Garfield Reaches Rochester on the Presidential Trifecta Campaign Train, August 4th, 1880

Garfield Reaches Rochester on the Presidential Trifecta Campaign Train, August 4th, 1880

The Rochester Garfield, McKinley and Harrison would have encountered. Birdseye view, 1880 by Beck & Pauli. Owned by Matt DeLaus and displayed at Earth Day events on Parcel 5, April 22nd, 2018 [Photo: David Kramer]

Last month we offered, The Presidential Visits Series in its entirety: James Monroe to Donald Trump (see below). At that time, we thought only three presidents were unaccountable from 1861 to the present: Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur.

James Abram Garfield

James Abram Garfield

The entirety article proved to be premature. By consulting biographies and sifting through the archives, Michael J. Nighan uncovered the campaign visit of Republican nominee James Garfield — elected president four months later — on August 4th, 1880. Garfield was accompanied by William McKinley and Benjamin Harrison.  President Harrison would revisit Rochester in 1892, as did McKinley campaigning for Harrison in his re-election bid against Grover Cleveland.  McKinley returned as president in 1897. Hence the trifecta.

Nighan believes finding Hayes is unlikely.  Nighan does make a problematic case for Arthur.  As a young boy, Arthur’s family lived in Perry and York, NY where Arthur’s father was a minister. Surely — perhaps — Arthur made a trip to Rochester, only 44 miles away. Whether this constitutes a presidential visit is debatable.

Nonetheless, Arthur’s time in Perry and York would make him one of three presidents who lived in western New York, alongside Fillmore and Cleveland.

Garfield Reaches Rochester on the Presidential Trifecta Campaign Train, August 4th, 1880

The President is the last person in the world  to know what the people really want and think.

– James A. Garfield

Rochester has the somewhat dubious distinction of having been visited at one time or another by Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy, the four presidents who became victims of an assassin’s bullet. On an eerily similar note, on August 4, 1880 the city played host to a simultaneous visitation by three future presidents, Benjamin Harrison, plus two of four who would ultimately be assassinated; McKinley, and that year’s Republican presidential nominee, 48 year old James Abram Garfield.


Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 02 Nov 1892. McKinley would return to Rochester when he campaigned for then President Benjamin Harrison in his unsuccessful bid for a second term. From November 1st, 1892 when McKinley campaigned for Benjamin Harrison

SEE Memorial Day, 1892, when President Benjamin Harrison dedicated the Soldier’s Monument in Washington Square Park with Frederick Douglass and November 1st, 1892 when McKinley campaigned for Benjamin Harrison

As background, when the 1880 Republican convention opened in Chicago in June, the party was split between the “Stalwarts” (supporters of the spoils system and machine politics) and the “Half-Breeds” (advocates of civil service reform, derided by their opponents as being only “half Republican”). The Stalwarts supported former president Ulysses S. Grant for an unprecedented, albeit non-consecutive, third term, while the Half-Breeds backed Sen. James G. Blaine, the “Plumed Knight” of American politics. After 35 ballots, with neither the Grant nor the Blaine forces able to gain a majority, Blaine admitted defeat and directed the Half-Breeds to back dark horse candidate, Congressman and former Union general, James A. Garfield, who was nominated (to everyone’s surprise, including his) on the next ballot. As a sop to the Stalwarts, and recognizing the importance New York would have in the election, Chester A. Arthur, the “Gentleman Boss” from New York City was selected as Garfield’s running mate.

SEE When President Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant visited Rochester in the Swing Around the Circle and June 10th, 1884 when soon-to-be-president Governor Grover Cleveland spoke at the Rochester Semi-Centenial


Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 9/25/1884. In 1884, James G. Blaine would unsuccessfully run against Grover Cleveland, campaigning in Rochester. From June 10th, 1884 when soon-to-be-president Governor Grover Cleveland spoke at the Rochester Semi-Centenial

But the Garfield victory, based on Half-Breed backing, made it obvious that some high level political fence mending with the Stalwarts was called for. With the leading Stalwart on the list being New York’s Republican boss Roscoe Conkling.

