's Byways. The next time you find yourself on Historic Route 66, make a visit to Springfield, Illinois – Abraham Lincoln's hometown. Visit the Lincoln home, which has been restored to its 1860s appearance. While in Springfield, go to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to inspect an original copy of the Gettysburg Address written in the "Illinois Rail-Splitter's" own hand. Afterwards, head over to the Lincoln Tomb State Historic Site in Oak Ridge Cemetery, where you can pay your respects to this giant of a man at the 117-foot-tall granite tomb where Lincoln's body lies.
Visit Alton on the Meeting of the Great Rivers Scenic Route in Illinois and walk the ground where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas held their final debate in the race for U.S. Senate, contending over the issue of slavery. Life-size bronze statues now stand in Lincoln-Douglas Square to commemorate the event.
The Lincoln Highway was the first successful, all-weather, transcontinental automobile highway. On the Illinois section, take time to enjoy a statue of Lincoln as a volunteer soldier (Fort Dixon), the stone marker identifying where Lincoln gave a speech on the Lee County Court House grounds in 1858 (Dixon), and the Lincoln Building (Franklin Grove), which houses the national headquarters for the Lincoln Highway.
To begin your tour of Jeffersonian sites, drive the Historic National Road -- America's first federally funded interstate highway. Passing a multitude of historically significant sites, this byway traverses through Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland. Jefferson commissioned the road in 1806. One of its first travelers was none other than President George Washington.
Enter the Deep South to visit Historic Jefferson College, named for the famous president. The site is located along the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi, and was the first educational institution of higher learning in the state. Visitors can tour historic sites and explore a nature trail that winds up and down through wooded areas, a historic cemetery, and several creeks and streams.
For a few Washingtonian sites, drive to West Virginia and the Washington Heritage Trail. The mineral springs at Berkeley Springs have been prized since the time Native Americans first discovered them. From his first visit in 1748, George Washington became a regular at the warm springs, where you can still take a dip in the soothing 74.3 degree (Fahrenheit) water. You can see plenty of other Washington family sights along this themed byway, from cemeteries to workplaces to family residences.
On your way to Washington, D.C. on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, don't forget to visit nearby Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia. George Washington lived here for 45 years, and the estate still appears largely as it did in 1799. Tour the 21-room Mansion House, its surrounding gardens, slave quarters, stables, and greenhouse, and even visit George and Martha's final resting place, where a wreath-laying ceremony occurs daily.
Finally, return to Washington, D.C. on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, a fitting end to your tour of byways rich in presidential history. Here you can gaze up at the imposing Washington Monument, visit the Jefferson Memorial, and see the Library of Congress, to which Jefferson donated his personal library in 1814. Stand beside "Honest Abe's" knee at the Lincoln Memorial or tour Ford's Theatre, where John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln in 1865. And for those who entertain wishes of brushing shoulders with the current commander-in-chief, the White House is a veritable mecca of presidential history.
When Gutzon Borglum, creator of Mount Rushmore, saw the mountain his sculpture was to be carved into, he pointed to it and said, "America will march along that skyline." While their countenances may be carved in stone, the legacies of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln march along the skyline of America today. See for yourself on the America's Byways.
- Public domain. Photo by Stephen Keegan
- Public domain. Photo by A. Crane
- Public domain. Photo by Dennis Adams
- Public domain.
- Copyright © 2013 Alton Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau.
- Copyright © July 2002 National Road Association of Illinois.
- Public domain. Photo by Dennis Adams
- Public domain. Photo by Catie Drew