Of the 44 men who have served as President of the United States, 32 have stopped in Rochester before, during or after their term of office. And two more sailed by within a few miles.
Today, Talker is pleased to present the Presidential Visits Series in its entirety. (BELOW) While new information undoubtedly will be added, the Series now represents the most comprehensive list and detailed reports of presidential visits to Rochester, bar none.
The series began in 2015 with a trip to Magnolia’s on Park Avenue in search of memorabilia displayed from President Barak Obama’s August 22nd, 2013 lunch break during his western New York bus tour. Back in 2015, I had the Obama Special: Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
Every August 22nd since, I’ve again ordered the Special and written an update. Last August 22nd we were treated to an eyewitness report from Evalyn Gleason who actually shared that lunch in 2013 at Magnolia’s with President Obama.
17 sitting presidents have been in Rochester: Martin Van Buren 1839, Millard Fillmore 1851 , Andrew Johnson 1866 , Benjamin Harrison 1892 and also 1880, William McKinley 1897 and also 1880 and 1892, William Howard Taft 1911 and also 1908 and 1915, Franklin Delano Roosevelt 1936, 1940 and also 1920, 1928, 1930 and 1932, Harry Truman 1948, Dwight D. Eisenhower sometime between 1958 and 1960, Lyndon Baines Johnson 1964, Richard M. Nixon 1971 and also 1960, 1966 and 1968, Gerald Ford 1976, Jimmy Carter 1980 and also 1976, Ronald Reagan 1984, George H.W. Bush 1989 and also 1980 and 1984, George W. Bush 2005 and 2006, and Barack Obama 2013. In addition, James Monroe (1817) and Zachary Taylor (1849) came very close to being here.
16 others visited prior to or after their presidencies: Rutherford Hayes in 1834, John Quincy Adams 1843, James Tyler in 1847 and 1851. Abraham Lincoln was President-elect when he spoke in Rochester in February 1861 en route to his inauguration, Ulysses S. Grant 1866, James Garfield, 1880, Grover Cleveland 1884, Theodore Roosevelt, multiple visits, Woodrow Wilson 1912, Warren Harding 1920, Herbert Hoover 1920, Calvin Coolidge was Vice President in 1922, Dwight Eisenhower 1952, John F. Kennedy 1959 and 1960, Bill Clinton 2011, 2012 and 2018, Donald Trump 2016 and then Vice President Joseph Biden 2014 and 2015 .Chester Arthur lived in Livingston County as a boy and may have passed through or visited Rochester.
Also included is the 1797 visit by Louis-Philippe who later became King of France and Marquis de Lafayette’s 1825 visit, as well as the 1964 New York Senate race between Robert Kennedy and Rochester’s Kenneth Keating and George McGovern’s rally during his 1972 campaign against Richard Nixon. While the 8th President did not visit, Nathaniel Gorham’s connection to Rochester is included.
In addition, William Jennings Bryan’s 1896 campaign visit is included. (Bryan also campaigned for president in Rochester in 1908.)
While researching and creating the series is a labor of love, it isn’t always easy. Until now, there has been no single source of information. The site Rochester N.Y. – Today in History: A historical journal of life in Rochester, NY is a valuable resource but has many omissions. The digital D & C archives are invaluable but cumbersome. Alas, the archives don’t have search mechanisms that easily recover relevant articles. The D & C and Times Union print clippings held in the Local History room at the Rochester Central Library attest to the diligence and commitment of generations of newspaper clippers, but are, alas, limited. And researching old newspapers via old fashioned microfilm is interesting but time consuming.
For example, all we know about President William McKinley’s 1897 visit is from a single reference in a 1976 D & C article. Although McKinley’s visit was only three minutes, we are including him as a sitting president. (McKinley also made a lengthy stop in 1892.)
At the same time, all those visits to the Local History Room were made easier and more pleasurable by librarians Jay Osbourne, Emily Morry and Brandon Fess who provided invaluable historical background on local newspapers and Reconstruction.
Special thanks goes to Alex White, owner of Boldo’s Armory. Alex kindly accepted my request that he read four presidential memoirs, each written before the men became president: Eisenhower’s Crusade over Europe (1948), Nixon’s Six Crises (1962), Reagan’s Where’s the rest of me? (1965) and Carter’s Why Not the Best? (1976). Alex provided many historical and political insights, especially for Eisenhower’s 1952 campaign stop.
Michael J. Nighan wrote on Louis-Philippe, James Monroe, Martin Van Buren, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Charles Guiteau, Leo Czolgosz and William Howard Taft.¹
Half the fun are the photo-op field trips: The old aqueduct on the Broad Street Bridge, Exchange Street, James Monroe High School, Mt. Hope Cemetery, Washington Square Park, the railroad bridge at the Inner Loop and Mill Street, Theodore Roosevelt School #43, Adlai Stevenson School # 29, the Northstar Christian Academy, Wilson Magnet High School, Temple B’rith Kodesh, the War Memorial, Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Kenneth B. Keating Federal Building, the Vietnam Veteran’s Walk of Honor in Highland Park, the University of Rochester, Magnolia’s and Scottsville Road near the airport.
