The “Young Lion of the West” Taylor just missed. Rochester in 1853. Reproduced in 1973 by HISTORICAL URBAN PLANS, Ithaca, New York from a lithograph in the Cornell University Library. This is number 208 of an edition limited to 500 copies. [Owned by David Kramer]

In keeping with our Presidential Visits to Rochester series (below), today Michael J. Nighan looks at two Presidents who just missed visiting Rochester:  Zachary Taylor and James Monroe.


The old adage says that “close only counts in hand grenades and horse shoes”. But perhaps to this cliché we can add that close also counts for presidents who almost, but not quite, made it to Rochester. The cases in point being Zachary Taylor and James Monroe (yes, THAT Monroe, the one the county is named after).

Both men passed through Western New York during the first year of their presidencies. Both sailed by the mouth of the Genesee River, probably within shouting distance. And sadly, both failed to stop.


I will not say I would not serve
if the good people were imprudent enough to elect me.

Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor

Following on the footsteps of Andrew Jackson, and William Henry Harrison (and to a lesser extent, George Washington), Zachary Taylor was elected president based on little more than his reputation as a successful general.

Taking office in 1849 in the midst of a national cholera epidemic (150,000 American died, including 8,000 in Cincinnati 5,000 in New York City, 3,500 in Chicago, plus Taylor’s immediate predecessor, ex-president James K. Polk), the 64 year old Taylor nevertheless decided to escape the oppressive heat of Washington by launching an August tour of the northern states, utilizing the era’s new transportation system, the railroad.

However, within a week of leaving the capital, Taylor began to exhibit symptoms of cholera. Undeterred, the old warrior forced himself to endure days of innumerable handshakes and tiresome speeches, and nights of more bloviating politicians and boring banquets. Arriving in Niagara Falls after three exhausting weeks of travel, it appeared Taylor was recovering, at least sufficiently to be given a tour of the cataract by his vice president, the less-than-legendary Millard Fillmore. But then, following a carriage ride to Canada over the newly-constructed Niagara River suspension bridge (becoming the first US president to visit foreign soil while in office, an accomplishment mistakenly credited to Theodore Roosevelt), Taylor suffered a relapse severe enough that the rest of his itinerary, including a stop in Rochester, had to be cut short. As a result, instead of being jostled on a smoky train trip through western New York, in early September Taylor was carried aboard the Lake Ontario side wheeler, the Bay State, for a restful cruise from Lewiston to Oswego. From there, avoiding receptions and speeches, he traveled to Syracuse, then to Albany, and finally south back to Washington.

The Bay State - President Taylor's steamboat

The Bay State – President Taylor’s steamboat

We can only speculate whether Taylor expressed any regret at missing the opportunity to visit the boom town of Rochester, the “Young Lion of the West”, or whether he was too ill to even give a damn.

It’s been suggested that his illness during this trip may have weakened Taylor’s immunity enough so that a subsequent attack of cholera resulted in his death on July 9, 1850.

James Monroe


In the spirit of the People


James Monroe High School, Rochester, NY [Photo: David Kramer 1/2/18]

For those who remember their high school history lessons, James Monroe’s presidency was known as the “Era of Good Feelings”, the last time American politics were so unified and nonpartisan that a president could run for re-election unopposed.

In the wake of the recently-ended War of 1812, President Monroe set out a few months after taking office for a lengthy inspection tour of the country’s military defenses in New England and New York (and to scope out the political climate in the heartland of the soon-to-be-defunct Federalist Party). Boarding the US Navy brig Jones at Sackets Harbor, America’s chief Great Lakes naval base, Monroe set sail on August 6, 1817 for Fort Niagara. Given the still wild condition of upstate New York where the roads were few and poor, with a serious lack of an infrastructure of bridges and inns, a trip across Lake Ontario was clearly the most practical, to say nothing of fastest, way for Monroe to reach his goal.

With relations between the United States and Canada on a “cold war” footing (our recent repeated and unsuccessful invasions of Canada being held against us for some reason), the Jones would have sailed close to the American side of the lake, where Monroe was no doubt regaled with stories of the naval and land battles stretching along the eastern and southern shore of Lake Ontario from Sackets Harbor to Oswego to the Genesee River to Fort Niagara.

Likely the navy officers aboard would have told Monroe of the repeated raids by Great Britain’s Lake Ontario fleet against the American supply depot established at Charlotte, raids in which hundreds of barrels of flour, salt pork and rum, and even a handful of sailing vessels, were seized. Or perhaps they entertained him with an account of the “Battle of Lake Ontario”.

During the war, the American and British fleets had played a game of cat and mouse in which one side, and then the other, would pursue their opponent up and down Lake Ontario, with significant damage seldom being inflicted on anyone. On September 11, 1813, in one of these episodes, the British fleet became becalmed off Charlotte. The inhabitants, fearing another raiding party was about to strike, grabbed their muskets and, in the words of a local historian, “in a few hours a considerable number of men collected ready to fight or to run, as chances of invasion should make it expedient”, when unexpectedly the American fleet hove into view and opened fire on the British, the roar of the cannonade being heard far inland. After several hours of inconclusive firing, the fleets disappeared to the east running before a freshening breeze.

