Facts about Camp David and Other Presidential Recreational Facilities in History

FDR found the Rapidan Camp’s terrain impassable for his wheelchair. National Archives

2. Roosevelt found Camp Rapidan to be impassable due to his wheelchair

Franklin Roosevelt visited Camp Rapidan, entranced by Hoover’s reports of the excellent trout fishing to be had there. FDR was a devoted fisherman as well, but his visit to the camp left him disappointed. It was simply too rustic, and moving about the trails and pathways in the Virginia hemlock forest in which the camp was built was impossible for the wheelchair bound president. Roosevelt put the idea of a presidential camp aside, and instead took longer breaks from his routine by traveling by train to his estate at Hyde Park in New York. For shorter breaks, and to enjoy some fishing, he preferred to use the presidential yacht, USS Potomac.

Potomac was a converted Coast Guard cutter, commissioned by the navy in 1936. The navy was responsible for its operation, and for taking care of the president when he was aboard. The ship was modified to accommodate the president’s disabilities, with ramps and elevators installed with his wheelchair in mind. FDR loved the yacht and resorted to it frequently, cruising along the Potomac, Chesapeake Bay, and in the Atlantic. It provided him with sufficient relaxation to ignore the absence of a presidential retreat ashore, and navy communications systems kept him in touch with Washington as needed.