While loath to make a deal with machine politicians, Garfield realized that New York’s bonanza of 35 electoral votes, by far the largest number of any state, would likely prove decisive in determining the winner in November.

Democrat and Chronicle, May 31, 1892

Democrat and Chronicle, May 31, 1892. In 1892 then President Benjamin returned to Rochester for the dedication of the Soldier’s and Sailors Monument. From The Quasquicentennial of the unveiling of Abraham Lincoln atop the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Monument in Washington Square Park.

1880 Republican Candidates

1880 Republican Candidates

Matters were ultimately taken out of Garfield’s hands when the secretary of the Republican National Committee unilaterally sent out invitations to over a hundred Republican leaders of all factions to meet with the candidate at the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York City on August 5. Left with no option, Garfield agreed to travel from his home in Mentor, Ohio specifically to meet with the Conkling’s representatives (Conkling, disliking Garfield as much as Garfield disliked him, refused to attend). Garfield later complained that it was unreasonable, “that so much effort should be made to conciliate one man.” In planning the trip, Garfield and his advisors calculated that reaching New York City via Buffalo and Albany, while more circuitous than traveling the direct easterly route from Ohio, would give Garfield some much-needed political face time in a key state.

Boarding a chartered train in Mentor on August 3, Garfield immediately broke with the long-standing tradition that presidential candidates forswear personal campaigning and began making the first of what would be 20 stops along the route to New York City, engaging in what biographer Allan Peskin later described as:

Safety in statesman-like blandness, praising every town he passed, admiring the virtues of its citizenry and the beauty of its sunsets, but begging off from political discussions that might offend the propriety of the occasion.

New York Central Depot, Rochester (1852 - 1883)

New York Central Depot, Rochester (1852 – 1883)

This approach apparently bore fruit as the crowds grew larger until, after the candidate was joined by Benjamin Harrison and Congressman William McKinley, the train reached Buffalo late that evening where Garfield was stunned to be greeted by fireworks, cannonades, a torchlight parade and a crowd variously estimated at from 10,000 to 50,000 (although the lower numbers seem more likely given the lack of advanced notice of Garfield’s arrival). After being escorted to the Palace Hotel, Garfield gave a two minute speech, doubtless replete with platitudes.

Leaving Buffalo early on the 4th., Garfield’s train rolled down the tracks of the New York Central arriving at the Rochester depot on Mill Street, in today’s High Falls district. Garfield was scheduled to arrive at 8:40 am, with ten minutes scheduled for his reception.   But miracle of miracles, the train arrived 40 minutes EARLY, totally discombobulating the plans of the reception organizers. Mocking the efforts of the local Republican committee, the city’s Democratic newspaper, The Rochester Daily Union and Advertiser reported that:

A band of some half dozen musicians dressed in citizen’s clothes was engaged and played several airs in front of the Court House to attract attention…while the band was actively engaged in trying to draw up a crowd, Mr. Garfield and his friends were waiting at the depot for someone to call on them…a Union reporter sauntered to the train and arrived in time to find…an enthusiastic crowd of some 500 people…. ‘Which is General Garfield?’ asked a bystander. ‘The one leaning up against the car,’ responded another. ‘Looks sick, don’t he?, ejaculated a third. ‘Yes, and he’ll look even sicker after the fourth of next November’, opined the first man.…(Among the speakers) Mr. Harrison commenced by stating that his voice was so weak that it was doubtful if he could make his voice heard, and this proved to be true. After a few minutes he gave way to William McKinley, and while this gentleman was speaking the train moved out…

Democrat & Chronicle Aug. 4, 1880

Democrat and Chronicle Aug. 4, 1880. Scanned courtesy on the Local History Room of the Rochester Public Library.

On the other hand, the Democrat & Chronicle, at that time the city’s leading Republican newspaper (each edition featured the headline, “REPUBLICAN NOMINATIONS – FOR PRESIDENT JAMES A. GARFIELD OF OHIO –   FOR VICE-PRESIDENT CHESTER A. ARTHUR OF NEW YORK”), euphorically wrote:

“Welcome, Garfield, to Rochester!

