The House that Jackie Built: Home Movie Inside the Kennedy Weekend Home

Jackie Kennedy, Maude Shaw and the Kennedy children arrive at the family's Atoka home. 001

Later in life she mused that she might have studied architecture, so interested was she in the design and flowing layout of rooms as the primary blueprint for creating the interior furnishings of a beautiful home.

Jackie Kennedy came close to it in 1963.

Among First Ladies, three women drew out the sketch of room placement, exterior style and design and even some of the interior hardware of homes they would live in.

Lucretia Garfield and the home she helped design as her retirement place in Pasadena, California.

Lucretia Garfield and the home she helped design as her retirement place in Pasadena, California.

The second woman who was widowed by the assassination of her husband, Lucretia Garfield, worked with her distant cousins, the famous southern California Arts & Crafts architectural team of Greene & Greene in creating the renderings and overseeing the execution of her large home in Pasadena, California.

Grace Coolide helped design her retirement home Road Forks.

Grace Coolide helped design her retirement home Road Forks.

It was also as a widow that Grace Coolidge worked with architects in designing her own retirement home in Northhampton, Massachusetts known as Road Forks.It had unusual touches like a brass hand to serve as the front door-knocker and an entrance into the home on the second-floor with a modern winding staircase descending to a partially submerged first floor.

Lou Hoover and the creative home she designed in Palo Alto, California.

Lou Hoover and the creative home she designed in Palo Alto, California.

Perhaps the most ambitious, creative and beautiful of homes ever envisioned and executed by a woman who was a presidential wife was designed and built before she joined her husband in the White House, and which served as their home through his presidency and afterwards. It was the modernistic mesa-type mansion in Palo Alto, California close to Stanford University which Lou Henry Hoover helped to create, working closely with the architects on every detail of the building which is now used as the home of the college’s president.

The house Jacqueline Kennedy designed and saw built to her specifications was an indirect result of her great passion for riding horses, her favorite and primary means of regular exercise.

Glen Ora. (National Archives)

Glen Ora. (National Archives)

During the initial period of her husband’s presidency, the First Lady became famous for her “Thursday-to-Tuesday weekends,” away from the demands and scrutiny of living in the White House. She made these frequent stays away from the capital city at a rented home known as Glen Ora in Middleburg, Virginia.

An expert rider in both formal and informal manner, she joined the Orange County, Virginia Hunt Assocation. When it became known this was for foxhunting, there was a storm of protest from animal rights groups but as one who also respected animals, she quickly had her press secretary point out that no foxes were ever actually hunted to death but rather their scent was spread to lead on the hunt dogs, followed by the riders.

Jacqueline Kennedy riding at Glen Ora.

Jacqueline Kennedy riding at Glen Ora.

The two-year lease on Glen Ora, however, was not renewed by the owner who apparently resented the necessary changes made for security to her property.

President Kennedy walks with Charlie the dog at the First Family's weekend home Glen Ora in the Virginia hunt country.

President Kennedy walks with Charlie at the First Family’s weekend home Glen Ora in the Virginia hunt country.

Knowing she still needed a place to get away from Washington that was nearby and to continue her rigorous riding routine, she had her Middleburg friends Paul and Eve Fout search out and then purchase some property on her behalf, near the town of Atoka, on Rattlesnake Mountain in Virginia.

The house that Jackie designed had a simple layout on one floor, in what was essentially a u-shape with rooms facing a courtyard. There were ample woods to ramble and breathtaking views. The First Lady was pregnant with her son Patrick as the house neared completion in the early spring of 1963, and she had a bedroom created for her son John to share with the baby, which was due in early September.

Newsweek published a floorplan of the Kennedy home n Rattlesnake Mountain, in Atoka, Virginia which enraged the First Lady.

Newsweek published a floor-plan of the Kennedy home n Rattlesnake Mountain, in Atoka, Virginia which enraged the First Lady. (AP)

In the meanwhile, she had many of her favorite pieces of furniture moved out of the White House family quarters and down to her new house which she called “Wexford.”