Naval Action off Charlotte Sept. 11, 1813 by Masters Mate Peter Spicer

Naval Action off Charlotte Sept. 11, 1813 by Masters Mate Peter Spicer

Rochester and Genesee River bridge during War of 1812

Rochester and Genesee River bridge during War of 1812

Not to be out done, conceivably Monroe’s army escort extolled the bravery of the area militia who “repulsed” a British attack in the “Great Battle of Charlotte” of May 14, 1814. Rumors had swirled through Western New York that the British were planning to disrupt the flow of US troops to the Niagara frontier by burning the Genesee River bridge at Rochester. Armed with two cannon, the militia set up defensive positions in Charlotte and near High Falls (the log and dirt breastwork being grandiloquently named “Fort Bender”). Less heroic for all concerned perhaps was the fact that, having sailed into Charlotte and demanding that locals turn over all military supplies stored there, the British raiders departed empty-handed after being the recipients of several harmless cannon shots.

Coincidently, Monroe came by at the time when the settlers in the general vicinity of the falls of the Genesee (the population of Rochester proper than being only about 300 to 400) were petitioning New York State to create a new country by chopping off territory from Ontario and Genesee counties, thereby eliminating the need for those on the west side of the Genesee River to travel to their county seat at Batavia, while those on the east side were required to make the trip to their county seat in Canandaigua. After years of negotiations, in 1821 the state legislature agreed to erect the new county, to be named Vincent-Charlotte-Genesee-Lighthouse2Monroe in honor of the president who had been too busy to drop by to say hello.

Oh, and as a fringe benefit, an application to the president requesting that the federal government build a lighthouse at the mouth of the Genesee River, which had been lost in the bureaucracy for several years, coincidently was approved by Monroe soon after the county was named in his honor.

Michael J. Nighan


First, ROYALTY ON THE RIVER: A KING (and maybe a second king, and even an emperor) COME TO ROCHESTER

Then, when a Frenchman was in Rochester and a plaque for Lafayette.

In When President John Quincy Adams visited Rochester on July 27th and 28th, 1843 and toured Mt. Hope Cemetery, the grave of Nathaniel lincolnRochester.

In On Abraham Lincoln in Rochester from Michael Nighan, a plaque and a train station.

In When President Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant visited Rochester in the Swing Around the Circle, it was two Presidents for the price of one.

occupyIn Memorial Day, 1892, when President Benjamin Harrison dedicated the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument in Washington Square Park with Frederick Douglass. And Occupy Rochester, Benjamin Harrison, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass in the same park Occupy would occupy.

November 1st, 1892 when McKinley campaigned for Benjamin Harrison, more support for Harrison.

In October, 26th, 1898: the Rough Rider on his way to the Governor’s mansion. TR Comes to Town, again…and again…and again… by Michael Nighan., a statue of Teddy in School 29.

When Taft spoke at Convention Hall on August 23rd, 1911, the Grand Army of the Republic.

When Wilson spoke at Convention Hall and the Shubert Theatre four days before elected President, it was a three way race.

In BIG BILL, BIG BELL AND SCHOOL BELLS: An ex-president, the Liberty Bell, and several thousand school teachers come to town. it was William Howard Taft.


In FDR’s first visit to Rochester as a national candidate, September 23rd, 1920. And the League of Nations., Rachel in Washington Square Park.

In October 21st, 1920 in Rochester and Governor Harding’s return to normalcy. And the school named after him., a school in North Gates.harding-school-newest

In Governor Roosevelt’s triumphant return to the Convention Hall, October 18th, 1932, a luncheon with Eleanor Roosevelt.

In FDR in Rochester en route to a New Deal landslide, October 17th, 1936, an unfinished portrait.

In When President Truman campaigned in Rochester en route to his upset win over NY Governor Thomas Dewey, a thruway sign.outside-school

In October 23rd and 24th, 1952 when Ike and Adlai were in town back to back. And School 29., the Adlai E. Stevenson School.

In 56 years ago when JFK spoke at the War Memorial. Two days after his debate with Nixon. Nine days after RFK was here., the War Memorial.

In Nixon at the War Memorial one week before he lost a razor thin election to JFK , the War Memorial.

In LBJ and RFK in Rochester, October 15th,1964, LBJ and RFK at the airport.

In November 3rd, 1964: When Rochester’s Senator Keating lost to RFK in the wake of LBJ’s landslide. a Federal building.

In 45 years ago when President Nixon visited Rochester. And 3 days later when East High School erupted in racial violence a media briefing at the Landmark Hotel in Pittsford.running-for-prz

In When Carter stumped Rochester in ’76. And Howard the Duck. it was Howard for Prez.

In October 31st, 1976: Gerald Ford two days before the unelected president’s comeback falls just short., a Playboy

In October 29th, 1980: Carter at a rally six days before the Reagan revolution. And when Bernie Sanders campaigned for Barry Commoner, the Citizen’s Party.

In November 1st, 1984: Ronald Reagan five days before his 49 state landslide. And Jesse Jackson at MCC. And a liberal enclave. it was two rallies.

with BrIAN cropped

In 27 years ago today when President George H. W. Bush visited Wilson Magnet High School, a signed chalkboard.

In May 24th, 2005 when President Bush spent political capital in Greece. it is Dr. Bruce Kay

In 11 years ago when President Bush met J-Mac. And the judgment of history., J-Mac.

In 5 Meliora Weekends ago when President Clinton spoke., Great Books with President Seligman.

In On October 19th, 2012 when Bill Clinton campaigned for Louise Slaughter. And a Socialist at the public market, Peta Lyndsay.

with-billIn , A seat at the President’s table four years later soup and a grilled cheese sandwich at Magnolia’s and an eyewitness account.

In Next stop Albany. On the road with the Trumprenuers, the Trumprenuers at the airport.

In Memories of presidential visits on Election Day in Brighton, a vote for Talker.

About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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