Only one U.S. president was born in Connecticut, yet you would be hard-pressed to find any plaque, monument or historic site commemorating that. As our state moves forward with its tourism campaign, honoring the only Constitution State native to occupy the White House is something to consider.
New Haven is the birthplace of the nation’s 43rd president. Look at the roster of presidents, and Connecticut appears once, next to the name of George W. Bush. Democrats in this blue state cringe at that, but this isn’t about politics, it is about history. We all know Bush moved to Texas at a young age, and always considered himself a Texan, but he can’t change the fact he is a native nutmegger. Says so in his passport. Of course, it didn’t help him in 2000 and 2004 when he lost our state in the presidential elections.
I’m a big fan of presidential history, and growing up in Norwood, Massachusetts we had plenty of it to enjoy. The birthplace of John F. Kennedy is in Brookline, his library in Dorchester, and the birthplaces of John Adams and John Quincy Adams in nearby Quincy. I even remember visiting the summer home of Grover Cleveland in Bourne before it burned to the ground in the 1970s. Hammersmith Farm in Newport, Rhode Island was a big attraction as a Kennedy summer White House before it was sold to a private buyer. It’s not far from the Eisenhower House, where Dwight Eisenhower spent some summer vacations.
When I lived in Michigan I visited the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids several times. W hile working as an anchor in Rockford, Illinois, I toured another presidential site, the Ronald Reagan boyhood home in Dixon, and even asked the former president a few questions in his backyard. Read about that here: http://dennishouse.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/my-ronald-reagan-exclusive/
Presidential libraries and historic sites like the ones I mentioned and ones in Arkansas, Florida and elsewhere are huge tourist attractions, and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum opening this week in Dallas, Texas should be no exception. The cost to build it was a quarter of billion dollars, and it created hundreds of jobs in construction and a smaller number for library staff. I can’t help but think, “what if?”
What if the library had been built in New Haven? It really isn’t that far-fetched. After a president is re-elected, discussion begins on where to put the presidential library. There is now debate as to where President Obama’s library will go and both Chicago and Honolulu want it. For President Bush, Texas seemed the obvious choice, but it already has two presidential libraries for the first President Bush and Lyndon Johnson. Why not Connecticut?
Not only was Bush was born here, but his father grew up in Greenwich and lived in New Haven and his grandfather Prescott Bush was our U.S. Senator in the 50s and 60s. Four generations of his family went to Yale. A Bush library in New Haven could have also had exhibits dedicated to the other presidents who attended Yale; Bill Clinton and William Howard Taft. Its proximity to New York would have been an ideal place to store the 9/11 papers for scholars to research. I thought the Elm City would have been a perfect fit.
When the library topic first came up, I contacted New Haven Mayor John DeStefano to see if the city was going to make a pitch for the landmark to be built in his struggling city. Through a spokesman, I received a highly partisan response, that with all due respect Mr. Mayor, may have been short-sighted. “President Bush’s urban policies have hurt New Haven more than a presidential library would help.” I guess New Haven didn’t need a $250 million tourist attraction. Something tells me if Governor Malloy had been running the state then, Connecticut would have courted the Bushes. To be fair, it might have been a losing battle. In 2007, I asked then First Lady Laura Bush if Connecticut would be a good place for the library, and she told me she wanted it in Texas.
Politics aside, there ought to be some effort in New Haven to celebrate its place in presidential history. Perhaps a sign at Yale New Haven Hospital, maybe the home where a baby George Bush first lived with another future president could become an historic site. 37 Hillhouse Avenue is now home to the Yale Economics Department.