Welcome, Garfield, to the high place in popular esteem you have won by the force of your genius and worth.

Welcome, Garfield, to the hearts of your admirers, who believe you to be as void of reproach as of fear.

Welcome, Garfield, to the suffrages of the people, and thrice welcome to the highest office and the supremest distinction Americans can confer upon him whom they delight to honor. “

Interestingly enough, although the D & C, contradicting the Union, stated that “thousands” were on hand to greet Garfield, and although he was introduced to the crowd by New York’s Lieutenant-Governor, neither that newspaper, nor any other newspaper, reported that he actually gave a speech!   The Lieutenant-Governor gave one. Benjamin Harrison gave one. William McKinley gave one.   But Garfield remained silent, even though just an hour or so previous he’d offered a few remarks at a stop at the bustling metropolis of Batavia, and would later say a few words at Lyons when the train stopped there.   Perhaps Garfield was suffering from hoarseness. Perhaps he was honked off by the poor showing Rochester made compared to his Buffalo reception. Or perhaps he was simply tired. The records are as silent as the candidate on this point.

After picking up his running mate, Chet Arthur, in Albany, Garfield continued on to New York City to meet with the party big wigs. All-but-selling-out his Half-Breed supporters in order to improve his chances of carrying New York, Garfield hedged on civil service reform, promising the Conklingites and other Stalwarts not to make any political appointments without consulting with them first. Though the news of the meeting released to the press was vague and nonspecific, reporters quickly branded the conference, “The Treaty of Fifth Avenue,”handing the Democrats a powerful propaganda weapon to use against Garfield.

Results of the United States presidential election in New York, 1880

Results of the United States presidential election in New York, 1880. Red=Garfield; Blue=Hancock

The November presidential election became one of the closest in American history with Garfield defeating Democratic candidate (and fellow Union general) Winfield Scott Hancock by 48.27% of the popular vote to 48.25%. Although winning the Electoral College by a far more impressive vote of 214 to 155, carrying New York by a mere 20,000 votes out of a total of 1,090,000 votes cast made it clear that picking a New Yorker for his running mate and agreeing to the “treaty” were pragmatic 348px-ElectoralCollege1880_svgmoves on Garfield’s part. Hancock and the Democrats, although convinced that Republican fraud had cost them New York and the White House, were wary of a reprise of the hotly-disputed election of 1876, and opted to let matters drop.

The Assassination of Garfield compressed

The Assassination of Garfield

Sadly Garfield, serving just over six months of his term before succumbing to a bullet in the back fired by crazed assassin Charles Guiteau, left no particular legacy, except perhaps that as subject material (along with three other ineffectual Republican presidents) for Thomas Wolfe’s 1934 monograph, “The Four Lost Men”…

Garfield, Arthur, Harrison and Hayes…were the lost Americans: their gravely vacant and bewhiskered faces mixed, melted, swam together in the sea-depths of a past intangible, immeasurable and unknowable.


THE FULL SERIES. The Presidential Visits Series in its entirety: James Monroe to Donald Trump

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

Falls - July 12, 1797

Genesee River Falls – July 12, 1797

In Sarah, we were there too! “Lafayette in the SOMEWHAT United States”and Rochester, a plaque for a Frenchman in downtown Rochester.

1 Exchange Street

1 Exchange Street



James Monroe High School, Alexander Street

In Martin Van Buren: The Little Magician pops up in Rochester, it was 1839.


Rochester Daily Advertiser, September 6th, 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.

Nathaniel Rochester’s grave on his tour of Mt. Hope Cemetery. Between West and Glenn Avenues in the R section, the grave is # 15 in the Mount Hope Cemetery Pocket Guide.

In Millard Who?, Millard Fillmore in 1851.

Rochester in 1853

Rochester in 1853 at the time of Fillmore’s visits. 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 On Abraham Lincoln in Rochester from Michael Nighan, a plaque and a train station.lincolnIn When President Andrew Johnson and Ulysses S. Grant visited Rochester in the Swing Around the Circle, two Presidents for the price of one.