The home’s name was her sentimental nod to the county in Ireland where the President’s ancestors had come to the United States from, and which he visited in June of 1963.

It proved to be such an emotionally a sentimental visit for the President that Jackie deeply regretted not being able to join him, even though she was then pregnant and forbidden to undertake lengthy travel.

The Kennedy family dining room at Wexford, their weekend home in Atoka, Virginia.

The Kennedy family dining room at Wexford, their weekend home in Atoka, Virginia.

The Kennedy family dining room at Atoka with the First Lady's Indian painting miniatures acquired during her 1962 trip there,hung on the wall.

The Kennedy family dining room at Atoka with the First Lady’s Indian painting miniatures acquired during her 1962 trip there,hung on the wall.

Then, unexpectedly came an abrupt change in plans. While at the presidential summer retreat at Hyannis, Massachusetts, Mrs. Kennedy gave birth to Patrick prematurely in August and he only lived two days.

From there, after recuperating from the emergency caesarian surgery, she proceeded to her mother’s home in Newport, Rhode Island where she was joined by the President in celebration of their tenth wedding anniversary in September.

Caroline Kennedy's room at the Atoka house.

Caroline Kennedy’s room at the Atoka house.

Depressed at the loss of her child, she made a brief stop at the White House in October and from there went with her sister on a European vacation to Greece, Turkey and Morocco to regain her mental and physical strength. By the time she returned, she was ready to finally enjoy the house she had spent so much energy designing and furnishing.

A room furnished to accomodate her infant son Patrick, who died at two days old.

A room furnished to accommodate her sons John and infant Patrick, who died at two days old.

As for her first foray into architecture, despite her love of the rarefied and old, the house that Jackie built was very much an mid-century ranch house.

No matter how many antiques she filled the rooms with, it still had the look of a high-end suburban house. The fireplace, for example, was simple and modern with no mantle or fancy touches. She even had a rust-colored shag rug in her dressing room. And there was a T.V. set and hi-fi.

Another corner of the bedroom intended to be shared by Patrick and John Kennedy.

Another corner of the bedroom intended to be shared by Patrick and John Kennedy.

The house had fifteen rooms, one side being a wall of sliding glass doors, measuring thirty-two feet and overlooking a flagstone terrace where there was a swing set for her children. There was also a bomb shelter – although the White House was reluctant to confirm this. It was extremely isolated – and that’s how Jackie wanted it.

“It’s the only house Jack and I ever built together, and I designed it all myself. I don’t want it to be exploited and photographed all over the place just because it was ours.”

The Kennedy's bedroom in their weekend home Wexford.

The Kennedy’s bedroom in their weekend home Wexford.

The day after she threw her best friend and confidante, White House Social Secretary Nancy Tuckerman a surprise birthday party, the First Lady headed down to Wexford with the President and their children. He had visited with her in the spring, along with his sister Jean Smith, her husband and son, but this would be their first full weekend there.

The President was happy to see how much pride Jackie felt about the house, but he was not too pleased about the great expense of it all, griping that they could be using Camp David, the equally isolated presidential retreat in a woodsy, sylvan setting.

Nevertheless, much to his surprise he found that he had greatly relaxed that weekend of October 24-25, so much so that he was looking forward to their next getaway there.

The livng room of the Kennedy family's Wexford home.

The living room of the Kennedy family’s Wexford home.

He invited their friends Ben and Toni Bradlee to spend the weekend of November 9-10 with him and Jackie and their children for what he hoped would be the first of many long winter getaway time there.

Of course, it would prove to be not only the Kennedy family’s last weekend at Wexford, but their last weekend together.

Here is a short home movie made of the home’s exteriors and interiors, set to “Days of Wine & Roses,” the popular song of that year:

All of the information here is adapted from the author’s book, The Kennedy White House (2001), which is protected by copyright. Most of the photographs in this article are also from that book, the original images being used here, researched, purchased and copied by the author. Original images used here but not in the book were also researched, purchased and copied at the author’s time and expense, and thus also carry the watermark.

If images appearing here are not the result of such original effort but rather uploaded, these do not carry the watermark designation.

