As small as it is, the East End of Long Island has had its share of presidential visits going all the way back to our very first Commander in Chief, George Washington, and continuing through history up to our current president Donald Trump. In honor of President’s Day 2018, we’re taking a look back at some of those great men and what they were doing here.
George Washington actually never made it to Montauk, but America’s first POTUS was instrumental in getting our most enduring landmark, the Montauk Lighthouse, built. It eventually broke ground in 1796. Well before that, in April 1790, Washington went off to Long Island on a four-day outing via horse-drawn coach. He made no plan. He rode out two days and came back in the last two. But he kept a diary. In New Utrecht, he “dined at the house of a Mr. Barre. He had his horses watered in Hempstead. In West Bay Shore he stayed at the Sagtikos Manor, home of Squire Isaac Thompson. The next day he “halted awhile” at Samuel Green’s place in West Sayville before heading out to spend the night at Hart’s Tavern in Patchogue. The next day he went north and spent the night in Setauket at a tavern owned by Austin Roe, a former member of Washington’s Culper Spy Ring, which he declared a “tolerably decent tavern.” Then he went back to New York City. Read Dan Rattiner’s full story here.
Tenth U.S. president John Tyler married East Hampton’s own Julia Gardiner, of the Gardiner’s Island Gardiners. Educated at East Hampton’s Clinton Academy, Gardiner was Tyler’s second wife and second First Lady. Just as he became president from William Henry Harrison‘s untimely death, she eventually became First Lady because Tyler’s wife Letitia died a year into his presidency. Read Dan Rattiner’s full story here.
Chester A. Arthur, America’s 21st president (1881–1885) owned a “Summer White House” on Union Street in Sag Harbor. Read about Arthur’s former home here.
Teddy Roosevelt was one of the greatest Americans who ever lived. That he spent a tumultuous month in Montauk and was visited by the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, the Secretary of War and several Congressmen to discuss his future is hardly known. This needs to change. Before he became our 26th president in 1901, Roosevelt led his Rough Riders to victory in Cuba during the Spanish American War in 1898. Upon completion of this assignment, Roosevelt’s predecessor, President William McKinley (1897–1901), moved the now diseased Rough Riders and U.S. Fifth Army soldiers from Santiago to Montauk where they could recover without spreading illness. Remember, Montauk was quite uninhabited back then. During this time, McKinley visited Roosevelt in Montauk, adding another presidential visitor to our list. Read Dan Rattiner’s full story here.
Richard Nixon, our 37th president, frequented the East End, including Montauk. He wrote his acceptance speech while staying in the Skippers Cottage at Gurney’s. Nixon spent time at Gurney’s before his presidency, during and after it. He kept a low profile in those years and asked Gurney’s not to publicize his presence here, so they didn’t. He wanted to be alone with his wife, Pat, and, of course, with his entourage, which included Secret Service men. Both playwright Edward Albee and Dick Cavett had encounters with Nixon in Montauk—Albee’s at Gurney’s and Cavett’s at Gosman’s. Read Dan Rattiner’s full story here.
Bill Clinton, our 42nd president, is well known for his love of the Hamptons. He and his wife, former Secretary of State and NY Senator Hillary Clinton—who quite nearly became our 45th president in 2016—have rented a home in the Town of East Hampton for years. Clinton never visits without enjoying a meal at The Blue Parrot in East Hampton, and he’s attended the Annual Artists and Writers Charity Softball Game multiple times over the years. It also doesn’t hurt that the Hamptons has become a key place for fundraising for the Democratic couple. The Clintons started renting on the South Fork back in 2011 when they stayed at Elie Hirschfeld’s 12,000-square-foot mansion on Lily Pond Lane for the last week of August, but they eventually downsized. First, in 2013, they rented the $200,000-a-month, 6-bedroom home of Republican donor Michael Saperstein in Sagaponack, where she penned Hard Choices, but they now stay at the art collector and real estate queen’s more modest home overlooking Gardiner’s Bay. Read about their 2017 visit here.
George W. Bush, who became our 43rd president in 2001, has done some fundraising in the Hamptons, but his most notable visit actually occurred in 2013 during Barack Obama’s presidency. The former President came to Tuckahoe that September, teeing off at the National Golf Links of America with the USA Team for the Walker Cup, a biennial contest pitting top amateur American golfers against British and Irish amateurs. The National Golf Links hosted the first Walker Cup in 1922, naming it for George Herbert Walker, who was the U.S. Golf Association president in 1920 and is the great-grandfather of George W. Bush. Former First Lady Laura Bush enjoyed some shopping in Southampton while her husband hit the links. Read all about it here.
Our current and 45th president, Donald Trump, has quite a history with the Hamptons, though you might think he’d come here more given his love of golf. Still, long before he had presidential dreams, that we know of, Trump launched an innovative new business, running commuter helicopters between New York City and the Hamptons for wealthy South Fork homeowners. From 1989 to 1992 Trump had two 234 Commercial Chinook choppers and three 24-seat Sikorsky S-61 choppers that plied the Hamptons route between La Guardia and East Hampton Airport. He also had a Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma, for special executive flights. Long after the service stopped, Trump landed one of his personal choppers at East Hampton Airport for a presidential campaign fundraiser at the home of Jets owner Woody Johnson. Read Dan Rattiner’s full story here.