Marietta has had her fair share of political press. The first president of the United States, George Washington, recommended our town with such colorful phrases as “No colony in America was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that which has just commenced at the Muskingum” and “If I was a young man, just preparing to begin the world, or if advanced in life and had a family to make provision for, I know of no country where I should rather fix my habitation.” Great praise from a man well-traveled in the Ohio Valley! Marietta even produced a Vice-President, Charles Dawes, under President Coolidge. So it is no surprise that our town has had the privilege of visits from multiple Presidents, and presidential candidates.
The first President to visit our town, John Quincy Adams arrived November 15, 1843 on a boat known as the ‘Ben Franklin’. As his boat docked, guns fired out a welcome salute and a grand procession led him from the Levee, down Front Street to the First Congregational Church. The day was somewhat hampered, however, due to a downpour that lasted the entire visit. Nahum Ward, financier of the Unitarian Church, entertained the President at his home once located on the corner of Second and Putnam St.
Before becoming president, Rutherford B. Hayes studied as an attorney. His legal journey led him to Marietta in 1845, where he was admitted to the Bar. However, it wasn’t until
September 7, 1877 that he returned to Marietta. 12 years after the end of the Civil War, President Hayes gave a speech to a Reunion of the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The 36th Ohio Infantry was a regiment filled with Washington County men, many of whom died during the war. President Hayes would have been able to commiserate with the survivors, having fought in battle himself.
May 13, 1912 was a day to be remembered. 3 companies of militia lined the streets, and thousands of people dressed in their Sunday best stood waiting to welcome President Taft. At 12:05pm his train pulled into Union Station on Second Street. A roar rang through the air as he descended the steps from the train car and stepped into a waiting carriage. The Presidential carriage wound its way up Putnam Street, accompanied by 2,000 children throwing flowers, to the home of W.W. Mills (Marietta College President’s home). As the President descended from the carriage, 4 shots rang out. The streets were in panic. Horrified, the onlookers found that an old soldier had fired the shots into the air as a welcome to the President. On his tour of the city, President Taft later spoke at the First Congregational Church and in Muskingum Park. He toured the city and attended a reception at the Masonic Temple. His visit was short, however. By 5pm he was back aboard his train and headed for Washington D.C.
Another exciting day for Marietta was May 20, 1912. Theodore Roosevelt, then a candidate for the presidency, visited the
town to campaign. According to local newspapers, his speech “lacked the fire of earlier speeches” given by him. Nevertheless, a huge crowd of 4,000-5,000 turned up to watch his efforts in Muskingum Park. However, he failed to win the nomination at the Ohio primary.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Marietta twice. His first visit was in 1920, when he was campaigning for VP with James Cox. He returned on July 8, 1938 for the Celebration of 150th Anniversary of the Northwest Ordinance (1937). The Federal government appropriated $100,000 for the national celebration of the Northwest Ordinance, as requested by the Ohio State Archaeological Society and Historical Society and a committee of residents of Marietta.
Two major events were featured. First, an eight-act play tracing the development of the US from 1754 to the establishment of government in Marietta, which featured a wagon trip from Ipswich, Massachusetts to Marietta. Thirty-six men left Ipswich where the settlers had departed 150 years earlier. The trip took 5 months. The participants arrived in Marietta on April 7, 1938. In addition, essay contests were sponsored by the Northwest Territory Celebration Commission. The Sesquicentennial Celebration was a huge success, of which FDR’s visit was the height.
President FDR arrived in Marietta at 8:45am by train at Union Station. At 9am, Roosevelt was assisted into the Presidential Touring Car, and went by procession up Second Street to Washington Street, to Front and to Muskingum Park for his speech. President Roosevelt spoke for 20 minutes and honored the pioneer spirit of the early settlers. Notable quotes from FDR’s presidency included this from his Marietta speech:”Let us not be afraid to help each other – let us never forget that the government is ourselves, not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president and senators and congressmen and government officials but the voters of this country.” The crowd was estimated at 75,000-100,000 people. Author James MacGregor Burns tells of “a little old woman” in Marietta who “symbolized much of the popular feeling (about Roosevelt) when she knelt down and reverently patted the dust where he left a footprint.” President Roosevelt left by train at 3:30pm the same day.
Richard Nixon visited Marietta twice as well. The first time as a presidential candidate in 1952 and again as Vice President
on October 25, 1960. In 1960 his speech was given at Armory in Marietta and letters kept at the University of Michigan detail his memories of the town.
Ronald Reagan visited Marietta 2 days before being elected President. He arrived at Wood County Airport at 1:20pm, where 1000 people greeted him. Ironically, many of
people waiting to see him arrive were holding signs opposing his candidacy! Later Reagan gave a speech in Ban Johnson’s Field House at Marietta College. He was in the area for a little over 2 hours.
And last but not least, President Bill Clinton visited Marietta on February 18, 2008. He gave a speech at Marietta College, advocating Hillary Clinton for president.