Over the years, there have been six presidents who graced the East End with their presence.
One of them was not George Washington, but he tried. He’d won the war, and though president was in poor health when he came out Long Island in April 1790. He had hoped to come to Montauk but only got as far as Setauket, a three-day journey in a carriage over bumpy roads. Then, tired out, he turned back and returned to New York City.
In 1791, Thomas Jefferson came out east with James Madison, together but before either became president. They were not headed for the Hamptons. The goal was to stop at the William Floyd Estate in Mastic Beach and, using that as a base, go see the remnants of the Unquachog Indian tribe, where Jefferson hoped to find someone who still spoke the old Unquachog language so he could translate it into English before it went extinct. He did find an old woman who spoke it, and he then joyfully spent a day with her writing the translations in a large notebook. He put the notebook into a trunk, returned with it to Philadelphia and then had it shipped to his estate in Virginia. Unfortunately, a stevedore stole the trunk, found nothing in it of value and threw everything in it into the harbor, keeping the trunk.
President Tyler courted and won the hand of the young Julia Gardiner of East Hampton and married her in 1844, while in office. He turned out to be an awful president. Before his term ended, he was thrown out of his party and did not even run for a second term.
Chester Arthur, a lieutenant in the corrupt Tammany Hall administration of New York City, built a large mansion in Sag Harbor, which, when he became president in 1880, became his summer White House. He is generally ranked in the bottom quarter of effective presidents by historians, largely for signing into law the Chinese Exclusion Act, the first time a president had ever authorized blocking immigration of people because of their race. He was not selected by his party to run for a second term. (I should note that Chester Arthur was a vice president who got to be president because the president on his watch died—James Garfield was shot.)
Teddy Roosevelt spent a month in Montauk with his Rough Riders and tens of thousands of other members of the U.S. Army in 1898, after the Spanish-American War. Many were sick with tropical fevers and it was felt that with the war over, they should be made to make camp in a remote area until they were no longer contagious before being allowed back to their hometowns.
Richard Nixon spent vacations at the Montauk Lake Club and Gurney’s Inn resort in Montauk during the years he was president, and even wrote the acceptance speech for his 1968 nomination at Gurney’s. After he was threatened with impeachment in 1974, he resigned.
Bill and Hillary Clinton rented summer houses in the Hamptons during his presidency and afterwards. He was at the Artist-Writers Game while still governor of Arkansas, and was there again last summer. He survived being impeached while in office.
Donald Trump visited the Hamptons occasionally before he became president. In the late 1980s he started a helicopter shuttle service between East Hampton Airport and Manhattan, but it failed. He also toyed with the idea of building a golf course in Sebonac but gave up on it after a while. Others came along to build it. I believe Trump also became a provisionary member of the Maidstone Club during those years. He once praised Dan’s Papers on the book jacket of the book In the Hamptons I wrote in 2008. He also was impeached, but survived it.
Well, that’s it.