In The President who owned Rochester, it was the 8th President
In HAND GRENADES, HORSE SHOES, TAYLOR AND MONROE, two near misses.
In Sarah, we were there too! “Lafayette in the SOMEWHAT United States”and Rochester, a plaque for a Frenchman in downtown Rochester.
In Master Rutherford Hayes Comes to Town . . . and Perhaps Little Chet Arthur as Well, it was young Rutherford crossing the Genesee on the old Erie Canal Aqueduct in 1834.
In Martin Van Buren: The Little Magician pops up in Rochester, it was 1839.
In When President John Quincy Adams visited Rochester on July 27th and 28th, 1843 and toured Mt. Hope Cemetery, the grave of Nathaniel Rochester.
In Millard Who?, Millard Fillmore in 1851.….and (finally) Tyler Too ! is was Tyler and a Fair.
In On Abraham Lincoln in Rochester from Michael Nighan, a plaque and a train station.
In John Wilkes Booth Slept (and Slipped) Here, it is Lincoln’s assassin a few months before the 1861 inauguration.
In When President Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant visited Rochester in the Swing Around the Circle, two Presidents for the price of one.
In Charlie Guiteau: Goofiness, God and a Gun, another presidential assassin.
In Garfield Reaches Rochester on the Presidential Trifecta Campaign Train, August 4th, 1880, it was three presidents for the price of one.In 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 The 2020 Republican National Convention and William Jennings Bryan’s speech at Brown’s Square, August 26th, 1896, Democrat Bryan speaks in Brown’s Square during his “Whistle Stop” campaign against Republican William McKinley.
In Leon and “Red Emma”, it is Leo Czolgosz who killed McKinley and was jeered at the Rochester train station.
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 Theodore Roosevelt School #43, Lyell Ave.
When Taft spoke at Convention Hall on August 23rd, 1911, the Grand Army of the Republic.
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.
In Herbert Hoover finally found in Rochester, Hoover campaigned for Harding.
In Governor Roosevelt’s triumphant return to the Convention Hall, October 18th, 1932, the first of his four wins.
In FDR in Rochester en route to a New Deal landslide, October 17th, 1936, an unfinished portrait.In FDR in Rochester three days before he won a third term, a World War.
In When President Truman campaigned in Rochester en route to his upset win over NY Governor Thomas Dewey, it was Dewey’s second straight loss.
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 Ike’s secret visit to Rochester, we break the story of Ike’s secret visit.
In 56 years ago when JFK spoke at the War Memorial. Two days after his debate with Nixon. Nine days after RFK was here., a photo from Temple B’rith Kodesh.
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 In ’68 when Vice President Humphrey and former Vice President Nixon campaigned in Rochester, the election that defined the ’60s.
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.
In In ’72 when McGovern campaigned in Rochester before Nixon’s landslide victory, it was another win for Nixon.
In When Carter stumped Rochester in ’76. And Howard the Duck. it was Howard for Prez.
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 and the Iraq War
In 5 Meliora Weekends ago when President Clinton spoke., Great Books with President Seligman.
In A seat from the President’s table five years later five years of soup and a grilled cheese sandwich at Magnolia’s.
In Next stop Albany. On the road with the Trumprenuers, the Trumprenuers at the airport.
In Among thousands at Kodak Hall, former President Bill Clinton mourns Louise, love for Louise.
In Talker declares Biden to be election winner; Joe joins the Presidential Visits to Rochester series, the Vice President Biden spends an afternoon at Monroe Community College.
In Which Presidential election mattered the most to you?,a poll at the poll.
In Memories of presidential visits on Election Day in Brighton, a vote for Talker.
In Third parties at the Brookside polling place (25th Congressional District), some long shots.
1. After reviewing the series, Nighan commented:
Everyone seems to be covered. Democrats, Republicans, Democratic-Republicans, Whigs, Know Nothings, and monarchists. I’m pretty sure we have all visits by incumbent presidents covered. But I suspect that, given the transportation network (Rochester being on one of the two main railroad routes from the west to NYC and DC, albeit the lest direct route) and the proximity of the scenic delights of Niagara Falls for those traveling from the east, a few future presidents (such as Garfield) and some ex-presidents (Hayes and Arthur seem the likeliest) may have passed through Rochester without making a splash. I’ll keep checking. I must admit though that the comprehensive-looking list of presidential visits issued by the Association for a Buffalo Presidential Center doesn’t have a record of visits by those three either. Seems difficult to believe that every president from Cleveland to Trump has stopped here at one time or another, but during Rochester’s boom town days after the completion of the Erie Canal, and while New York was the most populous state in the Union, so many past/future presidents ignored us.