If the book images, the appearance of which were color-corrected and possibly cropped and thus protected as original work by copyright, are scanned directly by others for use on the Internet, credit line should read: The Kennedy White House, Otherwise, the watermarked images should be used.

Categories: First Families, First Ladies, History, Presidential Homes, Presidents, The Kennedys

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15 replies »

  1. This is wonderful, Carl! I recognize so many objects that were in the two Sotheby’s sales that were not featured in photos of the other residences… Just fascinating…

  2. Am I incorrect in thinking that President and Mrs. Reagan also used this house at one time? If so, why?
    Is it now a private home?

    Thank you –


  3. Thanks again Carl. I own a copy of your bk on the Kennedy WH. It is one of the very few “coffee table” books I’ve ever purchased, and I enjoyed it immensely. Looking at the pictures on my PC, was like seeing them for the first time, much more “experiential” as my new age friends in CA would say. Again, like yesterday when I viewed the Black Watch Presentation, I felt a very heavy sadness. So much beauty, and yet we know a happily married First Lady would not spend Thurs-Tues away from her husband’s home. It appears Jackie fell in love w/her husband all over again, only to have him brutally snatched away.

    I think it’s time for me to watch your film on Oktoberfest:)

    • Thank you – as you have the talent for, you take in the whole story and crystallize it. I agree that there is a mixture here of heavy sadness but also hope., I think the real reason which nobody has ever delineated as to why the Kennedy story resonates so much for so many people beyond those who were political supporters or even alive then is that very human pathos we all have in our lives. There is serious tragedy and loss, depression and chronic or fatal illness, almost emotional weakness and compulsions in every single life. I don’t know one person who has escaped this. I think the Kennedy story offers a gradation of how they – really as characters in a national play – each coped in combating what struck them in an effort to move on and carry on with life. I also agree about the way seeing pictures illuminated on a pc or phone brings such a crisper dimension to those which one may already be familiar and introduces new ones with a bigger punch, yes very experiential as we say in California everyday! HAHA…

  4. Carl,
    I found this piece very interesting. Recently, I was doing a little research online about Wexford. According to a newspaper article that I found on a Middleburg, VA historical society website, Jackie did return at least once after the President’s death. I believe the article stated that she spent a weekend there in mid-December 1963 with her children. It mentioned that she had attended Mass alone at the local Catholic Church as well that weekend.

  5. Enjoyed reading this, Carl…..thank you…

  6. This is a house which has interested me a lot for some time now, and I was so happy to learn more by reading your article. Jackie’s decorating scheme is infinitely nicer than what I saw in the recent online photos of the house when offered for sale online: what a difference! California ranch house meets Bouvier French Provincial with just a faint touch of Federalist colonial–a really amazing mix. Many more acres were added to the property after Mrs. Kennedy sold it, and she would have loved all that extra room for riding, since she had only 39 acres when she owned it, or something like that. I have not often coveted a famous house, since there would always be people interested in, even obsessed with visiting it and perhaps even being willing to trespass to do so. But Wexford is an exception I’d make. Lovely, though hauntingly wistful. I think I could live there, though perhaps it should be a museum.

  7. So wonderful to hear from you again. I hope you are well. In so many ways, although the house was only briefly used, I think it may have meant the most to Jackie Kennedy, certainly until she helped design her home on Martha’s Vineyaard. And as for its look, it is refreshing to see that it reflected the taste of a real person of her era, and not one intent on impressing others with rooms full of antiques. Thanks for writing – and sorry for the delayed response.

  8. Carl: Yes, I’m fine, though the list of things I need to attend to seems to grow longer by the day, and the time to do them all in shorter. Have a really fine holiday season and new year! And let me know when you’re in town, and we can have a cup of coffee. That would be great.

  9. I have the same list… is horrific. I did try to contact you via email several times this past summer to grab a coffee but got no response and wondered if it had changed. You can leave it here, in response, and I will keep it private of course.


  1. The Kennedy Family’s Last Weekend Together in Home Movies « Carl Anthony Online
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