5 former national convention host cities

G. Widman for GPTMC

The President’s House, home to George Washington and John Adams from 1790 to 1800, is a museum in Philadelphia, the nation’s former capital.

With two southeastern cities taking turns in the spotlight (Tampa, Fla., host of last week’s Republican National Convention, and Charlotte, N.C., currently welcoming delegates to the Democratic National Convention), we thought it was a great time to showcase a few other notable destinations that have witnessed political history. Some former host cities have not seen a convention since the 19th century, and others welcomed the political machines during the current economic downturn. All have seen their fair share of political drama, backstabbing, and glad-handing. Whether launching political careers or welcoming travelers, these cities get our vote for great destinations.


Slideshow: See why these national convention host cities are worth visiting

1. Cincinnati

Hosted DNC: 1856, 1880 
Hosted RNC: 1876 

Presidential connection: Cincinnati’s presidential connections all seem to come in threes. The city has hosted three national conventions. Additionally, three presidents have called Cincinnati home: Civil War general Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison and William Howard Taft. 

Historic appeal: Check out the William Howard Taft National Historic Site, a two-story Greek Revival house where the former president was born and raised. Restored to its original splendor, visitors can tour Taft’s birthplace, four period rooms that reflect his family life, and an education center with family artifacts and an animatronic figure of William Taft’s son Charlie, which tells his family’s history.  

Campaign stops: At the Cincinnati Zoo Botanical Garden, felines now have a new home in the form of Cat Canyon. Opened on June 30, the renovated exhibit allows visitors to peer into the eyes of a Malayan tiger (separated only by an inch of glass), and includes an outdoor area that showcases white tigers and snow leopards in their natural setting. Also newly opened is the American Sign Museum, which recently moved to its new home in Cincinnati’s Camp Washington. Housed in a former clothing and parachute factory, the exhibit displays signs and advertisements from the past, including neon billboards and classic painted banners. 

2. Denver

Hosted DNC: 1908, 2008  

Presidential connection: The Mile High City hosted the Democratic National Convention twice – 100 years apart. In 1908, Denver was the first western city to host a convention for a major national party, and it was the first to accredit women. In 2008, the Rocky Mountain capital made history when Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, an African-American, won the nomination for president. The convention also saw the late Massachusetts Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy deliver a poignant speech before the delegates, paraphrasing his brother’s 1961 inaugural address and his own 1980 convention speech.  

Historic appeal: Denver had only been a city for 50 years when it hosted the 1908 Democratic National Convention. To accommodate the large crowds the convention would bring, the city built the second largest auditorium in America (after New York’s Madison Square Garden). Denver’s Municipal Auditorium, now named the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, is part of the city’s performing arts complex – the largest under one roof in the United States – with 10 performance spaces on a 12-acre site. 

Campaign stops: History Colorado Center, a 200,000-square-foot, $110.8 million museum, just opened in April 2012. This new cultural attraction hosts high-tech and hands-on exhibits that immerse visitors in stories of Colorado’s past. The museum highlights a wide spectrum of historic accounts. Exhibits allow visitors to experience pivotal moments in the Centennial State’s history. In 1858, William Green Russell, a miner, discovered a small gold deposit in what is now Confluence Park. This event triggered the Gold Rush of the late 19th century and the founding of the city of Denver that same year. Located on Denver’s 850-mile bike trail network, the river park is surrounded by attractions. Ride the Platte River Trolley to the Downtown Aquarium to see stingrays and sharks, The Children’s Museum of Denver, or dine in the nearby neighborhoods of Riverfront, LoHi, and Highlands.

3. Miami

Hosted DNC: 1972 
Hosted RNC: 1968, 1972  

Presidential connection: South Florida’s presidential history is murkier than the water in the Everglades. Miami hosted the conventions that led to the nominations of George McGovern, a Democrat, and Richard Nixon, a Republican. Nixon defeated McGovern in one of the largest landslides in American history before leaving the White House in shame. Additionally, President-elect Franklin Roosevelt escaped an assassination attempt in Miami in 1933.  

