JFK and Wexford: The political lives of a President and his holiday home


An aerial view of Wexford, which for two weeks served as the Kennedys’ weekend retreat.

Last week saw the anniversary of the birth – and death – of two iconic individuals. One lives in a police box and carries a screwdriver, the other in a white mansion and preferred… daiquiris to screwdrivers.

This blog focuses on the second guy, and manages to combine real estate, photography and history. Nifty stuff.


On October 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy and family enjoyed their first weekend at Wexford, their newly built retreat just west of Middleburg, Virginia. They were to spend just one more weekend there before that ill-fated trip to Dallas on 22 November.

Fifty years later, Wexford is on the market with a price tag of almost US$11 million. Though it spent little time in Kennedy ownership, its role in US politics and history was far-reaching.

Kennedy’s wife, Jackie, designed almost all of Wexford (named after the county from which the Kennedys descended). It was built on 39 acres of land overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains at a cost of $100,000. It contained seven bedrooms and 5.5 bathrooms, including one oversized bathtub imported from England especially for JFK. One of the bedrooms was to be a nursery for their youngest child, Patrick; tragically he was born six weeks early and lived just two days.


Wexford’s floor plan, as published (much to Jackie’s chagrin) by Newsweek.

It was the perfect house for a Commander in Chief. Kennedy’s bedroom came with a secret hideaway in the ceiling of his closet. It also had a bomb shelter beneath the stables, in case Cuba got cocky again, and a special communication room linked to Washington.

It was during the Kennedys’ second trip to Wexford, on 10 November, that the fateful decision to visit Dallas was made. New footage from the scene of the crime, taken by an American-Kiwi, was made public just last week.


Newly-published footage of JFK, taken just prior to his assassination. Photo by H. Warner King.

H. Warner King spent his Second World War in New Zealand before returning to Dallas to sell jewellery. A keen photographer, and avid Kennedy fan, he was determined to get some good shots of the president that day. And he did; unfortunately, as we know, he wasn’t the only one.


Texans pay their respects two days after Kennedy’s assassination. Photo by H. Warner King.

Warner returned to New Zealand in 1975 and brought his Kodachrome slides with him. After his death in 2005 his daughter, Sonia, discovered the Kennedy footage – and last week, 50 years after the assassination, they were published for the first time. Unfortunately it appears a distraught Warner destroyed some of the post-shooting photos, although one can hardly blame the guy. The full article by Sonia is well worth the read.

Also grieving, of course, was Jackie. After the shooting she visited Wexford only once more – to pick up some belongings that December. In November 1964, she sold the property to Quing Non Wong and his wife, Jacqueline.


The Kennedys’ master bedroom at Wexford.

By 1980, the house had switched allegiance to the Republicans. Then-presidential candidate Ronald Reagan rented the house from owner William Clements, Nixon’s Deputy Secretary of Defense and Governor of Texas, to rehearse for his debates with President Carter.

Fast-forward to present day and the property has lost none of its prestige. It has grown to 137 acres (55.4 hectares) and also has alternative power generators. Though now listed as a four-bedroom place it’s retained most of its original features, Secret Service bunker and all.

Check out the full listing here. If you can’t make the open home, do the next best thing and head to Yahoo Homes for home videos of the Kennedys’ visits, as well as a tour of the house. Looks like JFK beat us to real estate video by a few decades.


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