President Johnson (man on platform facing left) spent 15 minutes in Geneva in 1866; his railroad car stopped next to the Tompkins House on the northwest corner of Lewis and Exchange streets.

President Johnson (man on platform facing left) spent 15 minutes in Geneva in 1866; his railroad car stopped next to the Tompkins House on the northwest corner of Lewis and Exchange streets.

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.


Democrat and Chronicle, May 31, 1892

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


02 Nov 1892, Wed, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

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.


Inside Theodore Roosevelt School #43 on a visit by student volunteers from St. John Fisher College April, 2015

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


Taft in Rochester, 8/23/11

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

75 W. Main Street, Rochester, NY

@1908. The National Theater (opened in 1902) was renamed Theater Shubert prior to 1913. 75 W. Main Street, Rochester, NY

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

The Liberty Bell in Rochester

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

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


On the steps outside the Northstar Christian Academy in North Gates (formerly the Harding School).

In Herbert Hoover finally found in Rochester, Hoover campaigned for Harding.

Democrat and Chronicle, 19 Oct 1920, Tue, Page 20

Democrat and Chronicle, 19 Oct 1920, Tue, Page 20

In Governor Roosevelt’s triumphant return to the Convention Hall, October 18th, 1932, the first of his four wins.


Convention Hall is now the site of Geva. Gift from Lucian Waddell. ceramic miniature: “Geva Theatre, Rochester, New York, Performing at the Richard Pine Theatre, 25th Anniversary Season 1997 – 1998, Limited Edition”

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.

Democrat and Chronicle, 03 Nov 1940, Sun, Page 8

Democrat and Chronicle, 03 Nov 1940, Sun, Page 8

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.


88 Kirkland Road

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.


Provided courtesy of Temple B’rith Kodesh, Elmwood Avenue

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


The War Memorial in downtown Rochester

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

Lyndon Baines Johnson Building, Rochester Institute of Technology

Lyndon Baines Johnson Building, Rochester Institute of Technology

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


The Kenneth B. Keating Federal Building, 100 State Street.

In In ’68 when Vice President Humphrey and former Vice President Nixon campaigned in Rochester, the election that defined the ’60s.


Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Walk of Honor in Highland Park

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.

20. M

Democrat and Chronicle, June 18th, 1971

In In ’72 when McGovern campaigned in Rochester before Nixon’s landslide victory, it was another win for Nixon.


Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Walk of Honor in Highland Park

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


From the Howard the Duck series, 1976

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


From the Howard the Duck series, 1976

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.


(1965) Scanned courtesy of Benjamin Scwabe, Small World Books

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.


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

Held at Wilson Magnet High School, Genesee Street.

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


Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, May 25th, 2004

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


Julie Everitt and Carol Kramer at a rally in Washington, D.C. From The long vigil for peace on the corner of East and Goodman

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


Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 10/21/11

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


Democrat and Chronicle 20 Oct 2012 Sat Main Edition

In A seat at the President’s table four years later soup and a grilled cheese sandwich at Magnolia’s and an eyewitness account from Evalyn Gleason.


With Hostess Devin Congdon at Magnolia’s (2015)

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

Jessica Rowe from Scottsville with her new hat. Scottsville Road

Jessica Rowe from Scottsville with her new hat. Scottsville Road

In Among thousands at Kodak Hall, former President Bill Clinton mourns Louise, love for Louise.

Buckland Park

Flag at half mast to honor Louise Slaughter, Buckland Park, Brighton, 3/22/18

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


Election Day, 2016. Note: the photo of me holding the ballot sleeve does not technically violate New York Election Law § 17-130(10) as I did not show my completed ballot. The state law makes it a misdemeanor for any voter to show their ballot “after it is prepared for voting, to any person so as to reveal the contents,” or for anyone to solicit a voter to show their ballot after it’s been prepared. The logic is that such a prohibition prevents people from selling their vote and being able to prove that they did so.

    1. 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 railroadroutes 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.

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.


Like what you see on our site? We’d appreciate your support. Please donate today.

Featured Posts