Historic appeal: Coffee lovers and conspiracy theorists will enjoy a visit to Little Havana. Many people believe that the CIA trained Cuban exiles to assassinate John F. Kennedy, a theory that was explored by author Joan Didion, who claimed that Cuban-Americans considered JFK to be the second-most hated man in Miami (after Fidel Castro). The Miami Beach Convention Center, site of all three of the city’s national conventions, still plays host to major events, including Art Basel, the internationally renowned contemporary art festival. 

Campaign stops: Wearing white is very chic on South Beach, but it’s also trendy at Jungle Island, where they’ve added a white lion, two royal white tigers and two snow tigers to their new exhibit. Two of Miami’s most prominent universities are celebrating the city’s diversity through exhibits featuring artists that represent the city’s Caribbean and Latin influences. Frost Museum of Art at Florida International University is showcasing Jamaican artists, while the Lowe Museum of Art at the University of Miami is home to an exhibit of Mexican devotional works.

4. Philadelphia

Hosted DNC: 1936, 1948 
Hosted RNC: 1856, 1872, 1900, 1940, 1948, 2000 

Presidential connection: Philadelphia hosted the first ever Republican National Convention in 1856, followed by five more, most recently in 2000, at which George W. Bush was nominated. The city is also home to the National Constitution Center, where President Barack Obama gave his speech on race in 2008, and where former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush both received the Liberty Medal for their work with victims of Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami.  

Historic appeal: As the nation’s former capital, Philadelphia has a number of “White Houses” within its limits. The President’s House, home to George Washington and John Adams from 1790 to 1800, is now an exhibition on slavery, and the Deshler-Morris House, in Germantown, the oldest official presidential residence (which also served as George Washington’s summer retreat) are both open to the public.

Campaign stops: Feel the passion of “From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen,” a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit at the National Constitution Center. The show captures The Boss’ career from his early days to his anthems with the E Street Band, and includes more than 150 artifacts like guitars, outfits and handwritten lyric manuscripts. Just across the Delaware River, Adventure Aquarium is currently holding an exhibit on the Megalodon, a gigantic prehistoric shark that ruled the oceans more than 2 million years ago. Guests can enter its gaping jaws through a 60-foot-long sculpture, touch a full set of its razor-sharp teeth, and find out what modern species are related to this ancient beast.

5. St. Louis

Hosted DNC: 1876, 1888, 1904, 1916
Hosted RNC: 1896  

Presidential connection: William McKinley won the nomination for president here in 1896 during the city’s only National Republican Convention. The 25th president eventually led the nation into the Spanish-American War and the modern era of American history. Woodrow Wilson, the nation’s 28th president who led the nation during World War I, won his nomination in a landslide vote: 1,092 ayes to 1 nay.  

Historic appeal: Ulysses S. Grant is known as the 18th president and the Civil War general that led the Union forces. In St. Louis, visitors can follow in Grant’s footsteps. At White Haven, the national historic site for the president, his family life is on display with many free activities. Grant’s Farm, a 281-acre farm and petting zoo, was owned by the former president in the 1850s. Now part of the Anheuser-Busch family, a remnant of Grant’s residency remains. Grant’s Cabin (nicknamed Hardscrabble by the former president), a home that the former president built in three days for his family, sits on the property.  

Campaign stops: After closing its doors for more than 20 years, the Peabody Opera House reopened in October 2011. The 3,100-seat venue with 12 luxury boxes and a two-story lobby constructed entirely of Tennessee and St. Genevieve marble hosts Broadway, theatricals and concerts. St. Louis is known as a baseball city, but it’s also home to the World Chess Hall of Fame. Originally a museum in the basement of the organization’s headquarters in New Windsor, N.Y., followed by a brief stint in Miami, the museum opened in September 2011 in St. Louis’ Central West End. It houses a permanent collection, temporary exhibitions highlighting the great players like Bobby Fischer, historic games, and the game’s cultural history. Admission is free.

Slideshow: See the entire list of national convention host cities.

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